Warren Beatty's film inspired the video release of early Tracy productions

Tracing the best ”Dick Tracy”

To give Warren Beatty the credit he deserves, his Dick Tracy helped inspire the video release of early Tracy productions that prove how poor Beatty’s really is. The very first big-screen Tracys — the low-budget, black-and-white serials — end up to be the truest to the spirit of the comic strip.

Though they were hokey, the four 15-chapter Dick Tracy cliffhangers made between 1937 and 1941 paralleled the daily newspaper strip with ongoing, developing story lines. They also brought Ralph Byrd to the role in which he spent his career: With his sharp profile and engagingly square demeanor, Byrd is the definitive Dick. Consumer warning: Each of the serials is available from VCI both in its 300-minute entirety and in a whittled-down feature version. We recommend the whole enchilada. The condensed editions play like choppy coming attractions for a movie that never arrives.

Dick Tracy (1937)
Dick battles the Spider, who flies a futuristic plane that looks remarkably like the Stealth bomber. B

Dick Tracy Returns (1938)
Chasing gangster Pa Stark, Tracy gets to tool around in a nifty miniature tank. B

Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939)
The usual spills and thrills, with a surprisingly subtle performance by Irving Pichel as criminal mastermind Zarnoff. B+

Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc. (1941)
The weakest serial, despite a bad guy in a black latex mask who resembles one of Robert Mapplethorpe’s kinkier photos. C

Dick Tracy
  • Movie
  • 103 minutes