At 25: “Dick Tracy”

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June 15, 2015 by billysparrow


Dick Tracy

Released: June 15, 1990

Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Charlie Korsmo, Glenne Headly, Mandy Patinkin, Seymour Cassel, William Forsythe, Paul Sorvino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Michael J. Pollard

I find it hard to believe that as spring turned to summer in 1990, I was gripped by “Dick Tracy” Fever. To the best of my recollection, I hadn’t even read a “Dick Tracy” comic strip up to that point (and, in fact, up to this point). I found dramatic serial comic strips incredibly pointless as a child (and, again, this prevails) and believed they took up valuable space better served by funny comic strips. I didn’t even understand half of what was in “Andy Capp” and “The Lockhorns,” but I still liked them better than “Dick Tracy,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “Dondi” (have they made a live-action “Dondi” yet, and, if not, what is Hollywood waiting for?).

Plus, in 1990, I’m not even sure I knew who Warren Beatty was, or why I should care about him. I honestly think the one movie I saw him in up to that point was “Ishtar,” of which I, like a vast majority of moviegoers, was not a fan. But at least that was one more movie than I’d seen Al Pacino in. And while I had nothing against Madonna, I wasn’t exactly her biggest fan (though I thought it was cool that she filmed part of the “Papa Don’t Preach” video on Staten Island).

So, when word of the “Dick Tracy” movie came up, I should have been aggressively uninterested. But I wasn’t. I was all in. Score another victory for the Hollywood Hype Machine!

And, based on what I am gathering from the Deep Well of Pointless Animosity that is the Internet, I appear to be one of the few people who enjoyed “Dick Tracy.” And I’m pretty sure I still do, 25 years later. Apparently all it takes to impress me is lots of bright colors, a bunch of henchmen covered under tons of prosthetics and make-up, and Al Pacino screaming a lot.

I should point out that I have not actually sat down and watched the movie again specifically for this blog post. I would like to tell you that I haven’t done so because I am completely consumed with solving the world’s problems and thus have no time to watch “Dick Tracy,” but this would not be entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that I have been busy watching a lot of episodes of “The Jeffersons” and “The Facts of Life” in recent weeks. Which, to be fair, could be considered a roundabout way of solving the world’s problems. After all, I’ve learned a lot about race relations and gender equity these last few weeks.

Anyway. I can assure you that I frequently stop on “Dick Tracy” when I see it’s on TV (at a time that does not conflict with the aforementioned programs, or “Bar Rescue”) so I feel confident in discussing the movie without reliving it yet another time. Unfortunately, either people really don’t care about this movie or Disney is intent on wiping any evidence of it off of YouTube, because there is not much substantial available there to demonstrate the points I’d like to make. For instance, I really like Charlie Korsmo as The Kid in the movie, but there’s not a lot to be found on him. The best I can do is the scene tucked in between the bath of Lips Manlis (Paul Sorvino), in which Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) begins his screaming and my favorite character, Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman), also makes his first appearance.

I should note that I loved Mumbles so much that I bought a Mumbles action figure, one of the few action figures (other than wrestling figures, of which there were many) I purchased (or were purchased for me) in my youth. And, yes, at 13, I was probably past the point at which I should be buying action figures, but, if you’re choosing that to judge me on, I’m guessing you’re not a regular reader here.

Anyway, Dick Tracy’s interrogation of Mumbles is a keeper. And one of the few “Dick Tracy” moments preserved multiple times on YouTube.

Spoiler alert: he’s saying “Big Boy did it” (they slow down the tape to prove it). And that’s why whenever I see Dustin Hoffman in anything, a voice in my head immediately starts screaming, “Big Boy did it!” And I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know that I’ve distilled his storied career into those four words from a movie he’s in for a couple of minutes.

But a Mumbles action figure is not the only “Dick Tracy”-related item I bought in the summer of 1990. That summer also saw the one and only flurry of cassette-single purchases of my youth. I think I recall every cassette single I bought: Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll” (that would be the first); the Lemonheads’ “Mrs. Robinson” (a rare excursion into something that might have actually been considered cool); John Mellencamp and Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s “Wild Night” (that would be the last); and in that magical summer of 1990, the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle,” Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” (the theme from “Young Guns II”), Taylor Dayne’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter,” Michael Bolton’s “When I’m Back on My Feet Again,” and from “Dick Tracy,” every young heterosexual boy’s favorite rockin’ number, Madonna’s “Hanky Panky.”

I could lie and tell you I bought it because it was buy 4, get 1 free, or that someone gave it to me as a goof, but I will not lie to you, dear reader (nor would that explain the Dayne and Bolton purchases). I loved that song. So much. Played it over and over again. I hope alone in my room where no one else could hear, but that’s probably not the case.

Anyway, in case, you forgot (Lord knows, I’m trying), here you go:

I don’t know what to tell you. Let’s talk about something else.

Oh yes, Al Pacino. As I mentioned, this is the first time I ever saw Al Pacino in a movie. And I think if this was the only movie I ever saw him, I would still think he’s great. Say this about Al Pacino: whatever role you give him, he goes all in, even if it involves teaching Madonna and a bunch of chorus girls a dance routine.

And I was just reminded of another great Big Boy moment that I feel like I used to quote a lot. Or maybe by “quote a lot,” I mean “said to myself alone in my room, after listening to ‘Hanky Panky.'” In any case, I like this moment:

There’s a lot more I could go into about “Dick Tracy” (all the great villains, the boiler room scene, how I find Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart more attractive than Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney), but I feel like I’m missing something funny that George is saying to Weezie right now. So let’s call it here and say that “Dick Tracy” is really a pretty enjoyable movie, with a fantastic cast, a totally-into-it Al Pacino (who was, no joke, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this), and a world-class mumbling performance.

And let’s forget I ever brought up that “Hanky Panky” thing.


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