Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Fred Hamilton, Ralph Byrd and Kay Hughes
DICK TRACY (15 chapter Republic serial/1937). Directors: Alan James; Ray Taylor.

The famous cartoon strip character first appeared on the big screen in this Republic serial starring Ralph Byrd, who would be forever after identified with the character (although at least two other actors also played the role). In this cliffhanger Tracy matches wits with an unknown club-footed figure known alternately as the Lame One or The Spider, since he heads a so-called "Spider Ring" of criminals. With the help of the Lame One's twisted scientist ally Moloch (John Picorri), the Lame One operates on Tracy's brother, Gordon (Richard Beach), and turns him evil, as well as changing his features (he is then played by Carleton Young of Double Deal) so that even his own brother doesn't recognize him. Gordon and his associates fly about in a wide, stylish aircraft known as the Wing, and each week come up with another sinister scheme that Tracy manages to smash after nearly being killed. Tracy is a Federal agent in this and his main assistants are handsome Steve Lockwood (Fred Hamilton) and secretary Gwen Andrews (Kay Hughes of Radio Patrol), who is much more than a secretary and is a scientist who provides her boss with important information. We also have Mike McGurk (Smiley Burnette) and Junior (Lee Van Atta of Undersea Kingdom), who are meant to be comic relief but are more often merely tiresome. Byron Foulger makes an impression as a brave if terrified guy who goes up against the Spider to his regret. The Spider uses a ring to burn an insignia into the forehead of his victims, an idea also used by the famous pulp magazine character, also known as the Spider. Highlights of the serial include the Bay Bridge nearly being destroyed by sonic waves in chapter one; Dick's small boat nearly crushed between two huge ships in chapter three; Dick dropping from the bottom of one plane to land neatly into another far below in chapter four; and Dick being pulled underwater by a submarine because a rope has been tied around his ankle. By the time we learn the true identity of the Lame One, you'll probably have forgotten who the guy is! Dick Tracy is a long but entertaining serial, but the best was yet to come. It was followed by Dick Tracy Returns, Dick Tracy's G-Men, and the best of all, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Verdict: Nice intro to Dick Tracy on the big screen. **3/4.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - the only Dick Tracy I've ever seen thus far is the Warren Beatty/Madonna version, and I was not too impressed...maybe I should check out these early serial versions, they seem like they have more oomph!

William said...

That's for sure -- although I liked the Beatty version the second time around -- lowered expectations I guess.