Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Total Dick - Dick Tracy Serial!

Chester Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip first came to the big screen in this relatively lush  Republic Serial from 1937. The first Dick Tracy serial keeps a few elements of the comic strip, but dumps a lot of it to create a rollicking adventure that spins out over the course of fifteen weekly chapters. When this serial was filmed in 1936, the Dick Tracy comic strip had been in papers for a mere five years and much of what would define the strip in later years was not yet a firm part of the daily and weekly sequences. So when they changed Tracy into an FBI agent they were playing into the lore of the popular day with a character who could roam the landscape and confront the enemy on land, in the sea and in the air. In fact a lot of this serial is spent in the sky.

The villain in this first one is called alternately "The Lame One" and "The Spider" and the crippled mystery man lingers in the shadows and intimidates his henchmen and the public in general. Tracy and his team run and jump and sometimes spend time in the lab following clues as they chase down one threat then another. One feature of this serial which is pretty cool is the flying wing the Spider Gang uses to travel across the sky and bring death and destruction to many. The Spider's main henchman oddly is Tracy's own brother who is captured and transformed into an evil man by the villains.

As with any Republic Serial, the action is pretty non-stop with scuds of slug fests and gunfights galore. I frankly like the serials with a mystery villain and this one is a pretty good one with several decent suspects who linger on the fringes of the story. All in all, this is rousing movie adventure with an attractive star in Ralph Byrd who comes to define the role of Dick Tracy in the unprecedented three sequels. Much less successful is Smiley Burnette who plays Mike McGurk and who is as unpleasant addition to any movie as I have ever seen. He adds almost nothing to any scene and his painfully unfunny contributions hurt several.

More Dick Tracy serial action tomorrow.

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  1. Amusing timing, once again. I've been in the mood for some serial and just pulled out a couple. One was Spy Smasher but i guess i got the other one backwards - grabbed The Spider's Web instead of Dick Tracy (vs. The Spider)

    I've only seen one of the Dick Tracy serials, and that so long ago i don't remember which it was. Am i correct in recalling that they did not really try to do any of the villains from the comic strips? (Not just this serial - any of the Ralph Byrd outings as Tracy) That was one of the things i enjoyed about the much maligned Dick Tracy movie of 1990 (along with the colours and the music - Madonna's best album)

    Looking forward to more coverage of the other entries - they may be the next serials i watch.

    1. I'm getting a serial mood myself. It's been several years since I tore through them and they are such lovely diversions. I've been hankering to get into the Rocketman serials again, it's been a while.

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