Film reviews

#397 – Dick Tracy meets Gruesome (1947)

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)

Film review #397

Director: John Rawlins

SYNOPSIS: A bank robbery that ends in a murder means that homicide detective Dick Tracy gets put on the case. The robbery, which involved using a special gas that froze everyone in place while the robbery was carried out. Meanwhile, the criminal known as Gruesome, who carried out the robbery, is still at large and continuing to carry out crimes…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome is a 1947 feature film, as well as the fourth and final film in the Dick Tracy film series. The film starts off with a criminal named Gruesome getting out of prison and going to see fellow criminal Melody about a job. He visits a scientist where he stumbles upon a gas that he inhales. As he tries to make it back to Melody at the bar, he falls unconscious at the door, where he is picked up by Pat Patton, detective and Dick Tracy’s partner. He is seemingly dead, but he wakes up in the morgue and knocks out Pat before he escapes. Gruesome gets a hold of the gas again and uses it to rob a bank by freezing everyone inside. Coincidentally, Dick Tracy’s girlfriend Tess is in the bank and witnesses the robbery, as she is in a phone booth and unaffected by the gas. When a guard is shot and killed by the robbers as they flee, Dick Tracy becomes involved in the case and attempts to track down the robbers before the press print the story and they flee town. The content is again very similar to the previous three films in the series, with a balance between investigation and action. This film seems to pack a lot more content into it though, and definitely moves around to focus on a lot more elements. As such I don’t think it flows quite as smoothly as the others, but it’s not too much of an issue. One other main difference is the more science-fiction element of the freezing gas, which is something which isn’t a part of the previous films. It does stand out from the noir-crime and somewhat down-to-earth style of the film, but then again it still follows its comic book roots with the dramatic angles and silly naming of characters, so it’s hardly a world-breaking element.

The villain this time is Gruesome, a man who has recently come out of prison (whether he has been released or escaped is left ambiguous) and immediately gets back into a life of crime. Gruesome is portrayed by Boris Karloff, the famous horror movie actor best known for his role in 1931′s Frankenstein as the Monster. He obviously knows how to play a good villain; with his cold, threatening stare that speaks more than any words that he could say. Pat Patton even exclaims that Gruesome looks like Boris Karloff, which is a bit of an odd fourth-wall-breaking moment. However because of his recognisable appearance, Gruesome is probably the most memorable of the Dick Tracy villains. In terms of the other characters, Ralph Byrd returns as Dick Tracy, along with familiar characters Pat Patton and Tess Trueheart. The minor characters, in keeping with the style of these films, all have names relating to their profession, such as the scientist Dr. A Tomic. It’s a bit silly, but as mentioned it is in keeping with the original comic strip, and finely balances the gritty crime-noir with a mixture of slapstick comedy and comic-esque camera angles.

Overall, Dick Tracy meets Gruesome continues the work that the previous films did, without much else to say. The addition of a more science-fiction focus changes things up a little, although it does feel a little out of place compared to the rest of the series. Boris Karloff provides a menacing villain that is memorable and interesting to follow, and while the series’ trademark of mixing action, investigation, noir and comedy elements probably veers more towards a light-hearted approach than its predecessors, it still keeps close to the successful formula it has hit on of blending these elements of different genres into a short but entertaining watch.