VCI Home Video // 1941 // 263 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 10th, 2008
15 Thrilling Chapters!
I don't know that he is the greatest fictional detective of all time, but he's certainly right up there. Chester Gould's famous creation, Dick Tracy, holds a place in history alongside the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, and Batman. The original "Man in the Yellow Hat," the square-jawed, fearless Tracy was the star of a violent, gruesome, and popular comic strip. Like many other comic heroes of the era, Tracy quickly began gain stardom in other mediums. Most notably, a collection of theatrical serials chronicling Tracy's adventures were made during the 1930s and 1940s.
As the serials progressed, they began to move further and further away from Gould's original creation and into their own entirely unique world. The fourth serial (and the final serial before Tracy's adventures moved from Republic to RKO), Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc., only retained Dick Tracy himself, dispensing with everyone else related to the comic strip. No Tess Trueheart, no Junior, and no members of Gould's delightfully colorful rogue's gallery. That may disappoint some of the Tracy fans out there, but those who enjoy the campy thrills of serialized adventure will undoubtedly find Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. reasonably entertaining.
Fifteen chapters are spread across two discs. The chapters are titled:
* The Fatal Hour
* The Prisoner Vanishes
* Doom Patrol
* Dead Man's Trap
* Murder at Sea
* Sea Racketeers
* Train of Doom
* Flaming Peril
* Seconds to Live
* Trial by Fire
* The Challenge
* Invisible Terror
The premise is a particularly outlandish one. A villainous serial killer is taking new victims every day. The killer's name is The Ghost, a mysterious man whose face has never been seen. The Ghost wears a mask that makes him look a bit like an executioner (and also a bit like Al Jolson in blackface), and is receiving the assistance of a scientific genius who has made a terrifying new discovery. This scientist has created a machine that can turn people invisible, and The Ghost is taking full advantage of this new technology. He disappears into thin air, sneaks up on people, and kills them. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha! His plans aren't simply to murder innocent victims, though. He also wants to try to destroy the entire state of New York!
The Ghost plans to do this by creating a strange series of weather patterns which will ultimately cause a massive earthquake and enormous floods resulting in great devastation. There's only person who might just have the brains and the daring to stop a deadly villain like The Ghost: Dick Tracy. Working with the police department and members of the ever-noble United States Government, Tracy will stop at nothing until he gets his man. At the end of each segment, it seems as if Tracy is as good as dead, but never fear? our favorite crime fighter will always return to fight again.
The serial does attempt to keep the gratuitous violence of the comic intact, though obviously you couldn't away with too much back in 1941. Still, there were a few bits that made me raise my eyebrows, particularly in the dialogue: "Mr. Tracy, have you ever had oil-soaked bamboo shoots driven under your nails and then set on fire?" In addition, this serial is given an exceptional measure of entertainment value due to it's willingness to try just about anything. When the Statue of Liberty is destroyed within the first chapter, you know things are going to get out-of-control by the time the serial is complete. Purists may cry foul at the idea of Dick Tracy getting involved in a story loaded down with sci-fi goofiness (oh yes, there is quite a bit), but I enjoyed it well enough.
That being said, this serial really can only be appreciated for camp purposes. From a standpoint of pure craftsmanship, it's pretty terrible. The acting is wooden, even from Ralph Byrd in the role of Tracy. The plotting is simply laughable, and much of the dialogue is quite poor. In addition, the audio and video quality isn't particularly impressive. The picture has a steady stream of scratches and lacks clarity, but it's adequate, I suppose. The audio suffers from a lot of hissing noises, and the music sounds just terrible, with lots of distortion and pinched sound. Dialogue is frequently too soft. The only extra is a 2 ½ minute introduction from Max Allan Collins.
As a fun little serial, Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. works. As an adaptation of Chester Gould's famous detective, it is a disappointment. Whether or not you will enjoy this serial depends entirely on what you are expecting from it. Not guilty, just by a hair.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: VCI Home Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 263 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated