Budgeted and marketed to be the next Batman, which coasted through box-office records when it was released at the tail end of the decade that forevermore gave the cinema to 12-year-old American boys, Warren Beatty’s comparatively underperforming Dick Tracy comes off as Batman’s dizzy blond cousin, a live-action cartoon all in service of proving Beatty’s legendary virility, only this time in eye-catching four-color process shots. Unlike DC’s Batman, the parallelogram-jawed Dick Tracy was not a property that lent itself to any form of dark update, so instead Beatty and his crew leaned extra hard on the properties that most overtly creaked. If Dick Tracy failed to ignite the enthusiasms of general audiences to the extent that Tim Burton’s grand sellout did, you can’t say Beatty and his rogue’s gallery didn’t have a gas trying.
Dick Tracy is a non-specified metropolis’s white knight in a yellow trench coat, pounding the pavement and avoiding all desk work in his tireless quest to finger every shriveled, encephalitic, pustule-ridden, speech-impaired wiseguy infesting his city’s underbelly. But his eyes consistently remain locked on the grand poobah of organized crime, Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). Taking over a rival’s club also earns Big Boy claim on the club’s blondest showgirl, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna, enjoying the arguable high point of her side career in fiction films). Though Dick remains devoted to his blank-slate girlfriend, Tess Trueheart (Gleanne Headley), Breathless appears to be the key to landing Big Boy in the big house, provided Dick service her lock with his key. Meanwhile, in a city where nefariousness can be ascertained by the amplitude of one’s physical ugliness, a shadowy figure with no facial features at all seems to be pulling everyone’s strings.
On paper, Dick Tracy reads nearly as dark as Burton’s perpetually lunar state of urban emergency. But rather than complement the scenario and setting’s natural leanings, Beatty went the complete opposite direction, canting his angles for zap-pow effect, burying his cast of hoods under pounds of ludicrous putty, bidding his production designer Richard Sylbert to opt for bold, solid swaths of primary colors, and recruiting Stephen Sondheim, of all people, to dash over a couple of big-band ditties. When just about the only remotely naturalistic element in an entire movie is Madonna straddling the nexus between Marilyn Monroe and Mae West, you know trendy goth overtures are on a different restaurant’s menu. Dick Tracy is noir re-envisioned in art-deco Legos, a pretend law-enforcement fantasia. And ultimately it boils down to the exact sort of glam genre posturing espoused in Madonna’s own blockbuster addendum to the soundtrack: the majestic act of subculture assimilation “Vogue.” From Beatty’s humorous acquiescence to monogamy to his macho attempts at surrogate parenthood, Dick Tracy certainly numbers among the “fellas that were in the mood.”
Given that Dick Tracy is all about "the look," it would’ve been particularly negligent for Buena Vista Home Entertainment to muck up this Blu-ray transfer. Lo and behold, they did their multi-million-dollar baby proud. The colors in Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography are downright fierce. By that, I mean the buildings and clothes look like they’re literally wearing makeup. Lines are tight, black levels are fat, artifacts are scarce. The interlinking animated pans across cityscapes look nearly 3D, and the close-ups and split diopter shots look like comic-book panels. There’s almost nothing I can say against this transfer except that it’s so good that much of the makeup ends up seeming a shade ropey. The 5.1 master audio sound mix is a near-perfect match, with a lot of surround ambience in quiet scenes and emphatically garish sound effects in the loud ones. Danny Elfman’s music score and Sondheim’s romping-stomping showtunes both sound all-encompassing. A highly impressive effort.
No hanky panky here.
Though sans bonus features, the playful macho burlesque of Dick Tracy still strikes a pose.