In 1990, Touchstone Pictures took Chester Gould's relatively simple crime-drama comic strip and reimagined it as a big-budget extravaganza with big-name actors, colorful costumes, special effects and plenty of music. Warren Beatty both directed the film and starred in the title role.The setting is a Chicago-like city sometime in the early 1930s. Detective Dick Tracy (Beatty) is the most dogged plainclothes cop on the street, dividing his time between punching out mooks and making sure young delinquents get sent to the orphanage. A new challenge to his authority soon emerges in the form of up-and-coming gang boss Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), who unites all his former rivals into a citywide gangland coalition. Now Tracy's only hope in foiling Big Boy's schemes lies with nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), who is prepared to help the detective....for a price.The movie also starred Glenne Headley as Tess Trueheart and Charlie Korsmo as the nameless "Kid." It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song (Stephen Sondheim's "Sooner or Later"). Pacino was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (in a Playboy interview, he actually listed it among his top 5 performances).One of the striking features of the film was its attempt to replicate, in live action, the flat colors and limited palette of the comic strip. Every yellow thing was the same bright yellow as Dick Tracy's trademark outfit, every blue thing was the same blue, every red thing the same red, and so on. And unlike, say, Sin City, which did it with computer tinting, Dick Tracy did it by actually painting and dying the physical objects those colours.For some reason, many people seem to be under the impression that the movie bombed at the box office, when in fact it made double its budget back in America, and triple when you factor in the rest of the world. However, a combination of performing under Disney's expectations and a decades-long battle over the rights between Beatty and the Tribune Co. put the kibosh on any immediate follow-ups.
Accidental Kidnapping: Big Boy unknowingly kidnaps Tess, thanks to The Blank. Big Boy, thinking Tracy is intentionally framing him, suitably freaks out.
All-Star Cast: Though many of the biggest stars had relatively small roles.
Anti-Villain: Lips Manlis, Breathless Mahoney, 88 Keys, and Mumbles are all fairly sympathetic, despite being criminals. The Blank pursues ostensibly good goals (bringing down the city's crime syndicate) through evil means, a classic Anti-Villain move.
An Ass Kicking Christmas: It's not immediately obvious but a good portion of the plot is set around Christmastime judging from some of the decorations seen (in particular in the clothing store). This means the party the gangsters are having at the end is a New Year's Eve bash.
As Big Boy uses the underground cart to escape with Tess, he mutters to himself, "What a way to start the new year."
Dead Man's Trigger Finger: When Big Boy's minions try to break past the police cordon, Flattop comes out of his car shooting a tommy gun at the cops. He's riddled with bullets, and as he falls to the ground he continues to fire his weapon in the air.
Dirty Coward: Big Boy instructs all his men to gather in their cars and drive out into the street in front of the Club Ritz to meet the police in a final showdown - but himself chickens out at the last minute, attempting to flee across the river with Tess as his hostage.
Enemy Mine: Ultimately subverted in the case of The Blank.
"The enemy of my enemy is my enemy." But....if the first enemy is the enemy of his second enemy, then that makes his second enemy his friend. But he can't be his friend, because he's his enemy. But that means....
The Fagin: "Steve The Tramp" has "Kid" steal for him. Dick Tracy tracks Kid back to Steve's shack and beats Steve up, freeing Kid.
Feigning Intelligence: Big Boy Caprice tosses out profound (but bogus) quotes from famous people to appear educated.
Flipping the Table: Big Boy does this at the end of yet another rant after his men fail to kill Tracy (again).
Follow the Leader: Although Beatty's development of the film had been in the works as long as Tim Burton's Batman, it still retained a lot of elements that drew comparisons since Batman was released a year earlier. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone noted that they both contained: "a loner hero, a grotesque villain, a blond bombshell, a marketable pop soundtrack and a no-mercy merchandising campaign." That also didn't factor in the Art Deco-insipired set design, the original working script being worked on by Tom Mankiewicz (both films would basically discard them), and Danny Elfman as composer (and Travers noted that his Tracy score was incredibly similar to his one for Batman).
Foreshadowing: In the movie's opening action sequence, we see five hoodlums playing poker in a warehouse. One of them draws aces and eights - the "Dead Man's Hand" - just before a car crashes into the warehouse and all five men are violently shot to death.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Holy crap, for a PG film you have Breathless in a sheer nightdress, wearing barely anything at all bordering on Nipple and Dimed. Then there's the fact seemingly every line she throws at Tracy is a Double Entendre and doing things like getting on all fours on Tracy's desk.
Gold Digger: The nightclub song "More" pretty much says it all: "Got my diamonds/Got my yacht/Got a guy I adore/....Something's better than nothing, yes/But nothing's better than more, more, more!"
Oh Crap: Mumbles when Tracy slows down the interrogation recording to make his mumbling coherent: "Big Boy did it."
Our Monsters Are Different: So many of the criminals seen in this film are literally inhumanly grotesque. But not only do they not feel shunned or isolated from "normal" humans; they actually are quite proud of themselves, and even consider themselves pillars of the community! An especially striking example is when Tracy busts into the Club Ritz in an attempt to arrest Big Boy Caprice for illegal gambling: Pruneface acts offended, and swears that he would neverset foot insideany establishment thatallowed such a thing!
Scenery Porn: Virtually every one of the reviews for the film, positive and negative, heaped a lot of praise on the art direction, set design, and color scheme, with some like Roger Ebert even saying it outdid Tim Burton's Batman in the eye-candy department.
Soft Glass: An inversion; Tracy catapults himself through a skylight onto a roof, going through the glass head-first.
The Starscream: The Blank, to Big Boy Caprice. And, ironically, Big Boy himself: he betrayed his former friend and mentor Lips Manlis and took over his criminal empire.
Stillborn Franchise: Disney/Touchstone had hoped that Tracy would become the Indiana Jones of the '90s. However, the movie didn't light the box office on fire and there were legal issues between Warren Beatty and Tribune Co. over who had the rights over the franchise that ensued for two decades.
It was actually the highest grossing film of Warren Beatty's career and the ninth highest grossing film of that year, so it was probably due more to the rights issue than the box office.
However, virtually every report in the industry had Disney aiming for Batman-esque numbers (of which it did under half of Burton's film). It's not the film did poorly, it's that it came in well under what the studio was hoping for considering its budget and gigantic marketing blitz (Disney spent another $54 million on marketing in addition to the film's $47 million budget). Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg told the New York Times, "We made demands on our time, talent and treasury that, upon reflection, may not have been worth it."
Take a Third Option: Dick Tracy desperately wants Breathless Mahoney to take the witness stand when they bring Big Boy Caprice to trial, although she points out that this will probably result in her death. Caprice, meanwhile, fully expects Mahoney to stay silent, if for no other reason than sheer terror. Mahoney ultimately decides to become The Blank and set both Tracy and Caprice up for a fall.
The Voiceless: Played with. Mumbles CAN talk, but since no one can understand him it doesn't matter. He actually intentionally screws with people in this way, at one point giving a full confession to the cops, gleefully certain that they have no idea what he's saying.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Poor officer Pat Patton. After Dick Tracy has him jump down into the Club Ritz attic to catapult Tracy out of the locked room and back onto the roof, he's never mentioned again. We never see Tracy tell any fellow officers to go get him, so for all we know he's still trapped there...and then Subverted when he radios to Tracy when Tracy's in the diner in the last scene.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: While The Blank and 88 Keys are framing Tracy for D.A. Fletcher's murder, 88 Keys loudly protests that Tracy (actually The Blank in Tracy's yellow coat) is threatening to shoot him.