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Film / Dick Tracy

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"I'm on my way."

"Everywhere I turn, it's Tracy! Tracy! TRACY!"
Big Boy Caprice

In 1990, Touchstone Pictures took Chester Gould's relatively simple crime-drama comic strip Dick Tracy and reimagined it as a big-budget extravaganza with big-name actors, colorful costumes, special effects, comedic timing, and plenty of music. Warren Beatty both directed the film and starred in the title role.

The setting is a large, unnamed city (inspired by Chicago) in late 1938. Detective Dick Tracy (Beatty) is the most dogged plainclothes cop on the street, dividing his time between punching out mooks and trying to keep his long-suffering fiancee Tess happy. 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... as long as he gives her what she wants.

The movie also starred Glenne Headly 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 his role in this film 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 forth. Years later, Sin City did this through the use of digital tinting, but in 1990, it was done "the old-fashioned way," using specific paint and lighting techniques to create the look.

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. In fact, it was actually the highest-grossing film of Warren Beatty's career. However, a combination of performing under Disney's expectations (Disney had hoped that Dick Tracy would be a hit on the same level as the previous year's Batman (1989), and initiated an immense marketing campaign accordingly, which ended up costing more than the movie itself cost to produce and enormously inflated its budget in real terms) and a decades-long battle over the rights between Beatty and the Tribune Co. put the kibosh on any immediate follow-ups. Beatty continues to hold onto the rights of the character through in-character interview specials shown on Turner Classic Movies in 2010 and 2023.

The movie has two licensed games. One for the NES and Gameboy and the other one for the Sega Genesis and Master System.

Tropes include:

  • Accidental Kidnapping: Big Boy is framed by The Blank for Tess's abduction — "a federal offence!" — and pursued by Tracy for it. Ranting and raving that he's been set up and it's not what it looks like, he's forced to flee with Flattop taking Tess as a hostage in the panic, turning it into intentional kidnapping.
    "They said I'm kidnapping you! I didn't kidnap you — but, I'm kidnapping you now. Does life imitate art?"
  • Action Figure File Card: The toys based on the film have them.
  • Actor Allusion: Al Pacino plays Big Boy Caprice, who was envisioned as an expy of real-life mob boss Al Capone. Capone was also the basis for Tony in the original 1932 version of Scarface, the 1983 remake of which starred Pacino as Tony.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • 88 Keys, who was a cold-blooded murderer and thief in the comic strip, is more sympathetic in the film, though he is still rather amoral and slightly mercenary. He is even more sympathetic in the followup to the novelization of the movie, Dick Tracy Goes to War.
    • Technically Breathless Mahoney as well, disregarding her secret identity as The Blank. In the original comic strip, she was a murderer several times over; in the film, she's a Femme Fatale and at worst, a Well-Intentioned Extremist but not exactly a bad guy.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Tess is blond in the comic strip in contrast to the redhead she is here.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Lips Manlis was clearly a gangster, but he didn’t deserve to die the way he did.
    • The Blank/Breathless was in love with Tracy and desperate to get out from under Big Boy.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Virtually every single character featured as a criminal has an extensive backstory, but few of them are given much characterization.
    • The novelization goes into detail about the pasts of many characters, for instance the Kid is the illegitimate child of a chorus girl who left him in her dressing room.
  • Anti-Villain: Breathless Mahoney is a gun moll, murderer and manipulator, though she works toward good goals by immoral means. She's also caught in a rather hopeless bind between testifying and possibly being murdered or staying silent and possibly being arrested.
  • 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."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Big Boy when he unknowingly kidnaps Tess, thanks to The Blank. Big Boy, thinking Tracy is intentionally framing him, suitably freaks out.
    • Most of Big Boy’s victims, being also in the mob, and being brutally executed, especially Lips Manlis.
    • The Blank/Breathless when it's pretty much revealed they did what they did because they were desperate and in love with Tracy.
  • Avenging the Villain: An accidental example. Dick Tracy indirectly caused Big Boy's demise during their final confrontation with each other, which also avenges The Blank, who turns out to be Breathless Mahoney, from being mortally wounded by Big Boy himself.
  • Award-Bait Song: All five of the songs written for the film by Stephen Sondheim. "Sooner Or Later" took home the Oscar for Best Original Song.
  • Ax-Crazy: Flattop relishes his job. A lot.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The majority of the bad guys, the good guys too.
  • Badass Longcoat: Being about the same color as a banana does nothing to make it any less badass.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: The Blank. (also good example of Villainous Rescue)
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: The Rodent picks up and punches off a cat that startled him and the other members of his gang during their card game. He gets what he deserves soon enough when Flattop crashes in.
  • Batman Gambit: 88 Keys and The Blank's plan to frame Dick Tracy has elements of one. It works perfectly.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: An exaggerated trope, as all of the gangsters are deformed looking, while people who are somewhat sympathetic usually aren't. This follows the pattern of the original Comic Strip, which has the bad guys similarly malformed.
  • Berserk Button: Tracy's is clearly pushed when he walks in on Steve the Tramp shoving the Kid hard against the wall. An epic beatdown ensues, concluding with Tracy snapping on the cuffs.
    Tracy: We've got a place for people who beat up kids.
  • Betty and Veronica: Tess Trueheart is Tracy's Betty to Breathless Mahoney as his Veronica.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Nearly all the villains of Dick Tracy comics appear in this movie.
  • Big Eater: The Kid. Tess even calls him an "eating machine" after witnessing his voracious appetite for the first time.
    Kid: When do we eat?"
  • The Blank: Trope namer, in this case, a (literally) faceless mystery person who undermines Big Boy's operation, and Tracy's career, too.
  • Blatant Lies: Pruneface indignantly states that he would never go to an establishment that allows gambling! Of course, gambling is how he makes money, and he's standing in a disguised casino when he makes this statement.
  • Bloodless Carnage: When criminals are Tommy gunned, there's virtually no aftermath to be seen. This is especially prevalent in Flattop's death scene, where he's machine gunned by multiple cops, including Tracy, yet falls down and dies without any visible bloody gunshot wounds.
  • Bluff the Imposter: The villains do this to Tracy after they find his bug in Big Boy's office.
  • Bullet Hole Spelling: At the beginning, Flattop kills a group of gangsters from a rival gang, then turns towards a wall and begins firing his Tommy gun at it. When Tracy later arrives to inspect the crime scene, he sees that a message saying "Eat lead Tracy" has been spelled out in bullets, and it came out improbably neat and legible considering how the message was made.
  • Bully Hunter:
    • Tracy, when attacking a hobo, Steve the Tramp, who's been abusing the Kid.
    • The Blank as well, although perhaps more of a Vigilante Man (or actually, a Vigilante Woman after that mysterious criminal's revelation).
  • The Cameo: Dustin Hoffman, James Caan, Paul Sorvino, and Dick Van Dyke all have small roles with one or two scenes each. Catherine O'Hara is also one of the crime lords who submit to Big Boy, and Kathy Bates portrays the stenographer during Mumbles' interrogation.
  • Canon Foreigner: Police surveillance expert Bug Bailey, D.A. Fletcher, and Caprice's accountant Numbers are all original characters who never appeared in the comics.
  • Cement Shoes: In this case, it's an entire cement suit... The Bath.
  • The Chanteuse: Breatless Mahoney is a classic example - a sultry nightclub singer and a Femme Fatale who is involved with the villain.
  • Character Catchphrase: "I'm on my way."
  • Co-Dragons: Itchy and Flattop. This is a big change from the comics.
  • Comm Links: Tracy's signature wristwatch miniature radio.
  • Composite Character: In the film, The Blank is revealed to be Breathless Mahoney. They were completely different characters in the original comic strip. The Blank is a disfigured mobster, while Mahoney the stepdaughter of the gangster Shakey who fights her mother over Shakey's loot. Breathless in the film is actually closer to the character of Sleet from the comic strip.
  • Contrast Montage:
    • The "Sooner or Later" montage, in which Tracy is stopping Big Boy's crime spree plans, while Big Boy experiences a Villainous Breakdown, making this a Failure Montage for Big Boy.
    • Reversed with the "Back in Business" montage, which includes a Good-Times Montage of Big Boy's crew shaking down the city, while Tracy has a Sad-Times Montage rotting in jail.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: How Mumbles is interrogated at the police station.
  • Cowboy Cop: Tracy show signs of it, though he'll usually try to avoid excessively violent methods.
  • Crime Spree Montage: Happens twice after "Big Boy" Caprice unites the different gangs and factions. The first time, the crimes are all actually being foiled, thanks to Tracy and his unit having a secret transmitter above Caprice's meeting room, allowing them to foil the heists. After the transmitter is discovered and Tracy is framed for murder, a second montage occurs, and this one is much more successful for the criminals.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The gangsters are very easily cut down to a bloody pulp during their attempt to breakthrough the police blockade at the Club Ritz.
  • Da Chief: Actually the District Attorney, but he fills the same role of breaking Tracy's balls. Averted by the actual chief, who is completely supportive of Tracy.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Big Boy Caprice really, really believes in this. The song "Back In Business" and its accompanying montage shows it greatly, and "More" is essentially a big-band ode to this.
  • Damsel in Distress: Tess in the film's climax after she's kidnapped by Big Boy Caprice to be his hostage if Tracy catches up to him.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Played with. The Blank can either be seen as evil, or an Anti-Villain.
  • Dead Man's Hand: In the opening scene in which several gangsters are playing poker in a warehouse, one of them mentions "aces and eights" several times — right before Big Boy's goons bust in and gun them all down.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Flattop does this to Tracy a lot, as does The Kid, and Mike from Mike's Diner.
  • Deathly Unmasking: At the end of the film, after The Blank is mortally wounded by gunfire, their mask is removed and they're revealed to actually be Breathless Mahoney, the woman who's been trying to get Dick Tracy to fall in love with her. She has a few last words with Tracy and then dies.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • The Blank wasn't killed in his comic strip appearance, just apprehended and imprisoned. Of course, since this version has him turn out to be Breathless Mahoney, it changes things.
    • Big Boy technically. He is dead in the comic strip, but he didn't die during his time as Tracy's arch enemy and head of the criminal underworld, but as a sick old man decades after his heyday.
  • Death Trap: Various, including slowly filling a box full of cement until the poor bastard is up to his neck in it, and then dumping it all on the harbor.
  • Demoted to Dragon: Flattop Jones was one of the most well-known villains of the comic strip, but has been demoted to Big Boy's hitman in this version. Granted, that was technically his role in the comic strip as well, but in that version, he was a freelance hitman who extorted his employers for a larger fee.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • The gangsters that get gunned down in the opening are all iconic villains from the comic strip, among them Little Face, The Brow and The Rodent, reduced to a brief cameo. This is especially notable with The Brow, who rivals Pruneface and Flattop in notoriety.
    • 88 Keys, in the comic strip, was a Mafia thug just as powerful and cutthroat as the other villains. But here, he's just a toady who helps out the bad guys.
  • Dirty Cop: DA Fletcher is in Big Boy's pocket. This is why he keeps finding excuses not to prosecute him.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted, as Big Boy is pushed over a ledge and the temporary stopping of the gears makes it clear, that he was more likely crushed to death.
  • Distressed Dude: Tracy winds up as this on more than one occasion.
  • The Don: Big Boy Caprice.
  • Double Entendre: A triple entendre, actually. After Tracy throws money in Big Boy's face, he venomously growls.. "You dumb DICK!" Dick is Tracy's first name, a slang term for a detective, and a scatological insult.
  • The Dragon: Flattop and Itchy Oliver seem to fill this role for Big Boy. Tracy himself is practically the Dragon of the police.
  • Dreadful Musician: The Club Ritz Dancers are all pretty awful at singing (except Breathless of course) during the rehearsal scenes. During the actual musical numbers later, they're flawless. Rehearsal must have paid off.
  • Driven to Suicide: Played with. Itchy and Flattop are the last two members of Big Boy's gang still alive after the final fire fight with the city's police force. They're heavily outgunned, but Itchy, and then Flattop, both open fire on Tracy in an apparent attempt at Taking You with Me, when the only real option for survival was by surrendering, and they'd have to know that trying to shoot Tracy down was going to end up in their deaths. In short order, Tracy and the other cops unload on them both, and both Itchy and Flattop end up dead.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Shoulders, Stooge Viller, The Rodent, Littleface and The Brow all were major villains in the comic strip, but are suddenly gunned down soon after the start of the movie.
    • Pruneface seems like he's one of the stronger members of Big Boy's new gang, not hesitating to talk back to Big Boy when Tracy's screwing up their empire. He ends up getting killed off by the Blank around the film's midway point.
  • Elective Unintelligible: Mumbles only mumbles throughout the movie until his final scene when Tracy slows down a recording of Mumbles to show he confessed that Big Boy killed Lips Manlis. Only then does Mumbles speak in a regular voice.
  • Enemy Mine: Pondered by Tracy. "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....
  • Evil Is Hammy: The way Big Boy talks to, or interacts with others frequently has him behaving as such.
  • 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.
  • Fanservice Extra: On top of Madonna as Breathless Mahoney, she is backed by some scantily-clad dancers as well.
  • Feigning Intelligence: Big Boy Caprice tosses out profound (but bogus) quotes from famous people to appear educated.
  • Femme Fatale: Breathless is a classic example of this trope, mainly towards Tracy.
  • Flipping the Table: Big Boy does this at the end of yet another rant after his men fail to kill Tracy (again).
  • 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.
    • When Tracy asks Mahoney whose side she is on, she answers, "The side I'm always on: mine."
    • During the scene where Fletcher is revealed to be corrupt, there's a shot of Breathless observing this from Big Boy's car, and later, in her disguise as The Blank, she uses the knowledge of Fletcher's corruption against both Tracy and Big Boy.
    • Also, when Big Boy Caprice kidnaps Tess Trueheart after being.... framed for kidnapping Tess, he starts tying her up and rants "A WOMAN! A WOMAN! I'VE BEEN HUMILIATED BY A WOMAN!" This ultimately proves true when just minutes later, The Blank, who masterminded Caprice's downfall, is revealed to be his moll Breathless Mahoney.
  • Frame-Up: Tracy is framed for murder.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Freezing on the deed to the Club Ritz will show that the city is named "Homeville" and that the year is 1938.
  • 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!"
  • Good Is Not Nice: Downplayed. The most unsavory thing we see Tracy do... is maybe get distracted by the sexiness of Breathless Mahoney. He can also act like... well, a dick when it comes to interrogating criminals but tends to stay away from violent methods unless it's really necessary.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: D.A. Fletcher uses a long black cigarette holder. No points for guessing he's corrupt.
  • Good-Times Montage: The Villain Song "Back in Business" is a good times montage showing the villains enjoying themselves on a crime spree.
  • Greasy Spoon: The diner Tracy and Tess hang out at.
  • Handy Cuffs: After being framed for murder, Tracy is being moved from the police holding cell to the county lock-up. His fellow police officers handcuff him in the front, Tracy comments on the lapse in procedure. As it turns out, the move was a ruse to allow Tracy the time needed to clear his name.
  • High Heel Hurt: After spending several hours rehearsing a dance number in high heels, one of Breathless's backup singers is seen rubbing one of her feet in the background.
  • Honor Before Reason: When Big Boy has Tracy kidnapped to attempt to bribe him, the smart move would have been for Tracy to take the money, and then turn it in to his superiors the second they let him go. Instead, Tracy throws the money in Big Boy's face, which impresses the Kid who is watching in hiding, but it guarantees that the gangsters are going to try to kill him instead.
  • I Am the Noun: When Tracy tells Big Boy that he's guilty of attempting to bribe an officer of the law, the mobster furiously rants that he IS the law with such fury it'd make Stallone's Dredd blush:
    Big Boy Caprice: You just said goodbye to oxygen! You silly, stupid cop! You refuse me, I offer you the keys to a kingdom... and you tell me you're an "officer of the law"?! I AM THE LAW!! ME!!!
  • Impersonating an Officer: Several of Big Boy Caprice's henchmen dress up as police officers, "arrest" Lips Manlis and take him to a warehouse to be murdered.
  • Ironic Nickname: Alphonse Caprice is also referred to as "Big Boy", but he's actually shorter than the movie's main adult characters, which includes his moll Breathless Mahoney.
  • Invincible Hero: Dick Tracy never seems to get a blow landed on him in fist fights with dozens of hoodlums. Bullets seem to have an aversion to him, too.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Lips Manlis noisily sucking oysters down his throat by the mouthful.
  • Kick the Dog: Big Boy smashes the fingers of 88 Keys in a piano when he becomes frustrated with the slow progress made by his performers during a rehearsal at the Club Ritz.
  • Kill Him Already!: The Blank has the chance to drill Tracy and escape scot-free, but doesn't. This is fully justified after it is revealed that The Blank is Breathless Mahoney.
  • Large Ham: Many of the villains have their moments, but Big Boy Caprice in particular takes the cake. Then again, it is Al Pacino.
  • Last Kiss: Between Tracy and Breathless Mahoney just before her death.
  • Lean and Mean: A number of the thugs, most notably Itchy.
  • Leg Focus: Breathless's backup singers perform or rehearse various dance numbers in short skirts and shorts (Breathless herself tends to wear long gowns, save for when she's trying to seduce Tracy) with there being occasional closeups of their legs.
  • Men Are Uncultured: Subverted; Tracy enjoys a good opera, and Big Boy Caprice likes to toss out profound (but bogus) quotes from famous people to appear cultured.
  • Men of Sherwood: The city's many unnamed uniformed cops are alert, well-armed professionals. Some of them get ambushed and killed when they're alone a few times, but in force, they're capable of conducting daring raids and help gun down several well-armed elite hitmen in the climax without any trouble.
  • Miss Kitty: One of Big Boy's partners, Texie Garcia, is a veiled woman in her late thirties who seems slightly less cold-blooded than her male associates (based on her reaction to Spaldoni's death) and is arrested inside a brothel during the Failure Montage.
  • Money Slap: Big Boy Caprice kidnaps Tracy in order to convince him to secretly join his payroll, and Big Boy entices Tracy with a large stack of bills. Tracy at first acts as though he is going to take the money, but then dramatically throws it into Big Boy's face.
  • Monochrome Casting: The film does not Race Lift any of the characters from the original comic. Except for a Chinese shop owner, everyone is white.
  • More Dakka: This movie has more tommy gun use than most movies of its rating, although most of it is cartoonish; in the opening scene, Flattop even uses one to write a message on the wall.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Madonna as Breathless Mahoney, including her wearing a sheer night dress (with the only reason the audience doesn't see her nipples being that she helds her arms at chest height) and straight-up getting on all fours on Tracy's desk.
  • Mythology Gag: After arresting Steve the Tramp, Tracy asks the Kid if Steve is his "old man." Steve was actually the stepfather of Junior in the comic strip prior to being taken in by Tracy.
  • The Napoleon: Big Boy Caprice is a definite example for this trope, considering his relatively short height when compared to the other main adult characters. He even mentions the real-life French revolutionary figure himself in one scene from the movie:
    Big Boy Caprice: "There was ONE Napoleon, ONE Washington, one me!"
  • Never Given a Name: Kid. Lampshaded but ultimately defied when he gives himself the name, "Dick Tracy, Jr."
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Tracy seems very fond of dealing these to his opponents when finally pushed to the edge. The first one we see, when Tracy catches Steve the Tramp abusing The Kid, serves as an Establishing Character Moment.
  • No Indoor Voice: Big Boy practically defines this trope.
  • No Swastikas: Due to changes in the story rather than censorship, notorious Nazi spies and war criminals Pruneface and The Brow are changed into regular American mobsters here. The Brow is reduced to being a member of Manlis's gang and is gunned down in the film's opening on top of that.
  • Officer O'Hara: Okay, so the cop's name is actually "Moriarty." But he still tends to, aye, tawk loike this, boyo.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mumbles has this reaction when Tracy slows down the interrogation recording to make his mumbling coherent: "Big Boy did it."
    • Big Boy and Pruneface, when they realize that the building has been bugged.
    • Dick Tracy, when he comes to and realizes he's just been framed for Fletcher's murder.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Downplayed. The Kid is constantly trying to run away whenever there's any talk of sending him to the orphanage. Once he actually gets sent there, though, the food isn't very good but he's otherwise treated okay.
  • 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 never set foot inside any establishment that allowed such a thing!
  • Outside Ride: The Kid gets around the city by riding on cars' bumpers.
  • The Pawns Go First: Big Boys sends out his mooks to fight the cops outside Club Ritz, while he escapes with Tess through a secret passageway.
  • Perp Sweating: Tracy puts Mumbles under the hot lights and makes a big show of drinking ice water while questioning him.
  • Pet the Dog: When Big Boy bullies Breathless, 88 Keys and the backup singers in an early scene, his henchman Numbers says that they're tired and deserve a break after rehearsing all night. Numbers also crosses himself after the murder of Lips Manliss, although this doesn't mean much to Lips himself.
  • Police Are Useless: Zigzagged. Obviously, when Tracy is on the job, crime is thwarted at every turn. When Tracy is removed and arrested, the criminals completely run roughshod over the city and cops are murdered left and right.
  • Pop the Tires: While Big Boy's thugs are trying to escape the police cordon around his nightclub, Dick Tracy fires his Tommy gun at the tires of one of their cars, causing it to crash.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie condenses at least 30 years worth of comic strips, a large part of which was written with WW2 as backdrop, and changes it into a traditional gangster movie. This is especially notable with Big Boy, Breathless Mahoney and Flattop, none of whom had any interaction with each other and died years apart from each other in the original comic strip.
  • Pretty in Mink: Breathless Mahoney.
    Big Boy Caprice: Around me, if a woman don't wear mink, she don't wear nuttin'.
    Breathless Mahoney: Well, I look good both ways.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The Kid tells Tracy, "For a tough guy, you do a lot of pansy things."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When things go south for his criminal empire, Big Boy delivers a delightfully over-the-top one to his goons for their inability to deal with Tracy.
  • Recurring Extra: The Club Ritz backup singers perform onstage along with Breathless in two scenes and get yelled instructions by Big Boy Caprice during rehearsals, but none of them get names or interact with the other characters whenever they're not singing or rehearsing.
  • Red Right Hand: Every criminal in the city. Almost all of the gangsters seen in the film are ugly to the point of deformity, and almost each one of them has a gimmick nickname that's tied to their specific brand of ugliness: there's "Flattop" Jones, "Pruneface", "Lips" Manlis, etc.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The Blank, who is revealed to be Breathless Mahoney in disguise, after she got fatally wounded with some gunshots by her old boss Big Boy.
  • The Reveal: Turns out the Blank is really Breathless Mahoney.
  • The Roaring '20s: The Club Ritz is stuck in this era (since it's technically supposed to be the Thirties), with Charleston-dancing flappers and illegal booz - er, gambling. On the other hand, gambling, and periodical reform movements to eliminate it, were a big part of Chicago history.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The Blank is revealed to be Breathless Mahoney.
  • 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 (1989) in the visual department.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When Tracy is framed for murder, his coworkers Pat and Sam are assigned to drive him to prison. Due to their belief in Tracy's innocence and their awareness that crime is running wild without him, they arrange to make a stop to interrogate a high-ranking mobster on their way to the prison, giving Tracy an opportunity to clear his name.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Influence retreats when The Blank shoots Pruneface. Note that Influence had a submachine gun and The Blank only had a pistol.
    • Big Boy when he sees his gang being ripped to shreds during the final standoff, with Tess in tow.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Or rather, Warren Beatty is shooting at you with a tommy gun. See the movie poster above.
  • Signature Headgear: Tracy's unmistakable butter-colored chapeau.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: D.A. Fletcher only has three scenes and maybe three minutes of screentime, but his corruption is responsible for Big Boy staying out of jail and Tracy being framed for his murder, which kicks off the final act.
  • Soft Glass: An inversion; Tracy catapults himself through a skylight onto a roof, going through the glass head-first. Also played straight when he initially jumps through the other skylight into a room. Both times, he walks away without a scratch.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: 88 Keys. He's killed while resisting arrest in the comic strip, in the movie he's just taken into custody, and he's given a larger role in the novelization sequel.
  • 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.
  • Straw Nihilist: Big Boy spouts Nietzsche quotes at the least provocation. Or none.
  • 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.
  • Taking You with Me: Subverted. Flattop busts out of his wrecked car gun blazing and aiming only at Tracy right before the final gun battle ends in an attempt to kill Tracy before he's taken down by the mass of cops. He's unsuccessful, and gets riddled with bullets from Tracy and the other cops present for his troubles.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The New Years' Breakout from Club Ritz was a pretty dumb plan... go out, one by one, into a street fortified with police bearing automatic weapons. Justified as Big Boy knowingly sacrifices them as a diversion while he and his hostage Tess escape via an underground tunnel. He even lampshades their stupidity.
    Big Boy Caprice: (to Tess) You gotta tell them everything. They crave leadership.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Big Boy likes walnuts.
  • Train Escape: The Kid pulls one to lose Tracy during The Chase.
  • The Trope Kid: The Kid only goes by "the Kid" until he legally changes his name to "Dick Tracy, Jr.".
  • Villainous Breakdown: After finding out he's being framed, Big Boy Caprice has one so severe that he ends up frantically running around while speaking nonsensical gibberish.
  • Villain Song:
    • Back in Business, where the singers at the Big Bad's nightclub sing a song about how he's "back in business" after the only man who can stop him has been framed for murder. The scene has a montage of the villains shaking down honest merchants, gleefully murdering police officers, re-opening gambling dens, and counting increasingly large piles of money.
    • It isn't clear on a first viewing, but the songs "More" and "Sooner or Later" tease how their Anti Villain singer is scheming to drive the hero into being her lover and take over Big Boy's criminal empire.
  • 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. A later scene makes it clear he does it on purpose and is perfectly capable of speaking coherently if he wants to.
  • We Can Rule Together: Both Big Boy and the Blank make this offer. But Tracy will have none of it.
  • 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. The novelization by Max Allan Collins goes into further detail about how he was retrieved.
    • We never see what ultimately happened to Numbers (Big Boy's accountant).
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Big Boy attempts to bribe Tracy in secret, Tracy throws the money in his face as a matter of principle, not knowing that the Kid is watching and impressed at his honesty.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: When Dick Tracy orders a fake police raid of the Club Ritz in order to plant an eavesdropping operation in Big Boy Caprice's organization, he arranges for it to begin at midnight (as seen by the time on his watch).
  • Would Hit a Girl: Big Boy has no problem playing this one straight, smacking Breathless Mahoney several times and threatening to basically rearrange her face when she steps out of line at one point. The novelization mentions that he slaps several of the chorus girls for any mistakes they make and Tracy easily deduces that he's hit Breathless when he notices that the side of her face is red and cites that he has a penchant for roughing up women.
  • 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.
  • Wretched Hive: The city, with Big Boy and the rest of his gang raising all kinds of hell.

Alternative Title(s): Dick Tracy 1990


Dick Tracy

The film, "Dick Tracy," includes nearly his entire rogues gallery.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

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