Picks and Pans Main: Video
07/02/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT
Those who have been swept up by Tracymania may want to expand their crime-stopping horizons with these spin-offs from the Chester Gould comic strip (and subspin-offs from the current movie):
THE ANIMATED ADVENTURES OF DICK TRACY: VOL. I
Made for television in 1961, the five-minute cartoons on this anthology tape succeeded in draining all the fun out of the Tracy universe. The Tracy character himself (with voice provided by veteran actor Everett Sloane) for the most part has only a peripheral role.
Most of the dreary little tales involve anthropomorphic animals—Hemlock Holmes the hound, Go Go Gomez the Mexican—and their assistants, called the Retouchables (these are the jokes, folks). They solve the unimaginative case, then Tracy reappears for a tip, such as telling kids to pay attention to the wanted posters at the post office but not to try to apprehend the crooks themselves.
Such reliable villains from the newspaper comic strip as Pruneface and B-B Eyes also show up in this first of six projected volumes, but as good as Gould it is not. (Paramount, $12.95)
DICK TRACY, DETECTIVE
DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME
Both drawn from a series of Tracy features made during the late '30s and '40s, these rereleases are modest but compact, crisply written and acted and still enjoyable movies. (Each is a little more than an hour long.)
Morgan Conway plays the homicide sleuth in Dick Tracy, Detective (1945), one of his two appearances in the role. While he has a gaunt look that might have better qualified him to portray Sherlock Holmes, he has a commanding presence and gets effective backup from Anne Jeffreys (later of TV's Topper) as girlfriend Tess, Jane (Out of the Past) Greer as a semifloozie and Mike Mazurki as the villain Splitface. The plot has a nice little mystery twist to it too; it has to do with figuring out why Mazurki's hit list happens to include exactly 14 people.
Ralph Byrd plays Tracy in the Gruesome tale, as he did in several other Tracy features and later in the early '50s Tracy TV series. There was always something vaguely unconvincing about him, and he gets brutally upstaged in this film by Boris Karloff as Gruesome. Reining in his usual supernaturally evil qualities to more human dimensions, Karloff is, in a pre-Nicholson kind of way, quite a star villain as he tries to use a wacky chemical discovery—a gas that causes people to freeze in place for a few minutes—to go on a crime spree. Anne Gwynne plays Tess in this 1947 film.
There are no wrist radios—they only entered the Gould strip in 1946—and no high-tech effects, but these bare, black-and-white relics do keep things in perspective. This is a comics character, remember? (Media, $19.98 each)
THE GREAT PIGGY-BANK ROBBERY
Perhaps most entertaining, all things considered, is this 1946 Warner Brothers cartoon short in which Daffy Duck is a comic bookaholic who accidentally knocks himself out and dreams he has turned into a variation on his favorite character: Duck Twacy.
Written by Warren Foster and directed by Bob Clampett, the cartoon sends up Gould's detective in amiable fashion. Daffy, for one thing, has the beak for the job. He knows how to sneer out a tough guy line, too. "I'm gonna pin it on ya, see," he tells a poster of a donkey.
Daffy has no trouble finding the bad guys involved in a string of piggybank heists, since there are neon signs all over saying "To Gangster's Hideout" and "This Is It! Entrance." (The reference being to Gould's tendency to label and tip off everything in sight.) The villains themselves have suitable names, including Juke Box Jaw, Picklepuss, 88 Keys and Pumpkinhead, who, after Daffy pulverizes him, turns into Pumpkin Pie Head.
The real Tracy villain Flattop makes an uncredited appearance, though only so the villains' planes can take off from his head.
Daffy solves the case in five minutes or so and comes back to his senses none the worse for wear, ready to resume his perennial quest for Pismo Beach. (The cartoon is available on the $14.95 MGM/UA anthology Daffy.)