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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I just caught "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball" (1946), which is an unusual mix of film noir and the Sunday funnies.

The movie can be cartoony, yes. (Skelton Knaggs is wearing his most ridiculous "coke bottle" specs, and a diamond dealer in the film is named "Jules Sparkle.") But there are times when the movie is so gritty, it out-noirs many of the "chick flicks" that Fox Video has been passing off as noirs in its otherwise excellent series of DVD releases.

It's almost hard to watch the scene in which burly Cueball whips dottering drunk Filthy Flora in the face with his hatband, before strangling her with same. It's not for "Little Orphan Annie" readers.

Then again, Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy" comic strip never was, either. Gould often depicted murder unblinkingly in the strip. In most cases, his bad guys met grisly ends rather than be captured by Tracy. Gould, a crime buff, explained that in real life, the criminal would likely avoid incarceration or execution by exploiting some legal technicality. So Gould preferred to kill his villains right then and there.

Another highlight of "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball" is Ian Keith's performance as Gould's hypochondriac ham, Vitamin Flintheart. I've never heard anyone mention this, but to me, it's obvious that Keith is doing a ruthless parody of John Barrymore, and having a ball doing it. (I suppose Flintheart is, himself, a reference to "the Great Profile.") In one scene, Keith pulls out a vitamin bottle and downs some pills, just like in Gould's strips. It's heartwarming.

P.S.: I saw Warren Beatty's 1990 film "Dick Tracy" one time. I feel no particular need to see it again. I remember a scene in which Beatty makes out with Madonna. As a fan of the REAL Dick Tracy, I found this to be a disgustingly cavalier disregard for the Gould strip. DICK TRACY WOULD NEVER MAKE OUT WITH A SUSPECT, AND HE WOULD NEVER CHEAT ON TESS. Chester Gould must have been spinning in his grave.


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