Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome
Here is what many consider to be the best of the Dick Tracy movies from the forties. With Boris Karloff playing Gruesome, it seems like perfect casting. Karloff, known to actually be a nice guy, could play menacing really well. Gruesome is first seen entering a nightclub and immediately taking a drink from off a tray, and then downing the whole thing in one big gulp. An acquaintance of Gruesome, a man named Melody, tells a scarred face man with thick glasses that his friend’s name is “Gruesome.” “Isn’t he?” replies the scarred face man, known as X-Ray, in a funny moment.
Gruesome has some nefarious plans but is sidetracked when he picks up a vial, which lets off a gas, and he has to step outside for some air. He winds up passing out and a police officer wanders over to check on him. The officer thinks he’s drunk at first but there is no smell of alcohol, yet Gruesome seems to have no heartbeat. Is he dead?
Although a tale of malevolence and robbery, the film mingles in humorous moments and funny lines. For example, a doctor asks a man, concerning Gruesome, “You say he was limp when you picked him up?” “Limp as a playboy’s alibi” replies the man. A bit risqué perhaps, but mild as far as today’s standards. And it’s funny when Gruesome wakes up and casually lights up a cigarette.
The witty script features a plot involving a freezing gas, and a bank is soon robbed after the gas is let off, with employees and customers freezing in place while the crooks make off with over $100,000. However, one lady named Tess (Anne Gwynne), Dick Tracy’s sweetheart, comes in and sees what has happened. She notifies the police and soon Dick Tracy is on the case.
An inside joke is included in the comedic moments. When Dick and his assistant, Pat, start talking about Gruesome, Dick comments that Gruesome is “smart.” “Smart?” asks Pat. “He’s weird. I tell you if I didn’t know better, I’d swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff!”
Gruesome’s menacing ways include putting a choke hold on his own man, X-Ray, but he spares him. Gruesome is near to completing his fantastic plot, and tells Melody and X-Ray, “Tomorrow is the most important day of your stupid lives!” He is not given to sentiment, that’s for sure. It’s the kind of film with mystery moments and when a running cat suddenly is heard racing in the bank, it surprises (and shakes up) some of the characters.
For Dick Tracy and his gang, the road to capturing the villains is not an easy one. The gas is analyzed and found to have an unknown chemical, and then to complicate matters more Dan, a reporter, keeps hounding Dick for updates although Dick is proceeding with caution-so as to not tip off the crooks.
The film features the disappearance of a physicist and several car chases and shooting scenes. But when the tense moments add up, a little comic scene pops up to relieve the tension. For example, in one building a sign is seen which reads: “Y. Stuffum, Taxidermist.”
A bank guard that was murdered had 4 kids and Dick uses this sad occurrence to try to persuade a woman named Irma to talk, and to share what she knows about the robbery. And one of the film’s character plots to sidetrack Dick Tracy by creating a man hunt for someone else. As the movie rushes to the finish, Gruesome plans to burn the body of one of his killed minions, not knowing it is Dick Tracy who has taken the man’s place in order to try to apprehend Gruesome. We won’t spoil the ending but everything is wrapped up for the viewer.
There are several characters killed as well as a few shootings, not to mention smoking and some drinking so the film, with its homage to the police and duty, has merited our Dove seal for Ages 12+.
The Dove Take:
Boris Karloff is delightful as the menacing Gruesome and the movie is an interesting take on justice prevailing in the end.