Friday, July 16, 2021

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947) Classic Detective Sci-Fi Comic Noir

ast of the RKO Dick Tracy films

Directed by John Rawlins ((Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)). Written by Robertson White and Eric Taylor from on a story by William Graffis and Robert E. Kent and based on the comic strip Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould. Music by Paul Sawtell, Cinematography by Frank Redman

I read the Dick Tracy comic long before I ever saw any of the films.  But I was also a big fan of Duck Tracy in the Warner Brothers Looney Toons spoof The Great Piggy Bank Robbery.  

I usually read the strip on Sunday mornings. It was in the late 1950s through the 1960s. The strip was in the New York Daily News. It was already .gadget loaded. The the two-Way Wrist Radio  had been around for 10 years, and the strip born in October of '31 was 27 years then. 

I've also read that Chester Gould's depictions of Dick Tracy wearing a fedora and trench coat actually became the de facto template for all the future film visual depiction of Private Detectives. I just could be.  I don't recall if Hammett's Continental Op who made his debut eight years earlier in 1923 was ever literally described in the now ionic fedora and trench coat. 

Anyway I just  happened to catch this film while watching a cable channel called The Film Detective. Don't get too excited, its old TV shows during the day then segues over to old films heavy on Westerns with the other genres getting some play too. They do air and have on demand for streaming a few Classic and Transitional Film Noir, and also the old 1950s Dragnet TV show is a guilty pleasure that has a lot of familiar L.A. Film Noir and other equally seedy locations that fit right in with low life and looser stories to match.

Boris Karloff as Gruesome

Lyle Latell as Pat Patton left, Ralph Byrd as Dick Tracy

The film stars Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, Scarface, Mr. Wong, Detective, Isle of the Dead, Film Noir Lured) as Gruesome the gangster. Ralph Byrd ((Canon City, Union Station, and Dick Tracy TV Series 1950–1952)) as Dick Tracy, Tony Barrett as 'Melody' Fiske a jazz playing gangster. Anne Gwynne (The Glass Alibi) as Tess Truehart. 

Tony Barrett as 'Melody' Fiske

Skelton Knaggs as Rudolph X-Ray

 Anne Gwynne as Tess Truehart 

Also in the cast are Skelton Knaggs as Rudolph X-Ray (Dick Tracy vs. Cueball) Edward Ashley (Nocturne, Macao, ) as Dr. Lee Thal, June Clayworth as Dr. I.M. Learned Prof. A. Tomic's assistant, Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, James Nolan as Dan Sterne newspaper reporter, Joseph Crehan as Chief Brandon, another Classic Noir bit part player Milton Parsons as Dr. A. Tomic State U. physicist, and Lex Barker (The Girl in Black Stockings) as an ambulance driver.

The Story

The "Hangman's Knot" A basement jazz dive bar/nightclub with a neon noose in the window. A shadowy figure makes its way to the entrance. Inside two hepcats are shimmying to a jazzy piano tune played by "Melody." The shadow walks through the door and enters the club. Its an ex con named "Gruesome." 

Gruesome asks a passing waiter to tell Melody that someone wants to see him. Melody is glad to see his old partner in crime, he tells Gruesome that he and X-ray are working with this evil genius on a plan for a bank job.

happy to see each other

The plan involves a stolen secret formula. When Gruesome and Melody get to the hidden laboratory in a Wood Plastics plant. X-ray stalls them telling them that the Doctor is in the middle of an experiment. That's OK Gruesome tells X-ray he can wait. He tells Melody to go back to the club. 

X-ray tells Gruesome, Ok wait, but don't touch anything. As soon as X-ray goes back into the laboratory, Gruesome makes a bee line to a safe. 

Gruesome gets a whiff

He is going to try and crack it, but he finds it already open. He searches it, finds no money. But he does pick up a test tube, cracks the stopper, and gets a tiny whiff of the gas that escapes. Toxic! Instantly Gruesome coughs, and quickly staggers from the plant heading back to the Hangman's knot. At the entrance door of the the joint he collapses. 

Pick up that drunk and bring him to the station

A passing beat cop thinks he's just another drunk and is about to call for a wagon when a patrol cruiser shows up. The beat cop asks the cruiser cops heading to the station if they can to grab that drunk. So they pick up Gruesome and place the big man across the back seat, having to stuff him in kitty corner to fit, as best they can. When they get to the station to book him into the drunk tank they discover Gruesome dead and that rigor mortis has set in. 

 Lyle Latell as Pat Patton rt.

Pat Patton takes over and they take Gruesome to the morgue. When they pull Gruesome's corpse from the car, one of the legs is frozen sticking up. They place him on the gurney and cover him with a sheet. The sequence sets up a few picaresque gags that gets chuckles.

After hours at the Morgue, Pat Patton has put Gruesome in a slot and is sitting at a table filling out an admittance slip. We watch (in a great visually stylistic angle) from the back of the slot and we see over the corpse out the end to Pat Patton  at the desk. We see the corpse fish out a pack of cigarettes. Plug a butt into his mouth. Flip open a light, and take a drag. Another chuckle as the attendant sniffs cigarette smoke. 

Gruesome awakened from the temporary side effect to exposure to the mysterious gas, gets up off the gurney. He sneaks up behind the attendant, and cold-cocks him. Gruesome gabs his gun and wallet he desk and walks out into the outer office.

Just as he is about to scoot he hears someone approaching. Gruesome jumps on an empty gurney and pulls a sheet over himself just as Dick Tracy opens the door. Tracy walks on through into the receiving room and finds the woozy Pat just coming to. 

The big job is the robbery of the First National Bank. Dr. Lee Thal places a gas bomb in a waste basket at the First National Bank. When it goes off and all the patrons are all frozen in place Gruesome and Melody scoot in and start scooping up all the cash. 

Gas bomb in waste basket

about to be frozen

Tess faking it

It all goes Noirsville when the whole robbery is observed however by Tess Trueheart who was in a pone booth making a phone call. The booth insulated her from the effects of the gas.


Its an entertaining flick, and all the actors are good enough to pull the tale off. Noir enthusiasts should give it a screening its on demand on The Film Detective. 7/10 

No comments:

Post a Comment