Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947)


USA. 1947.


Director – John Rawlins, Screenplay – Robert Stephen Brode, Based on the Comic Strip Created by Chester Gould, Producer – Herman Schlom, Photography (b&w) – Frank Redman, Music – Paul Sawtell, Music Director – C. Bakaleinikoff, Special Effects – Russell A. Cully, Makeup Supervisor – Gordon Bau, Art Direction – Lucious D. Croxton & Albert S. D’Agostino. Production Company – RKO


Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Jack Lambert (Steve ‘The Claw’ Michel), Jimmy Conlin (Sightless), Lyle Latell (Pat Patton), Ian Keith (Vitamin), Bernadette Hayes (Longshot Lilly), [uncredited] Charles Marsh (Humphires), William B. Davidson (Peter Premium), Tony Barrett (Sam), Richard Powers (Pred), Kay Christopher (Tess Trueheart)


Dick Tracy is called in to investigate the robbery of a shipment of furs where two guards have been viciously killed. The trail leads Tracy to soon realise that he is dealing with a vicious criminal nicknamed The Claw who has a hook instead of a hand.

Dick Tracy’s Dilemma was the third of the Dick Tracy films made during the 1940s. (See below for other titles). It seemed like the first of these films, Dick Tracy (1945), was searching for the cinematic equivalent of a comic-book and ended up turning to film noir as the nearest it could get. By the time of this film, the Dick Tracy series has become more confident of its approach. Its’ noir is suspensefully sustained. The scenes with the character of the snitch Sightless being pursued by through the ominously shadowed streets by The Claw, being trapped in a blind alley and taking refuge in a doorway only to have the owner throw him out as a bum, but then being saved from the hiding Claw when the man insists that he wait to see that Sightless goes, are excellent.

At the same time, Dick Tracy’s Dilemma also goes closer to the comic-book – the wonderfully Neanderthal-looking Claw approaches something of the physically larger-than-life villains that inhabited the comic-books. As with the first film, there is also an interesting variety of offbeat characters around the edge of the film – Sightless the fake blind beggar/snoop, the ham Shakespearean actor, the fence Longshot Lilly. The only unconvincing aspect is Ralph Byrd’s rolypoly portrayal of Dick Tracy. Quite modestly effective.

The other Dick Tracy feature films were:– Dick Tracy vs Cueball (1946) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947). There was an earlier series of four serials also starring Ralph Byrd as Tracy – Dick Tracy (1937), Dick Tracy Returns (1938), Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939) and Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc (1941). Dick Tracy (1990) was a big-budget remake directed by and starring Warren Beatty.

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