Dick Tracy

(USA 1990)

“You better get over here fast. They’re gonna find out we’re not together.”

— Dispatcher (from Dick Tracy’s watch)

Dick, that’s an interesting name.

It took 15 years for Warren Beatty to achieve his vision of Dick Tracy, Chester Gould’s hard-boiled square-chin (and nose) comic strip detective in the hideous yellow trench coat (http://www.newsweek.com/tracymania-206276). I skipped over him in favor of lighter and friendlier (not to mention more current) stuff like Peanuts, Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois, Marmaduke, The Far Side, Life in Hell, and later Calvin and Hobbes and, um, Crankshaft. Good times!

I remember the media blitz during the summer of 1990. It included Madonna — I’m Breathless, an album of music from and “inspired by” the film, and a landmark world tour (Blond Ambition). I guess it makes sense coming a year after Tim Burton’s mega successful Batman that the studio would push Dick Tracy to be the next big blockbuster. This one cost more and made less, but it still made a mark at the box office.

Dick Tracy (Beatty) is dying to bring down mob boss “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino), the city’s most notorious criminal. He may have found a way through femme fatale lounge singer Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), Big Boy’s new girlfriend. She knows a thing or three. Now, if only Dick can get her to talk. The problem is, she’s more interested in Dick.

Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., the screenplay is adequate: it doesn’t knock your socks off, but it certainly holds your interest. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the story is secondary.

Dick Tracy is a sensory feast. Rick Simpson’s sets are gorgeous and elegant art deco cityscapes punctuated with primary colors and Depression Era practicality. Makeup designers John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler concoct memorably grotesque prosthetics that define each villain — there are many — and actually help you keep track of who’s who. Vittorio Storaro’s camera work pulls the whole thing together like an Edward Hopper painting.

Finally, there’s the music. Danny Elfman’s score is cool, but throw in some Stephen Sondheim songs — three of which Madonna performs — and you’ve got a winner. In fact, “Sooner or Later” won the Oscar for Best Original Song (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1991). Bonus: Dick Tracy is the closest you’ll get, at least up to now, to seeing Madge perform “More,” an overlooked classic from her catalog that to my knowledge she’s never done live. Ever.

Dick Tracy isn’t perfect. A few moments teeter dangerously close to overboard on cuteness and camp, but fortunately Beatty knows when to pull back. This is not an essential film, but it’s an enjoyable one. I like it.

With Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R.G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, Lawrence Steven Meyers, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Robert Beecher, Mike Mazurki, Ian Wolfe

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures

105 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

The Godfather

(USA 1972)

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?”

—Don Vito Corleone


“My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power. Like a president or a senator.”

—Michael Corleone


“And may their first child be a masculine child.”

—Luca Brasi


“Hey Mikey, why don’cha tell that nice girl you love her? ‘I love you with all a-my heart. If I don’t a-see you again a-soon, I’m a-gonna die!'”

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

—Peter Clemenza

Pretty much perfect, The Godfather was almost a different movie. Based on Mario Puzo’s insanely popular best selling 1969 novel, studio executives conceived a pulp gangster drama for its film adaptation. Good thing they wanted a “real” Italian-American to direct so it would be so authentic that moviegoers would “smell the spaghetti” (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/03/godfather200903). Several unsuccessful attempts were made to attract a director, including Warren Beatty. Paramount “settled for” unknown Francis Ford Coppola, who took it somewhere else.

The Godfather is universally held in high esteem as one of the greatest films of all time—as it should be. It’s a a movie showered in superlatives—like the bullets that shower, well, most of the characters. It’s impeccable. We caught an anniversary screening.

Coppola’s morality play is a masterpiece, more complex than it seems at first and full of contrast and contradiction. A solemn and ominous mob drama that centers on Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his family business, The Godfather boasts one riveting career-defining performance after another—Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and Abe Vigoda, to name a few. The characters are great, and the dialogue—perfect! Not a single second is wasted here, not even that long ass wedding scene.

The observations about human nature are astute, and the spin on assimilation and the American Dream is clever. The dramatic arc involving the descent of younger son Michael (Pacino) into a moral apocalypse is something you can’t shift your eyes away from. Black as its promotional poster, The Godfather leaves so much to chew on. This is what cinema is all about.

In 1990, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Godfather “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Al Lettieri, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Gianni Russo, John Cazale, Rudy Bond, Al Martino , Morgana King, Lenny Montana, John Martino, Salvatore Corsitto, Richard Bright, Alex Rocco, Tony Giorgio, Vito Scotti, Tere Livrano, Victor Rendina, Jeannie Linero, Julie Gregg, Ardell Sheridan, Simonetta Stefanelli, Angelo Infanti, Corrado Gaipa, Franco Citti, Saro Urzì, Sofia Coppola

Production: Paramount Pictures, Alfran Productions

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Cinema International Corporation (CIC) (International)

175 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) A+

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