Monday, July 13, 2015

The 1947 blogathon: Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome

"Welcome to the Coffee Pot.  Your home away from home.  The special today home style pot roast with apple pie for dessert for a dollar.  What can I get ya'?"

"The special sounds good, Miss."

"Sure thing.  One special, Cookie!  Oh, you've got the afternoon paper.  Gee, that sure is a swell picture of Dick Tracy on the front page.  Worth saving.  Reading about that business at the Wood Plastics Inc. factory last night?  Boy, some hot stuff!  Oh, would you like some coffee?"

"Thanks.  Cream and sugar."

"Cookie and me, we know all about it.  Probably more than the newspaper boys."

"You do?"

"Sure.  Being just around the corner from headquarters, we get a lot of business from the cops.  They like our coffee.  We hear a lot of the inside dope."

"Dick Tracy himself eats here?"

"Sure.  Well ... not as often as some of the guys...well, not as often as I'd like.  Ha. Ha.  But he does like our apple pie, especially when he's celebrating."

Ralph Byrd
(1909 - 1952)

Uncredited in many of his over 80 films, actor Ralph Byrd found the role he was born to play in the 1938 serial Dick Tracy Returns.  He would portray the famous comic strip detective in 2 other serials, 2 features and a television series (1950-52).  The handsome and energetic actor was felled by a heart attack at the age of 43 leaving a widow and teenaged daughter, and many fans.  

"Know anything about this business in the paper?"

"Sure.  But the thing is, it doesn't start at Wood Plastics.  No.  It starts at the University.  This Professor A. Tomic goes to the cops with a problem.  He's got the feeling he's being followed and doesn't know what to do about it.  Chief Brandon thinks he's a crackpot, but Tracy offers him protection.  What everybody doesn't know is that it's already too late.

Anyway, before the night is over Dick Tracy is sidelined by a little problem from Pat Patton.  He's Tracy's assistant.  Anyway, Patton is running in this drunk for Officer Carney, but the guy dies in Patton's car.  Or did he?"

"Are you pulling my leg, sister?"

"No, sir.  Patton says the guy was stiff as a board.  He took him to the morgue and even the police doctor thought it was a case for homicide.  That's when Tracy came into it.  Only by the time he got the morgue, Patton was out for the count because whatever "killed" the drunk wasn't permanent.  He woke up, slugged Patton and hightailed it outta there."

"Sounds incredible.  More coffee, please."

"Sure thing.  Anyway, the next day - you probably read about it - was that freaky robbery at National Bank.  Tess Truehart, she's Dick Tracy's sweetie and honestly, that woman gets into more trouble...well, anyway, she was in the bank during the robbery.  Something happened to everybody in that bank.  At exactly 3 o'clock everybody froze stiff!  You know, like playing statues when we were kids.  Well, everybody froze except for Tess.  She was in the phone booth and stayed alert.  Must have been a crazy thing to see.  While everybody was stiff as a board, the crooks come in and gather up the money like they was picking berries or something.  Tess - well, she's a smart one, I'll give her that - she phones HQ and gets the coppers on the job.  Only it was another bank guard that messed up the getaway and ended up getting shot for his troubles.  A sad business."

Boris Karloff
(1887 - 1969)

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome ended Boris Karloff's contract with RKO which gave him some of the best roles of his film career under Val Lewton's unit with The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead and Bedlam.  The latter part of Boris' career would see him return to Broadway for The Linden Tree, The Shop at Sly Corner, Peter Pan and The Lark (Tony nomination) along with a mix of film and television work.

"What's the bank job got to do with the "dead" drunk or the professor for that matter?"

"The professor is the brains behind the statue deal and the leader of the crooks is none other than our pal the stiff."

"No kidding?"

"No kidding.  More coffee?"


"The people at the bank were frozen by some sort of gas from some sort of unknown chemical.  One of our regulars is Fred, and he's a police analyst.  It's his job to figure out stuff like that.  Anyway, Tracy figures this leads right back to Professor A. Tomic, but when he gets to the university the Egghead is missing.  I.M. Learned, Assistant to the prof co-operates with Tracy, but only to a point.  She's a classy and smart gal, but all us gals got our weaknesses and hers, natch, is a fella."

"What fellow, the professor or the walking dead guy?"

"Someone else entirely.  Mr. L.E. Thal, the owner of Wood Plastics Inc."

"Oh, so that's where last night's business comes in."

"Yeah.  This Thal character is stepping out with Irma, the lady scientist.  He hears about the chemical the professor was working on and gets the bright idea of using it for the bank robberies."

"Hold on.  Does that explain the "dead" drunk guy?"

"You got it.  You see, Thal has these big ideas, not to mention the professor on ice, but he doesn't know anything about putting his ideas into action.  He needs a real, genuine crook.  And that's this Gruesome guy.  He got knocked out by the gas before he realized what it was.  I was real close to Gruesome once and boy, does that moniker do him justice!"

"When was this?"

"Well, Fred, the police analyst, sets me up with this cousin of his that works for the City.  He's an ambulance driver.  I'm all set for a night on the town and you know where the guy takes me?  The Hangman's Knot!  Of all the dives in this town, he takes me to The Hangman's Knot.  I'll bet ya' Dick Tracy never takes Tess Trueheart to a known spot for your underworld types.  Even the piano player, a guy called Melody, was an ex-con.  Turns out Melody is part of the Thal gang and when his buddy Gruesome gets outta the Pen, he joins the gang.  Joins it!  He takes over.

Anyway, I'm about to tell the big spender I'm with how he can spend the rest of his evening when in walks Gruesome.  Big fella.  Musta been about 7 feet tall.  Nasty lookin' face and a reach on him that could take out three or four guys.  Real weird.  If I didn't know better I'd swear it was Boris Karloff.  He and Melody make themselves at home and start palavering with this creepy little guy with coke bottle glasses.  Looks suspicious and later I'm able to pass this on to the cops myself."

"Gee, you were really in the thick of things."

"I see the little fella sneaking out the back room and the next thing you know Dick Tracy and Pat Patton show up.  They tied in Patton's weird drunk with The Hangman's Knot on Carney's beat and were checking the joint out.  When Patton gloms onto Gruesome, the lights go out and Gruesome and Melody take one quick powder with Tracy and Patton right on their tails.  There's a crack-up.  Gruesome gets away, but Melody is banged up something fierce.  Doctors don't give him much hope and they're right."

"How does that get us back to Wood Plastics Inc.?"

"The papers print a lot about Dick Tracy, but I don't think they tell half of the brave things he does.  Tracy puts himself in Melody's place, all bandaged up and lets it leak that he's gonna spill to the cops.  That's when Gruesome goes into action to silence his old pal.  It's nothing to him.  He's already offed that poor professor fella and the lady egghead.  So Gruesome puts the snatch on Melody, but it's really Dick Tracy all along.  Anyway, the whole megillah comes down to that shootout at the factory last night.  Wow!  Dick Tracy came close to buying the farm, but he got Gruesome and that guy will fry for sure."

"Thanks for the story.  Tell Cookie I liked the chow.  Keep the paper, Miss.  Just in case you want that picture of Dick Tracy."

"Thanks.  I will.  Come back any time.  The Coffee Pot is your home away from home."

The 1947 Blogathon is the brainchild of a couple of right dames called Karen (Shadows and Satin) and Kristina (Speakeasy).

Day one recap here.
Day two recap here.
Day three recap here.


  1. Enjoyed your unique write-up, CW -- you make me want to stop by The Coffee Pot for a cup o' joe and a slice of apple pie. I've never seen a Dick Tracy movie and I'm completely unfamiliar with Ralph Byrd, so I'm glad to meet them both -- not to mention Gruesome! Thanks so much for this fun contribution to the blogathon!

  2. So happy you enjoyed this cock-eyed look at the movie. It's Heaven for me, a huge Boris fan with a crush on Ralph Byrd.

  3. That must be some mighty strong coffee...

    Dick Tracy, eh? I remember reading him as a kid. Definitely remember all the hype around the Warren Beatty movie (which was not all that in the end). I guess someone like Karloff would be perfect for a Tracy movie. I'd watch this just to see him in it - but oy, those character names! Not exactly subtle.Then again, if Hollywood tried to remake TRACY today, they'd probably go the Christopher Nolan route and try and turn it into CHINATOWN - and what good is that?

    Nice change of pace. It suits you.

    1. Thanks large, Mac.

      Dick Tracy has his own unique world and I wouldn't change it. That "Nolan" route idea better not spread around the universe and get into the wrong hands.

      Are you familiar with Daffy Duck's "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery"? I love it. It spoofs Tracy unmercifully and a it is a real hoot.

    2. ((goes off to YouTube to watch it))

  4. A fun post! The only Dick Tracy film I ever seen was the Warren Beatty film from a while back with Pacino.

    1. Funny thing is I've avoided the Beatty movie as he's one of those actors I could never get into.

  5. Love the spoof. No better way to write about Dick Tracy universe than to climb in that world.

    1. The cogs turn slowly in my brain, but while I was planning "the usual thing", one cog bumped out of place and (swear to Heaven) a light bulb went off over my head!

  6. I agree with everyone else. What a unique and entertaining way to review this film! This is probably my favorite of the Dick Tracy films. I always thought the villains overshadowed the square-jawed detective and you can't have a better villain than Boris Karloff as Gruesome.

    1. Thanks, Rick.

      Gould's villains are all a bit on the gaudy side, aren't they? It takes a solid guy like Dick Tracy to face them down.

  7. Great post! I haven't seen the Beatty one either, but the Byrd ones, yes! Like you I'm a Karloff and Byrd fan, I loved discovering these and can only imagine how fun they must have been for the audiences then :) Thanks so much for joining in!

    1. Thanks.

      The opening credits are as much fun as the movies themselves. H'm. I usually plan a mini-marathon of something-or-other for New Year's (too early?). I'm thinking it just might be Tracy.

  8. Cute write-up! You're a dame what has a future in bloggery!

    1. You wouldn't kid a gal, would you? Gosh, I'm tickled pink.

  9. Ha ha! I'm another one who wants to drop by The Coffee Pot for a cuppa joe.

    Not only that, you've inspired me to finally, after two years, watch my series of Dick Tracy movies. I bought a DVD set of Dick Tracy films at a thrift store a couple of years ago for $4.00. And I have never watched them. But now that I've read your delightful review, I'll be moving Mr Tracy to the top of my Must Watch List. :)

    1. "But now that I've read your delightful review, I'll be moving Mr Tracy to the top of my Must Watch List. :)"

      My work here is done! LOL

  10. Haha, wow, very enjoyable. I've never seen any Dick Tracy films, but clearly I must brew up a cup of coffee and do so.

    1. You're a doll to say so. The movie world of Dick Tracy is fun - with all three letters capitalized.

  11. This was a fun post and reminded me I really should watch some more Dick Tracy films, especially any that come with Karloff too - what a team!

    (Vicki, GirlsDoFilm - I can't comment with my wordpress account!)

    1. I hope Boris had as much fun with the part as we have watching him.

  12. Boy, that guy sure can drink a lot of coffee. This was a fun write-up CW! My sister and I enjoyed watching the Dick Tracy films growing up. We use to watch them close to midnight, and believe it or not, they are quite spooky at night-time. Not the kind of DVDs I'd want to take on a camping trip in the woods ( yes, we take our movies camping with us ).

    1. That's the only way to camp!

      Yep. That guy will be floating home. He was so caught up in the adventure, he didn't know what he was doing.

  13. Thanks for the introduction to me of Ralph Byrd and the Dick Tracy movies, which I never had the pleasure to see. I've always admired Boris Karloff and his acting skills. He performed in some real classics including the Val Lewton films you point out. That apple pie and coffee sounds good too when I watch some of them.

    1. I find something comforting, along with the entertainment factor, in the screwy Dick Tracy universe. The serials and features are their own world while retaining the bizarre aspects of Gould's comic strip. "Dick Tracy's Dilemma" is a very interesting anomaly that I think of as the "Citizen Kane" of Dick Tracy flicks. They venture heavily into noir territory and, to my mind, the experiment is laudable and really works.

  14. Love, love, love - an awesome post, CW. You really know how to put the gum in the gumshoe!



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