Thursday, November 1, 2012
Tracy vs. Karloff
Read/Watch ‘em in Order #26
I’ve actually written about Dick Tracy Meet Gruesome (1947) before, when I pointed out it was one of two occasions that Boris Karloff faced off against one of the Great Detectives.
But let’s it review anyways. Karloff plays Gruesome, a brutal thug who was recently released from prison. He falls in with a dishonest scientist who has gas bombs that put its victims into suspended animation for about fifteen minutes. Soon, Karloff has scared everyone else in the small gang into accepting him as leader.
They rob a bank and
is quickly on their trail. They almost nail Gruesome after a car chase, stalking him through a taxidermy shop filled with stuffed animals. But Gruesome keeps slipping away. Finally, Tracy tries a gambit to trick Gruesome into giving away his hideout. This only partially works—leaving Tracy alone and unarmed while Gruesome stalks him while armed with a revolver. Tracy
The plot—with its science fiction element—gives this entry a different feel from the previous
films. It’s still a solid police procedural, but director John Rawlins tones down the film noirish look this time. Still, it looks great and the final action scene—which involves a conveyor belt and a big incinerator—is particularly good. Tracy
Karloff plays Gruesome with a sense of subdued menace, making it perfectly believable when he cows the other criminals into obeying him. The supporting case is good as well, most notably bespectacled character actor Skelton Knaggs as X-Ray, the dishonest assistant to the dishonest scientist. Ann Gwynne plays Tess Trueheart this time around. She’d been a villain in the serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe just a few years before. Now she plays the good and true-hearted Miss Trueheart. But whether she be good or evil, she’s always gosh-darn adorable.
Many fans of the
films cite this one as the weakest of the four, mostly because of the admittedly silly freeze gas. But even those who rank it last admit it’s an entertaining film. Tracy
And it remains my favorite. It lacks the film noir elements that were such a strong part of the other films; and Karloff’s subdued take on Gruesome means we have a villain who is not as over-the-top as Tracy villains usually should be.
But that subdued performance is exactly what makes Karloff so effective in the role. It may be a film with a silly plot, but he gives it verisimilitude because he plays the villain in a straightforward, non-ironic manner.
Also, that final action sequence, with Gruesome stalking
around the big incinerator, is honestly tense and expertly choreographed. Tracy
And finally—IT’S BORIS KARLOFF, PEOPLE! IT CAN’T HELP BUT BE GOOD!
That brings us to the end of the RKO Dick Tracy films. I’ve been trying to decide what films to cover next. I want to do something other than a detective film series next. I was thinking about the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films, but then I remembered I’ve dealt with them already, darn it.
I just can’t decide. Well, I’ve got four Mr. Moto novels to cover before we run out of them—and I’ve already decided what book series to do after that. So there’s time to figure something out in regards to films.