Thursday, November 3, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

This was the fourth and last production of a quartet of DICK TRACY films released by RKO in the late 1940s. All of them are competent enough B-features, and in contrast to the Republic serials, they do occasionally capture some of the grotesquerie of the Chester Gould comic strip.

That said, I find DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME the dullest of the four, mostly because of a by-the-numbers script, playing to the presence of top-billed Boris Karloff (the script even manages a jokey mention of the actor's name by one of the characters). Karloff plays Gruesome, a hard-bitten thug just out of prison and looking for a crooked score. He hooks up with a piano-playing hood (a distant descendant of "88 Keys?") and this leads him to an encounter with an unseen crime-boss. The boss wants to use Gruesome and his buddy to knock off banks using a special paralysis gas. Gruesome, being an ornery cuss, has his own ideas about who's calling the shots.

Gruesome is a flatly conceived role that Karloff could play in his sleep. There are a few horror-references: early in the film the villain is exposed to the gas, and is mistaken for a corpse by Dick Tracy's comedy-relief partner. But aside from being convincingly brutal, there's not much to Gruesome, nor to any of his partners, though Skelton Knaggs (seen above with Karloff) has a good creepy look to him. As for the heroes, Ralph Byrd essays Tracy with his usual brio, and Anne Gwynne makes a particularly vivacious Tess Trueheart.

I term the Campbellian function here "sociological" because it's about cops vs. crime, but it's pretty thin stuff. John Rawlins, who co-directed THE GREEN HORNET STRIKES AGAIN, does a good noir-ish job with the material, making use of high-level vantage shots to break things up a little.


  1. It was a fun series, Gene. The RKO Dick Tracy flicks, I mean; and one of the few "series films" to debut in the 40s, I believe, and while it didn't last long it caught the zeitgeist nicely, somewhere near the end of the war and the postwar "atomic angst".

    It's been so long since I've seen a DT that I can scarcely remember which is which. Wasn't Skelton Knaggs in more than one? Maybe he followed Karloff around, as they seemed to appear together in a few films. I enjoyed all the films in the series a good deal, as they had, as I recall, a truly surreal quality to them unlike any other films.

    Anyway, thanks for posting on this and all the other offbeat, often neglected films and TV series from an earlier time. It's always a joy to read your comments,

  2. Enjoyed your comment, John. Yes, even if I was a little hard on this one, the series as a whole is eminently watchable. I seem to remember thinking that the other three villains were more grotesque than Gruesome, who IMO didn't really do anything all that impressive. But I ought to re-screen the others when possible.

    I saw DTMG as a kid, when I hadn't seen many Karloff films, so I'm sure I liked it better just for having BK in it. And you're correct; Skelton Knaggs made one other entry in the series, DICK TRACY MEETS CUEBALL, but Knaggs played a different character.

    As always, great to get some substantive feedback!

  3. You're welcome, Gene. It was either this one or the other in the series that first drew my attention,--is there a better way to put this?--to Skelton Knaggs. I believe it was his introduction, literally, through a speakeasy style door, or maybe the Dutch kind. One doesn't forget such a sight. I believe he was smoking, using a cigarette holder.

    It's funny what you remember; from your childhood and teen years especially. Everything's so vivid when you're that age. Also, greatly to the advantage of those of us of a certain age, the relative slowness of films and TV shows from way back when, whether old or new. The pictorial aspects of those mediums, as distinct from the kinetic, peripatetic, however one chooses to describe the way films move these days, preserved striking images. Things move so fast now, and with all the f/x it's like all movies of today become a big blur in my memory, which doesn't hold them for long.

  4. On the chance you read this, John, I've added a link to this page to another of my blogs, OUROBOROS DREAMS, which functions as a more general catch-all. To the extent that you're interested in actors' appearances, I've started a feature, SUPERHEROES ARE DAMN NEAR EVERYWHERE, in which I try to link actors from "fantasy films or TV" of any kind to things I deem superhero stories in film or TV. It's not in the least profound, but it's fun to search for and post the relevant images of actors famous and not-so-famous.