FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
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.