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Things Only Adults Notice In Dick Tracy

As a kid, 1990 was a pretty fun year to watch movies. We got Home Alone, as well as a live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even Kindergarten Cop! That would explain why every kid in the '90s was walking around in a dreamy daze while karate-chopping imaginary bad guys. Among this flood of PG entertainment came the comic book adaptation of Dick Tracy. Even if you never got around to seeing it in theaters, you might remember Al Pacino screaming Tracy's name during the film's marketing onslaught.

Dick Tracy ended up marching into the Academy Awards with seven nominations. Plus, the movie was packaged as a kid's film with a loaded cast that appeals to parents, including Madonna, Dick Van Dyke, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman. Young audiences were blessed with a cops and robbers experience coated in primary colors, plus that kid from Hook. However, for adults, both then and now, Dick Tracy leaves a much different impression. 

Sure, Warren Beatty's nod to 1930s detective nostalgia is full of blue suits, green light bulbs, and shiny red cars, but these visual aspects allow Dick Tracy to sneak a lot past its younger viewers. From the hero's sleuthing skills to offensive stereotypes, these are things only adults notice in Dick Tracy.

Adults definitely notice that Dick Tracy is a terrible cop

The man with the yellow hat steps into the film immediately after the opening credits, interrupting a theater show with a loud conversation on his nifty radio watch. Anyone near him could hear his plans with that obnoxious watch, as he's carrying on full conversations like a boomer on speaker phone at the checkout. This form of communication is hardly the nuanced approach necessary for gathering evidence and laying out plans to put baddies in jail, and it quickly becomes apparent that while Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) may be a swell guy, he isn't the most capable cop.

Tracy exists in a 1930s Wild West fantasy land that endows him with unflinching nobility and zero police training. In his first interrogation, he sits the bad guy down in his boxers, for some reason, and sweats him out under heat lamps for a while before taunting him with water. Tracy also arrests people with flimsy circumstantial evidence, such as arresting Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) because he found walnuts at a scene and, well ... Caprice eats walnuts.

Look, we understand that Dick Tracy is the good guy in a time when mobsters are able to wiggle through the judicial system with ease. It's just hard to admire the dude for his detective prowess when we see multiple shots of him appearing confused by everything. The man has the gut instinct, but he can't connect the dots. This is all too obvious when we see him sitting at his desk with two pieces of paper, angrily shuffling them around, as though he's frustrated by words.

Did Tracy seriously try to get fingerprints from walnut shells?

It might be forgivable if you remember they didn't have the ability to binge Forensic Files in the 1930s, but you'd hope that a detective in charge of such a large task force would have basic knowledge on fingerprinting. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case in Dick Tracy. At one point in the film, Tracy examines the scene where Lips Manlis disappeared, and after pocketing an earring he found, Tracy scoops some walnut shells off the ground and hands them to one of his deputies for fingerprinting. Yes, walnut shells. Yep, for fingerprinting. We'd give him the benefit of the doubt given the time period, but his co-workers seem puzzled as well.

A few scenes later, his cohorts inform him they're unable to lift fingerprints from the walnut shells because they're walnut shells. You might as well ask for retinal identification from a handful of bark chips. Tracy decides to badger Big Boy Caprice anyway, unaware of what it means to have circumstantial evidence. As a kid, you're too pumped up about the good guy's pursuit of justice to care how you get there. Adults watching are gritting their teeth and wondering if Tracy has a warrant.

That frame job is way too neat

In any battle of good versus evil, you win some, and you lose some. Given that we get a hero montage of Dick Tracy punching out crowds of bad guys with one swing and kicking down doors, the time must come for evil to have its moment. Before we get Big Boy Caprice's montage of criminal debauchery, the villains first need to frame the yellow-clad detective who's causing them all this grief. So, the criminals work with an associate to frame Tracy, and boy, is it quite the frame job!

The bad guys set a trap for Tracy, gas him, and kidnap him. Next, they arrange a meeting with the city's district attorney at a hotel. One of the bad guy's shows up to the hotel in Tracy's yellow coat and runs upstairs before anyone sees their face. They shoot the DA, stage a loud act as a pleading victim where they shout his name, and then leave an unconscious Tracy in a chair with the murder weapon in his hand. The cops show up and open the door just as Tracy wakes up from his nap.

The whole ordeal is wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. Adults are no doubt rolling their eyes at the obvious setup. No decent cops worth their salt would see Tracy as truly guilty, but he gets locked up anyways, even without walnut shells as evidence. Good thing once you break a cop out of jail during a prison transfer that's the end of it. He can just go right back to work.

Why does Dick Tracy sound like Batman?

You might hear the trumpets blaring in the opening credits, combined with the stark lighting, and ask yourself, "Wait, have I seen this before?" Well, you've heard it before. A year earlier, Tim Burton's Batman came out with music composed by Danny Elfman, who then went on to compose music for Dick Tracy the following year. It's doubtful that kids are picking up on original movie scores, but parents likely have a hard time ignoring the similarities.

We don't know if Elfman had his plate full or if he just got a bit lazy, but the music throughout Dick Tracy feels a lot like the Caped Crusader is about to float down and pummel some ghoulish mobsters with his fists. Elfman revealed in an interview with the L.A. Times that this similarity is exactly what director Warren Beatty was worried about, but apparently, they worked through the fear. Unfortunately, we'd say that Beatty was right to be apprehensive. Once you key in on it, it's hard to steer your mind away from the comparison. 

Wait, is this movie PG?

Once we reach an early scene where Madonna is perched on Tracy's desk on her elbows and knees while drinking champagne, adults are likely double-checking the film's rating. In fact, the movie's PG rating comes into question quite a bit. Beatty snuck a lot past the MPAA, dancing around their little checklist of cuss words and violence. Most of the antics are harmless, but after Pacino slaps Madonna, we began wondering if some things slipped between the cracks here. 

After being berated by Caprice, Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) returns to her room and then steps out in a see-through nightie. Parents are undoubtedly flabbergasted by the visible nipples on the singer known for oozing sexuality. At this point, we're wondering if Warren Beatty had some sort of leverage in whatever boardroom decided Dick Tracy's rating. Most of the film is a flurry of Tommy guns and explosions, as well. 

Plus, some dialogue sneaks right by kids in the audience, such as when Mahoney leaves the room and Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) looks at Tracy to say, "I bet she does some nifty undercover work." Or how about when Tracy proclaims that if Mahoney testifies, he will personally keep her safe, and she responds with, "Do you always put so much of yourself in your work?" Tracy says nothing and looks confused. Don't worry, Dick, we're at a loss for words, too. Depending on your parenting method, it's either too scandalous or hilarious. If anyone is looking for ways to sneak adult humor into children's movies, they found their blueprint.

Adults will notice that Mahoney's mind games are really obvious

When Breathless Mahoney crawls across Dick Tracy's desk to her champagne glass, she's met by a stern detective unwilling to waver in his duty as she hovers her lips an inch away from his. After being denied, the lounge singer climbs down off the desk, and her eyes get bigger and her lips get pouty as she tugs at Tracy's strings. "I get it. Why would you get mixed up with me? I'm a cheap floozy to you." She chokes up. Dick needs Breathless to testify, and he's visibly confused about what to do. For any adult watching, the mind games are noticeable.

Throughout Dick Tracy, Breathless Mahoney navigates the treacherous landscape by either toying with sexual desires or milking emotions for sympathy. Her situation makes our first assumption be that she's trapped in this world, but as the story develops, we begin to question her sincerity. But regardless of her intentions, it's obvious to any adult watching Dick Tracy that Mahoney is more in control than she's letting on.

We get it, though. Madonna circa 1990 is intoxicating, and it's understandable that she has all these mobsters by the short and curlies. The true puppet master in Dick Tracy is hard to recognize through all the sexual innuendo, but it's staring us right in the face the whole movie. You just need to keep your eyes up.

Dick Tracy is emotionally stunted

Unfortunately, we don't see too much emotional growth from Dick Tracy. That's okay because he's a man of action. Dick has to keep his head on a swivel and not be tied down by pesky emotions. That can be frustrating when you are dating him, though. Of course, Tess is extremely patient with Tracy and understands that his job is demanding.

Still, by the final scene of the film, you'd expect to see some growth from the man, but when he begins down a line of dialogue with Tess that mirrors a previous conversation, he still fumbles along and can't get it out. You feel like he's about to make things right, but then a call comes in, and he darts off. Before he walks out the door, he tosses Tess an engagement ring without saying anything. Okay, actions speak louder than words, but come on, say something.

The lack of emotional growth at the end makes you think back on all those seduction scenes with Mahoney throughout the film. Up until this point, we figured that Tracy was a noble fella who's focusing on his job, but by the end, we're wondering if it's not virtue and maybe he just froze like a teenager around his crush.

Filmmakers couldn't resist with the word play

Now, we're all adults here. We understand that "Dick" has gone through quite the evolution as far as nicknames go. Also, in the 1930s, "dick" was what people called detectives. But that didn't stop filmmakers from allowing a little immaturity to leak through onto the big screen. Most references to the detective by his first name are harmless and fit the narrative. However, there are several instances when some dialogue is snuck in that obviously had those behind the camera giggling to themselves. Adults at home no doubt also caught themselves chuckling while kids were left wondering what could possibly be so funny about Tracy being handcuffed next to a bomb.

One of the most blaring overuses of Tracy's first name comes from Big Boy Caprice. When Tracy is strapped to a chair and refuses to take a bribe, Big Boy refers to him as "dumb Dick" and again as he's getting into his car. Not to mention his lackey's dancing down the street while chanting, "30 seconds no more Dick!" As an adult, you also key in on Pacino's performance more than the kids in the audience, and boy, does the man enjoy putting a little extra oomph on the "Dick" in Dick Tracy.

Al Pacino plays a caricature of himself as Scarface

Chances are most children haven't had the pleasure of viewing Scarface. If they have, their parents leave them alone too often. Of course, any adult watching Al Pacino's performance in Dick Tracy will see the hilarity in the actor taking the gruff, intense role of Tony Montana and diluting it down to its comedic form. His role as Big Boy Caprice brought Pacino his sixth Oscar nomination and displayed an actor at peak star power, made apparent by the fact that Warren Beatty seemed to let Pacino goof off on camera a lot because, well, it's Al Pacino.

The cartoonish makeup application helped bring the caricature to life, but all the intricacies added by Pacino made the character shine. For example, Big Boy Caprice's mind noticeably unravels as the film plays out. When Caprice's criminal ring begins to fall apart, so too does everything that makes him who he is. The man begins spouting nonsensical philosophical statements and misquoting life advice, such as, "A man without a plan is not a man at all. Nietzsche!" The ramblings show a man in existential crisis, sifting through all the words he lives by. 

Many times, he does things out of nowhere that don't even move the story, like when he's strapping Tess to a giant cog wheel and starts rambling ,"I'm having a thought. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I'm gonna have a thought. It's coming ... it's gone." It's the weirdest bit of random dialogue, and it's hilarious. The whole act makes watching Scarface a much different experience.

That's Dustin Hoffman mumbling incoherently

One of the most enjoyable characters in Dick Tracy is Mumbles, who briefly appears in a few interrogation scenes. The character is hilariously incoherent when Tracy tries to extract information from him. All his words blur together in nonsensical rants that fall out the side of his crooked mouth, but while kids are laughing at the absurdity of it all, adults are realizing that, beneath the makeup, it's Dustin Hoffman!

The appearance seems weird at first because it's a small role, and this was Hoffman fresh off of Rain Man. But it's because of his star power that Hoffman was cast in this particular part, as Mumbles becomes the mobsters' downfall. He's the gangster that the rest of the baddies ignore as he scrubs their shoes, lurks in the background, and sits in the adjacent room during board meetings. But once Mumbles injects clarity into his speech in order to tell Tracy what he needs to know, the revelation that the character's mumbling is intentional becomes another comedy tool for the movie. The hilarity of Hoffman's scenes make you want to see more of him, but his place in the storyline makes it understandable. Still, we're not sure why he's in his boxers while being interrogated.

Dick Tracy is full of outdated, stereotypical female roles

Any adult watching Dick Tracy will notice obvious stereotypes for both men and women. When getting retroactive with Dick Tracy's gender roles, it can be frustrating to decide whether to be annoyed with the year 1990 or the outdated source material from the 1930s. The gray area allows most of the movie to skate by innocently, but it's still obvious that the only three female speaking roles in the whole film are outdated stereotypes.

First, we have a stenographer, featuring Kathy Bates in a now-you-see-her-now-you-don't moment. Secondly, there's a woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon. Madonna waltzes around town radiating sex and pulling at men's hearthstrings. The third female role is Tess Trueheart as Tracy's love interest — a woman who waits patiently for the man she loves to come home but understands that he has to go do man stuff. Even for 1990, it's all incredibly outdated. For most kids, these are details that you'd miss while cartoonish villains parade across the screen in bright red, blue, and green suits, but the rest of us can't help noticing these sadly predictable stereotypes.

Wait ... Madonna was just doing a Batman voice?

Amidst the entire cops and robbers dance between Dick Tracy and Big Boy Caprice, there's another chess piece on the board — an ominous, faceless person who's executing their own plans. Their identity is a complete mystery. Not only do they creepily have no face, but their voice is a deep, throaty growl that sounds like some high-tech voice modulator that doesn't belong in the 1930s. Perhaps this is some James Bond techno gadgetry. Tracy does have walkie talkie watch, so it's not too far out of reach. However, the character's reveal shows that all our assumptions were wrong.

No Face is revealed in glorious Scooby-Doo fashion at the end of the film. Underneath the mask is the lovely Breathless Mahoney. Once we see her face, she begins talking in a somewhat similar gravelly voice and morphs it back to her normal voice over the course of a single sentence, as though the whole vocal disguise was a simple voice fluctuation. So we are supposed to believe that the trench coat-clad Tracheotomy was Madonna doing a weird thing with her voice the whole time? Seems implausible that she steps back and forth from sultry lounge singer to the Marlboro Man. But hey, the kids love it.