Supervillain Mr. Memory has three ambassadors set to attend a secret NATO conference about the Western European Defense System kidnapped in order to derail NATO and benefit an unnamed group and/or nation led by a man named Major Power. Chief Patton turns to his best man, Dick Tracy, to rescue the ambassadors and keep the conference on track.
FROM WHERE WE sit, it would appear that producer William Dozier & company were definitely on the right track when they acquired the rights to the DICK TRACY comic strip. Following success with the phenomenal BATMAN Series, TRACY was a logical choice for the jump from print to electronic media.
BEGINNING ITS LONG and highly successful run as an American Icon of the embodiment of what is good in law enforcement in 1931, no one could have predicted how "PLAINCLOTHES" TRACY would find its way into our cultural mythology. And the original concept by cartoonist Chester Gould, working for THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE-NEW YORK NEWS Syndicate had that very title. It was a suggestion by Tribune comics editor that transformed the title.*
JUST ABOUT FROM the very beginning, DICK TRACY branched out unto various other areas of the popular culture. Radio series, films, comic books, Big Little Books and eventually TV followed. Tracy's adventures from the pages of both daily and Sunday colour comics proved to be box office boffo and a great $ource of ca$h for whomever invested with "him."
AS FOR THE filmed adventures, there were 4 Serials from Republic starting in 1937. RKO Radio Pictures brought us 4 "B" picture features in the 1940's. The new medium of Television gave us a half hour series in the early 1950's; which ground to an abrupt halt when its star, the premier and best remembered "Tracy", Ralph Byrd, came to a sudden, unexpected end with his death.**
FOLLOWING THE KIDDIE oriented DICK TRACY SHOW from United Productions of America (or UPA for short) and long before Warren Beatty's DICK TRACY feature (1990), we had this failed pilot from Dozier and 20th Century-Fox Television. Why it failed, no one can say for sure, other than TV is a brutally competitive and highly fickle arena of bu$ine$$.
THIS FIRST EPISODE starter would have seemed to have touched all of the bases. Casting had Ray Mac Connell as Tracy with a well chosen supporting cast of good guys. The "bad guys" were headed up by popular Victor Buono (following up his success as baddie KING TUT on BATMAN) and a gang of appropriately sinister comic strip-like henchmen. Its plot had "Mr. Memory" (Buono) out to destroy the NATO alliance by capturing three of its envoys from member nations.
FURTHERMORE, THEY SEEMED to be on the right track with the theme and incidental music, the set design (imitating comic strip look), the use of primary colors and the costuming.***
SO WHY OH why it didn't make the cut and get a shot at network television is a mystery to us. They even managed to walk that fine line that Mr. Chester Gould did for so many years; straddling the gulf between the realistic and the fanciful. He even dabbled in the realms of humour and parody, with his villains names. The series promised the same.
NOTE: * The editor argued very persuasively that "Dick" was a slang for a detective. Adding it to "Tracy" gave us a highly symbolic, yet uncomplicated name.
NOTE ** Energetic, athletic and having the square jaw to boot, actor Ralph Byrd portrayed Tracy in all of those productions. He was as identified with this icon of Law & Order as greatly as George Reeves would be with SUPERMAN. (Schultz calls it "typecasting."
NOTE *** Ironically it was the 4 Republic Serials that suffered the most revisionism that were so successful. Among other things, they had DICK TRACY as being an FBI Agent, had Smiley Barnett as comic relief character and had Tess Trueheart replaced by "Gwenn", portrayed by one Lois Isley (later changed name to Jennifer Jones!). This version of the classic Chester Gould comic strip didn't make it past the pilot, but it is truer to the source material than any other adaptation (except for the Warren Beatty movie flop).
It's only problem that it was made in the style and verve of the campy 1960's Batman TV show (in fact it was handled by the same producers). Like Adam West, Ray MacDonnell is almost too earnest in his portrayal of the ace detective. Dick Tracy is a fairly one-dimensional character, but there's no need to accentuate this fact.
Victor Buono is the highlight of the pilot, playing Mr. Memory with his standard hammy glee that makes him so much fun to watch. Eve Plumb (the future Jan Brady) makes a cameo appearance in the opening credits as Dick's daughter Bonnie Braids, but is never seen in the actual show. a5c7b9f00b
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