Saturday, September 10, 2005

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy (1990) by Warren Beatty
I have to admit that I love just about everything about this movie.  It’s not the first to put a comic book (er, “Graphic Novel”) on the screen, but it’s significant in that its success probably opened the door to get the more recent spate of them made.

One of the things that always strikes me is the exaggerated nature of the design choices: Bold colors in a minimal pallet, forced perspective cinematography, grotesque makeup and prosthetics, stylized violence, the list goes on.

I even like Madonna in this film.  Rumors are that this film and Evita are where she started taking voice lessons.  It shows.

Let me take a moment to say that Glenne Headly rocks.  She gives Tess a presence that makes her believable even in this setting.  Note that Headly, John Malkovich, and Gary Sinise started the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago mostly because the three outtawork-actors had no place to perform.  

Tracy is, of course, forced to choose between Tess Trueheart and Breathless Mahoney.  One of Tess’s characterizing lines is when The Kid says “I don’t like Dames” and she replies “Good.  Neither do I.”  Breathless, on the other hand sets her tone with “I’m wearing black underwear,” and, “I sweat a lot better in the dark.”

Music is an important part of setting the tone, too.  Mel Tormé singing Sondheim’s “Live Alone and Like It” is one of my underrated faves.  Of course, “More” and “Back in Business” are pretty much showstoppers.  

Breathless has more to her character than it seems on the surface.  She has the dynamic motion of the story in her.  All the other characters have a static point of view.  Breathless, though, shows a moral conflict and moves from one side to another, that is, “bad” to “good”.  Of course, she’s only following her own innate instinct for survival.  Of course she’s going to fall in with the crooks.  She’s a talented singer who can only get gigs in the speakeasies.  
It’s interesting to me that her alter-ego has no face.  She sees herself as a “cheap floozy” as she tells Tracy.  In order to take control of her own destiny she has to remove her face.  Was it a cheap and expedient design choice in order to hide the identity of the turncoat?  Maybe.  It does raise some questions about Breathless, though.

Pacino is, of course, channeling Tony Montana when he starts shouting.  I keep expecting him to break in to “Say hello to my little friend!”

One last thing.  Mandy Patinkin, a true triple-threat, can work where and when he wants.  I can’t get enough of him.

So, as much as I like it, it’s really just a melodrama morality play.

No comments: