MONDAY, MAY 29, 2017

Gould reviewing an RKO film reel in 1945

The story of Dick Tracy has traditionally been an effective form of communication in a variety of media including the comic strip because, for the most part, since its inception it has struck a responsive chord in its audience—a chord of socially prescribed morality, not immorality.

Some media have been more successful in relating the saga than others—the comic strip being most effective since the story of Dick Tracy was created for this medium; television adaptations (both dramatic teleplays and animation aimed at children) have not worked nearly as well.

Nonetheless, Chester Gould’s original concept and moral storytelling—which do not celebrate gratuitous violence or inspire violent antisocial behavior—have been expanded in a proliferation of diverse media for eighty years.

Dick Tracy in the Serials

In 1937, Chester Gould’s detective hero debuted in the first of four Dick Tracy movie serials created by Republic Pictures. By the time the fourth Dick Tracy serial was released in 1941, it was quite apparent that these fast-moving, visually stimulating, cliffhanging productions would stand not only as more than worthy contributions to the Tracy legacy, but also as landmark contributions to the medium of the motion picture serial.

Ralph Byrd (April 22, 1909-August 18, 1952) played the title character in each of the four 15-chapter serials and was quite successful in that role; because of Byrd’s performances, a good deal of the integrity and charm of the Chester Gould comic strip remained intact in these celluloid interpretations of the Tracy legend. Alan G. Barbour writes, but perhaps overstates a bit, that the relationship between Byrd and his motion picture interpretation of Dick Tracy was “one of those rare cases where the actor and the role are [were] completely unified: Ralph Byrd was Dick Tracy.”

By the time Byrd appeared in that first Republic Dick Tracy serial (Republic’s fifth serial at the time), he had appeared in Columbia Pictures’ movie Hellship Morgan (1936) and Puritan Pictures’ Border Caballero (1936). The movie serial, a very sensual medium in terms of sight and sound, expanded the horizons of Gould’s newspaper strip hero.

The four Dick Tracy movie serials produced by Republic Pictures Corporation were Dick Tracy (1937), Dick Tracy Returns (1938), Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939), and Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. (1941)


Watch EpisodeChapter 1 – The Spider Strikes
Watch EpisodeChapter 2 – The Bridge of Terror
Watch EpisodeChapter 3 – The Fur Pirates
Watch EpisodeChapter 4 – Death Rides the Sky
Watch EpisodeChapter 5 – Brother Against Brother
Watch EpisodeChapter 6 – Dangerous Waters
Watch EpisodeChapter 7 – The Ghost Town Mystery
Watch EpisodeChapter 8 – Battled in the Clouds
Watch EpisodeChapter 9 – The Stratosphere Adventure
Watch EpisodeChapter 10 – The Gold Ship
Watch EpisodeChapter 11 – Harbor Pursuit
Watch EpisodeChapter 12 – The Trail of the Spider
Watch EpisodeChapter 13 – The Fire Trap
Watch EpisodeChapter 14 – The Devil in White
Watch EpisodeChapter 15 – Brothers United

Page content excerpted with permission from Garyn Roberts’ Dick Tracy and American Culture

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“After the first offense, a criminal walks in the shadows. These shadows get darker and darker till he reaches the spotlight at show up.”
- Chester Gould
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