(director: William A. Berke; screenwriters: Eric Taylor/from comic strip by Chester Gould; cinematographer: Frank Redman; editor: Ernie Leadlay; music: Roy Webb; cast: Morgan Conway (Dick Tracy), Anne Jeffreys (Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s Girlfriend), Mike Mazurki (Alexis “Splitface” Banning), Jane Greer (Judith Owens), Lyle Latell (Pat Patton), Joseph Crehan (Chief Brandon), William Halligan (Mayor), Milton Parsons (Deathridge), Morgan Wallace (Steven Owens), Trevor Bardette (Professor Linwood J. Starling), Mickey Kuhn (Tracy, Jr.), Edythe Elliott (Mrs. Caraway, Tracy’s housekeeper) ; Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herman Schlom; RKO; 1945)
“Forgettable crime drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William A. Berke (“Cop Hater”/”Danger Zone”/”Pier 23”) and cameraman Frank Redman create a pleasing atmospheric film-noir flavor for this otherwise forgettable crime drama. Writer Eric Taylor invents a physically deformed vicious psychopath character called Splitface (Mike Mazurki) to be the serial killer who escapes from jail and is seeking revenge on the 14 jurors who a long time ago sent him up the river for knifing his girlfriend to death. It’s based on the popular comic strip started by Chester Gould in 1931 in the Detroit Mirror, which was the first of its kind and is still going strong today in many newspapers across the country even though Gould died in 1986. Morgan Conway takes over the Dick Tracy role from Ralph Byrd, who appeared in the first two films in the series started by Republic but has since been taken over by RKO. Tracy is the no-nonsense, square-jawed super crime fighter, who is America’s counterpart to England’s Sherlock Holmes.

A 40-year-old woman schoolteacher is brutally killed with a knife in the street and an extortion letter for $500 is found at the crime scene signed by Splitface. Dick Tracy and his partner Pat Patton (Lyle Latell) are assigned the case. The next morning Tracy is rushed down to City Hall and Chief Brandon tells him the worried mayor received an extortion note for $10,000 to be paid tomorrow evening by depositing it in a specified street corner trash can. The busy Tracy next checks out the name found in the teacher’s address book that none of her friend’s could identify. But Tracy arrives too late, because that person is found in front of his house with his throat slit and an extortion note by his side. Tracy follows the footprints that lead to the neighboring house of Steve Owen, the owner of the Paradise Club, but is unable to locate the killer even though blood stains are found on the grounds. That evening Tracy returns to search the house with the unwitting permission of Owen’s daughter Judith, and is accompanied by his girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Anne Jeffreys). The film’s obnoxious running gag is that all Tess wants to do is go out to dinner with Tracy, but the workaholic always gets involved in a homicide case. While Tracy is in another part of the darkened house, Splitface attacks Tess but flees when she screams. Tracy trails him to the roof of a brownstone, where he finds former jailbird Professor Linwood J. Starling star-gazing through his telescope. Pat finds the murder weapon hidden under his mattress and he’s taken down for questioning to the stationhouse but released the next day on bail. Splitface, armed with new stolen mortuary surgical knives, tells the occultist Professor he put up the cabbage to bail him out and then slashes the Professor to death even though he wasn’t one of the 14 intended victims. It seems the Professor knew Splitface from prison and just wished to earn some dough by sending out extortion notes. Splitface kills him so he won’t give away his identity. Soon Tracy puts everything together and identifies who Splitface is and the reason he’s going on this killing spree, but Splitface kidnaps Tess and later captures the 10-year-old Junior (Mickey Kuhn), the bachelor Tracy’s adopted son, who followed hiding in the bumper seat of the car. Junior leaves articles of his clothes en route that enables Tracy to follow him to a deserted riverboat hideout (a leftover set from the Pat O’Brien 1945 RKO comedy “Man Alive”) by the docks and confronts the killer, who earned his nickname because he has a hideous scar running across the side of his face from a prison fight.

Though Conway’s Tracy was accepted by Gould as closest to the way he wanted him portrayed, the public favored Byrd and he later on was brought back in the role.

REVIEWED ON 11/13/2007 GRADE: C+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/