Monday, November 28, 2011

Dick Tracy's G-Men (1939)

Released by Republic Pictures  Dick Tracy's G-Men is 15 chapters of thrills and excitement directed by William Witney and John English, and stars Ralph Byrd as the fearless square-jawed crime fighter, Irving Pichel, Ted Pearson, and Phylis Isley (aka Jennifer Jones).  The musical score is by William Lava, and the serial is based on the cartoon strip by Chester Gould.

Zarnoff (Pichel) the "International Master Spy" is captured by Dick Tracy and the FBI and is imprisoned and sentenced to death.  But when he is able to escape the gas chamber, Zarnoff vows revenge on Dick Tracy and the government.  Some of the dastardly acts committed by Zarnoff include attempts to sabotage an ammunition convoy and assassination attempts on foreign dignitaries, to smuggling and selling government secrets.  All the while Zarnoff manages to stay barely one step ahead of Tracy and his G-Men who are in hot pursuit.

The serial does have a few of those "you've got to be kidding me" moments.  Like when Tracy ends up in the water somehow and then manages to climb out with his hair still wet but his clothes pretty dry.  You would figure being in an international spy ring that when you were at your hideout you would at least lock the windows, but Tracy climbs right in and then uses their phone to call for backup.  Tracy cleverly escapes being bound and gagged with the aid of a cigarette lighter.  He also manages to survive a vault full of poison gas without even so much as a headache.  One of the last chapters of the serial is shown as a sort of re-cap of everything that's happened up to that point, in case the viewer has stretched their viewing over a period of time long enough to forget what's previously transpired.

But, I guess you have to take the bad with the good.  And with over four hours of viewing time, you're not expected to be on the edge of your seat for every single minute.  I find it's always better to watch these serials in small doses as they were intended, because for some viewers, watching them for long periods they become kind of repetitious.  The villains are always concocting some sort of devious plan for dispatching Dick Tracy, but they always act surprised when he shows up time after time.  Dick Tracy was also almost killed in the Hindenburg explosion when Zarnoff, not to be confused with Dr. Zorka from The Phantom Creeps, manages to blow up the dirigible again.  And as I always say, serials always seem have the best dressed thugs and gangsters - always dressed in suits, ties, and fedoras.

  The ending was a little unexpected, but as Tracy says "in one way or the other they always get it".

Ralph Byrd does another nice job as Tracy, and Pearson is solid as Tracy's partner Steve Lockwood.  Pichel puts in a strong performance as Zarnoff, a villain who's cunning and evil.  Isley/Jones has a small part as Gwen, Tracy's secretary, but does a good job making phone calls and getting the sandwiches etc.  I thought the name William Lava looked familiar in the credits.  He was very a prolific composer in his own right,  but also collaborated with other top names such as Henry Mancini, Franz Waxman, and Max Steiner.

Really nice transfer on the DVDs from VCI Entertainment, great image quality and sound.  Overall a pretty good serial with lots of excitement and only a few eye-rolling moments.

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