Cast & Crew
After escaped convict Gruesome seeks out his former partner in crime, Melody, a piano player at Hangman's Knot bar, he goes with Melody to see the "Doctor," a crime boss, about participating in a "big job." The Doctor works out of a plastics factory, and while Gruesome is waiting in a laboratory to speak with him, he opens a vial containing an asphyxiating gas. After inhaling the gas, the enormous convict stumbles out of the factory and makes his way back to Hangman's Knot. There he succumbs to the gas's effects and is picked up by policeman Pat Patton, who, believing that Gruesome is drunk, drives him to the police hospital. A doctor, however, declares Gruesome dead and sends him to the morgue. Suspecting foul play, Pat reports his findings to his boss, detective Dick Tracy, who is talking with scientist Dr. A. Tomic about recent threats on Tomic's life. A few minutes later, Gruesome wakes up in the morgue, knocks out Pat, steals his gun and escapes. Gruesome then returns to the plastics factory and informs the Doctor's assistant, X-Ray, that he is now the Doctor's partner. Shortly after, the Doctor's gas is activated in a bank, causing everyone there, except Tracy's girl friend, Tess Trueheart, to freeze in mid-step. Gruesome and Melody walk in and steal $100,000 from their paralyzed victims, but Tess, who was in a telephone booth when the gas went off, is able to call Tracy. Before Tracy arrives, however, Melody shoots and kills a policeman and escapes with Gruesome and X-Ray. The robbery attracts the attention of crime reporter Dan Sterne, but Tracy, concerned that news of the Doctor's gas will cause costly bank runs, convinces him to suppress the story until two o'clock that morning. Tracy then goes to Dr. Tomic's office, where he learns from Tomic's assistant, Irma M. Learned, that the doctor has vanished. Tracy questions a nervous Irma about the experimental chemicals Tomic was working on and insists on taking a sample from one of his bottles. While Tracy is having the chemical analyzed, Pat finds Melody and Gruesome at Hangman's Knot, then pursues them as they flee and causes them to crash their car. Melody is seriously injured, but Gruesome eludes capture. Later, Tracy brings all of the robbery witnesses to view the hospitalized Melody, and one man, Dr. Lee E. Thal, makes a positive identification. Unknown to Tracy, however, Thal is actually the Doctor, who with Irma's help, stole Tomic's gas and planted it in the bank. After Irma meets secretly with Thal, her lover, she is visited by Tracy, who has since learned that the sample he took was only water. Although Irma denies any wrongdoing, Tracy suspects her and has Pat follow her as she rushes off to meet Thal. Before Pat can intercept her, Gruesome drives up and shoots her. Tracy then learns that Melody has died, but plants a radio report that he is alive and is going to talk. As hoped, Gruesome, who has since murdered the double-crossing Thal at his factory and incinerated his body just as he had incinerated Tomic, believes the story and sneaks into the hospital with X-Ray. Gruesome kidnaps the heavily bandaged Tracy from Melody's bed and is about to incinerate him at the factory when Tracy jumps him. After a fierce fight, Tracy finds Thal's gun and shoots Gruesome, meeting his two o'clock deadline with only minutes to spare.
Lyle Latell Pat Patton
Russell A. Cully
Albert S. D'agostino
William H. Graffis
Walter E. Keller
Robert E. Kent
Jean L. Speak
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome
Dick Tracy made his debut in 1931 when, after a decade of rejection letters, commercial artist Chester Gould finally sold a comic strip idea to the Chicago Tribune syndicate. He originally called the character "Plainclothes Tracy," until the syndicate's head, Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, suggested giving him a real first name derived from the slang word for "detective." Dick Tracy was one of the first comic strips to deal with the war against organized crime and arrived at a time when it seemed that the criminals were winning. In addition, it was the first comic strip to feature brutal, realistic violence. It caught on quickly, eventually being picked up by 800 newspapers and reaching an estimated 100 million readers.
With numbers like that, Tracy was a natural for the movies. But given the low regard in which comics were held, he only appeared in low-budget productions starting with four serials at Republic Pictures from 1936-41. For the lead, the studio cast Ralph Byrd, a young actor just starting out in films whose strong features and jet-black hair gave him an uncanny resemblance to the character. Tracy was then off the screen until 1946, when RKO picked up the rights for a series of four low-budget features. Byrd had been building a solid reputation as a character actor since first playing Tracy, when a car accident sidelined his career for a few years. Instead, RKO cast Morgan Conway, a young contract player, in their first two Tracy films, Dick Tracy (1945) and Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946). In an effort to improve the series, the studio dropped Conway and convinced Byrd, now fully recovered, to return to his most famous role. He would only make two more Tracy films, Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both 1947), before the studio pulled the plug.
RKO's Dick Tracy films kept many ideas from the original comics, including Tracy's romance with Tess Truehart and his fast-talking sidekick (In the film the character was named Pat Patton, Tracy's boss in the comic strip, rather than his traditional partner, Sam Catchem). As often happens in low-budget films, the series provided a starting point for actors just starting their careers (Jennifer Jones had made her second screen appearance in Republic's third Tracy serial, Dick Tracy's G-Men, in 1939). In the first three films, Tess was played by Anne Jeffreys, who would achieve stardom on Broadway and in the television series Topper. Future film noir stars Mike Mazurki and Jane Greer were in RKO's first Tracy film. The final entry featured Lex Barker, just two years before he took over the role of Tarzan from Johnny Weissmuller, and Robert Clarke, who would go on to cult fame as the star of such low-budget horror films as The Man From Planet X (1951) and The Astounding She-Monster (1957).
But even though Byrd played the hero, the film's real star was Boris Karloff. Karloff had done outstanding work at RKO, where he starred in The Body Snatcher (1945), Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946) for producer Val Lewton, whose low-key, moody horror films are now considered classics. Lewton had moved on from horror films, however, and Karloff still owed the studio one film. So they used him to bolster their B-movie detective series. Although it may have seemed a come down, Karloff gave his all to the role, developing a strong characterization as the toothpick chewing, low-class crook who uses sleeping gas to pull off a series of bank heists. The writers even inserted a joke about their recognizable star when Patton quips, "If I didn't know better, I'd think he was Boris Karloff."
At least Karloff could draw comfort from the chance to work with some old friends. Stage star Jason Robards, Sr. (the father of Jason Robards, Jr.) had worked with him on Isle of the Dead, while beautiful Anne Gwynne, who took over the role of Tess Truehart in this film, had been the leading lady in Black Friday (1940) and House of Frankenstein (1944). In addition, he proved his continuing star status when he was singled out in all of the reviews and even given top billing over Byrd for the film's British release (where the film was re-titled Dick Tracy's Amazing Adventure).
Although Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome marked the end of the road for the detective at RKO, it was hardly his end in the entertainment media. Byrd would reclaim the role for a short-lived television series in 1950. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack a few weeks after completing production on the show's first season. Since then, Tracy has returned as the star of two television cartoon series and Warren Beatty's big-budget 1990 version.
Producer: Herman Schlom
Director: John Rawlins
Screenplay: Robertson White, Eric Taylor
Based on a story by William H. Graffis and Robert E. Kent, from the comic strip by Chester Gould
Cinematography: Frank Redman
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Music: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Boris Karloff (Gruesome), Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Anne Gwynne (Tess Truehart), Lyle Latell (Pat Patton), Skelton Knaggs (X-Ray), Joseph Crehan (Chief Brandon), Jason Robards, Sr. (Mr. Fax), Lex Barker (City Hospital Driver), Robert Clarke (Fred).
by Frank Miller
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome
I tell you, if I didn't know better I'd swear we were doing business with Boris Karloff.- Pat Patton
What is your friend's name?- X Ray
Gruesome.- 'Melody' Fisk
Isn't he.- X Ray
The working titles of this film were Dick Tracy vs. the Gruesome Gang, Dick Tracy Meets Karloff and Dick Tracy vs. Dr. Nerves. According to modern sources, the title Dick Tracy Meets Karloff was vetoed by actor Boris Karloff. Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome was the last film in RKO's Dick Tracy series. For more information on the "Dick Tracy" series, consult the Series Index and see entry above for Dick Tracy.