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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Comedy > Action > Children > The Dick Tracy Show – The Complete Series (1961/Animated)

The Dick Tracy Show – The Complete Series (1961)


Picture: C+     Sound: C     Extras: C     Episodes: B-



One of the most immortal of all comic strip heroes is Dick Tracy, the police detective who was as much real detective as he was hard-as-nails gumshoe.  The character has remained in print nonstop since his first appearance and many live action films, from serials, to B-movies (reviewed elsewhere on this site) to big budget features have been made, but he has also surfaced on TV.  Besides some live-action attempts on the small screen, there was an animated series called The Dick Tracy Show.  Like so many shows on TV at the time that announced themselves as someone’s show, this would include many guests.


This 1961 series is all here, all 130 five-minutes-long episodes, but don’t expect to see Tracy (voiced here by the great actor Everett Sloane) running all over the city fighting evil.  Yes, he does travel on occasion (we are not saying he is pulling a Nero Wolfe here) but starts each show assigning crime investigations to characters like Go Go Gomez (voiced depending on the show by either the great Benny Rubin or the legendary Mel Blanc in the same voice one might remember from The Frito Bandito or Speedy Gonzales), Joe Jitsu (Rubin as a character meant to imitate Mr. Moto, reviewed elsewhere on this site), Heap O’Calorie (Johnny Coons), Hemlock Holmes (Jerry Hausner) and The Retouchables (Paul Frees for all those characters).  These characters are, like many animated characters of the time, combination caricature/stereotypes that were never mean spirited.


Unfortunately, that may be too much for some (and some parents) to take, but that does not make these shows easy to dismiss.  UPA was the animation studio responsible, later giving us the likes of Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo in their groundbreaking minimalist animated style.  Here, they try to mimic the look of the comic strip and do it in a sort of post-Noir yellow paper/four-color form that subtly combine the “authority” of the newspaper of the time with a similar tone of the police procedural films that ruined and eclipsed Noirs.  After an establishing moment of that, then it becomes a children’s cartoon and ends as such.


When you see the animation, it is limited, not unlike later Japanese Animé product.  Note the recycling, the shots of Tracy where they only animate his mouth (an inspiration for early Filmation Studios production) or how Tracy keeps a big handgun right next to (and pointing at) a 1930s-type intercom box.  There are other hilarious moments and Paul Frees joins Rubin in voicing Tracy’s famous gallery of villains like BB Eyes, The Brow, Cheater Gunsmoke, Flat Top, The Mole, Mumbles, Oodles (all Frees), The Blank, Flat Top (alternative voice), Sketch Parée and Prune Face.  It is also interesting to see what UPA and TV standards and practices thought was OK for a children’s audience then versus now.  The Dick Tracy Show – The Complete Series is a landmark series for UPA, Blanc (his first animated TV show) and became a model for many 1960s animated shows to come.  That alone is reason enough to revisit it.


The 1.33 X 1 image is pretty good and consistent over al the episodes, though considering Technicolor labs processed these shows; they are surprisingly subtle in their color as intended by the animators.  There might be some flaws here or there, but they are in good shape, especially for their age.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono does not fare as well and is more compressed than expected.  However, dialogue is clear enough for the most part, but be careful a bit when turning it up then switching to another program.  There are no extras on any of the discs, but the earliest black and white comic strips are collected in a nice booklet included with our copy of this set.  That is something fans will likely want to have with the series.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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