In this era of comic-book movies, reboots, and IP, a new Dick Tracy seems like a can’t-miss project. The original film, directed by and starring Warren Beatty, became a major hit in 1990, grossing over $100 million in the U.S. alone. And yet a sequel never materialized.
Well, would you settle for a 30-minute TV special where Warren Beatty talks to himself as Dick Tracy over a Zoom call?
That is essentially what aired tonight on TCM. In Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz invites film critic Leonard Maltin over to his office as he prepares for a Zoom call with the famous comic strip and movie cop, Dick Tracy. Tracy (Beatty) calls Mankiewicz and Maltin on Zoom — Beatty is seated in a black void while wearing Tracy’s trademark yellow hat and overcoat — first to compliment Mankiewicz on an interview he did with Beatty for TCM some time earlier. Then “Dick Tracy” explains his issues with the movie Beatty made about him in 1990, while he watches clips from the film. A good five minutes of this 30 minute show were literally just Warren Beatty dressed as Dick Tracy watching the Dick Tracy movie while muttering things like “Yes! Yes, that’s good!” and “No! No! That’s terrible!”
Maltin’s presence isn’t as random as it may appear. In 2008, Maltin had interviewed the “real” Dick Tracy (Beatty once again) for a first Dick Tracy Special on TCM. This first special lives on on YouTube, and it is almost as weird as this new show.
2023’s Tracy Zooms In special builds to Maltin adding the “real” Warren Beatty to the Zoom call, and — as Mankiewicz and Maltin look on in disbelief — the two Beattys get into a rambling debate about the Dick Tracy movie and moviemaking in general.
It‘s worth noting that through all of this, Mankiewicz and Maltin barely say a word. After facilitating this call, they are less participants in it than bewildered observers. This image of their side of the “conversation” sums up the vibe of this entire project.
Eventually, Dick Tracy and Beatty bury the hatchet and agree to meet for lunch to discuss the possibility of a new Dick Tracy film. That leads to the final shot (seen above) with the two sharing a meal and a single frame together, an image that suggests a new alternative to the played-out Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man meme.
So what the hell was that all about? You can go to the Dick Tracy Wikipedia page to find out; the section titled “Possible sequel, legal issues and reboot” contains nine paragraphs and almost 1,000 words on the subject. In short(ish): In the 1980s, Beatty had bought the rights to make Dick Tracy movies directly from Tribune, the owners of the original comic strip. Then he brought his rights to Disney, where he made his Dick Tracy movie.
For a variety of reasons, he was never able to get a sequel off the ground, and eventually Tribune tried to reclaim their rights so they could try to make their own Dick Tracy films or TV shows — at which point Beatty claimed they were trying to breach their deal and filed suit.
In the legal battle that followed, Tribune claimed that per the original contract after a “certain period of time” without a new Dick Tracy movie, series, or special, they’d get their rights back. According to a Reuters report on the outcome of the case (which Beatty won), in 2006, Tribune set Beatty a letter “that gave him two years to begin production on Dick Tracy programming.”
And so, in 2008, Beatty made the first Dick Tracy Special that’s embedded above. The judge in that case found that “Beatty’s commencement of principal photography of his television special on November 8, 2008 was sufficient for him to retain the Dick Tracy rights.”
I have no idea if another “certain period of time” passed, or if someone sent the now 85-year-old Beatty another letter. All I know is I just watched Warren Beatty take Dick Tracy to lunch at the Polo Lounge, and I will never be the same again.
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