We continue our examination of overlooked 20th-century movies, as the great superhero movie rewatch takes a gander at Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, in which producer Beatty and director Beatty do a superlative job of creating a nifty adaptation of Chester Gould’s strip, but actor Beatty sabotages the whole thing with a truly awful performance in the title role.
Most of the cast is very obviously having a great time, starting with Madonna living up to her character’s first name as Breathless Mahoney, perfectly playing the sultry lounge singer. (She does a lovely job singing the Stephen Sondheim-written songs Mahoney performs at the Ritz Club, too.) Glenne Headley gives Trueheart a nice edge, her performance beautifully inspired by Noel Neill’s Lois Lane and Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson. Seymour Cassel and Charles Durning are delightful as the Greek chorus of Tracy’s fellow cops, trying to keep up with the determined detective, Dustin Hoffman is perfect as the pathetic Mumbles, and Paul Sorvino and James Caan lean into their histories of playing gangsters as Lips and Spud.
But the standout here is Al Pacino. There are far too many occasions in Pacino’s career when he’s let shouting substitute for acting (Scent of a Woman, The Devil’s Advocate, Glengarry Glen Ross), but this is the only time he does it to good effect. He’s having a grand old time, going so far over the top as Caprice he gives everyone around him nosebleeds. It’s a joyous, hilarious performance, leaving no piece of scenery unchewed.