blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 4: Death Rides the Sky

Death Rides the Sky does not follow the concerning pattern of the previous two chapters where information falls into Ralph Byrd’s lap and he ignores it only to discover it’s of vital importance.

In Rides, he knows the information of vital importance right off. Cuts down on later confusion.

The chapter opens with a predictably disappointing cliffhanger resolution. Not so much predictable in how it plays out–like, is Byrd ever supposed to be in any real danger–but predictable in being disappointing. There is some of the best direction in the serial during the resolution, however.

After a brief interlude back at Tracy Manor, where old white guys in matching gray suits (with matching pocket squares) show up to ask Byrd for a recap of the previous chapter. That exposition–and a predictably weak comedy sequence with Smiley Burnette and Lee Van Atta–are the last things before Death Rides the Sky goes airborne.

Once it does, the chapter’s pretty awesome. Byrd and sidekick Fred Hamilton (who’s better than I’ve been giving him credit for) have to intercept a dirigible to stop a jewel theft. So they dock in their biplane. The thief’s escape–by parachute–turns into a great chase sequence.

Lots of plane effects, lots of miniatures, all of the effects excellent. It’s a little silly when the bad guys shoot rifles out of their futuristic “Wing” aircraft but whatever.

The action keeps up from the middle to the end of Rides. Not even the return of Burnette and Van Atta can hurt it. Van Atta’s dopey kid behavior causes the cliffhanger, which I hope isn’t a frequent occurrence.

But, yeah, give Dick Tracy some achievable action to visualize and it’s spot on.


Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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