Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 7: The Ghost Town Mystery

The Ghost Town Mystery has a lot of wipes. Half wipes, quartering wipes, circular wipes. Wipe, wipe, wipe, wipe. I swear there haven’t been this many wipes in the serial until now. There’s also some terrible insert shots of lead Ralph Byrd when he’s listening to someone. Edward Todd,
Helene Turner, and William Witney’s editing hasn’t been stellar or anything up to this chapter, but it’s real bad here.

Especially once they get to the ghost town and have a shootout. Directors James and Taylor utterly bungle it.

There’s also some serial standards, like Byrd coming across the next clue right as the cliffhanger resolves. Good thing the bad guys dropped a newspaper folded to the ghost town. It’s not a ghost town, actually, it’s a gold mine claim. The owner’s Milburn Morante. He’s an eccentric Western hick, mixing various stereotypes in a bad performance.

Really, only Carleton Young, John Picorri, and Fred Hamilton don’t cause uncomfortable squirming as they try to get through their scenes. Byrd’s somehow getting worse–having young ward Lee Van Atta around isn’t helping things and it’s impossible to take Byrd too seriously when he’s got moron Smiley Burnette on the payroll.

There’s a great hold-up sequence with Young, which actually had me hopeful for the chapter, wipes and all. It doesn’t go anywhere. The ghost town section is a misfire. It starts with Hamilton getting shot in the face (thankfully he doesn’t die, because getting shot in the face barely hurts in Dick Tracy).

Mystery also has some of Kay Hughes’s worst acting so far, which is an achievement all it’s own. It’s impossible to disparage her too much just because she so clearly should never have been cast; it’s the serial’s fault; it embarrasses her.

Dick Tracy seems to have turned a very bad corner.


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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