Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 13: Fire Trap

So, unfortunately, Ralph Byrd (you know, Dick Tracy), doesn’t get shot in the cliffhanger resolution. He dodges. Because they all heard the Spider approach because the Spider has a club foot. Except they also all think the Spider is wearing a disguise, implying the club foot is a part of that disguise. The distinct, noisy limp the Spider walks with forecasts his appearance as well. People know he’s coming.

Seems like a dumb disguise.

But dumb is the key word for Fire Trap. Dumb or forgetful. Like how Byrd forgets he’s actually seen the Spider before. Been held prisoner by him, in fact.

After Byrd avoids being shot–in FBI West headquarters, where the Spider has gotten in because no security (he escapes by running across a wooden plank to another building so the club foot doesn’t always impede speed)–idiot, armed FBI agent Smiley Burnette manages to foul-up everyone looking for the Spider. It’s a panicked “search the building” scene and it’s terrible. James and Taylor’s direction of it is atrocious.

Turns out young Lee Van Atta has gotten a picture of the Spider, which the Spider knows about… just because. So a goon goes to Byrd’s house and foils Byrd developing the picture. But the goon eats at the wharf hangout… where the Spider gang has been known to hangout. And Byrd and the FBI shut down some chapters ago. So Byrd goes back. Because apparently he forgot they went to this place, even though the proprietor was clearly in on it.

Lazy, dumb, and forgetful are actually the key words for the chapter.

It ends with Byrd on a burning ship, left behind by brainwashed, surgically altered brother Carleton Young. Young had just discovered Byrd knew he was alive. It provoked no little reaction from Young and less for the narrative.

A terribly edited fight scene precedes the cliffhanger.

There are only two chapters left and it’s hard to imagine how much worse Dick Tracy’s going to get.


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).