Tag Archives: William Witney

Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 9: The Stratosphere Adventure

The Stratosphere Adventure isn’t much of an adventure, but it is a fairly interesting chapter. The entire chapter takes place right after the cliffhanger resolve. A cop-out cliffhanger resolve, where federal agent Ralph Byrd puts his own safety before civilian Wedgwood Nowell (big surprise), but still–it’s continuous action, something the serial hasn’t done.

There’s also very little Kay Hughes (though her introduction title card makes her sound like a double agent–she’s not), Smiley Burnette, or Lee Van Atta, which is quite the boon at this point.

After surviving a plane crash, Byrd gets on to the enemy aircraft–the Wing–where his brainwashed, plastic surgery altered brother Carleton Young doesn’t recognize him in disguise. Byrd doesn’t do anything to disguise his voice and he’s just wearing the goggles on a flight suit. Whatever.

Byrd then gets over to the foreign agents’ dirigible. He’s got to stop them from getting the super-fast airplane motor. He’d be able to stop them too, if he could successfully tie up a bad guy. But Byrd can’t and the bad guys turn the table on him, just as Fred Hamilton shoots out the dirigible (not knowing Byrd’s aboard).

Not an exciting chapter. Byrd’s too boring to be exasperating but, come on, he can’t tie someone up? Really? And the FBI’s San Francisco office doesn’t have a more powerful radio than Byrd’s home–where Hughes, Burnette, and Van Atta are congregating (thankfully off-screen most of the chapter).

The miniature aircraft effects are outstanding. And the pacing is sort of cool, one chapter through the next to finish up this particular plot line. It’s not a recovery, but it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as Dick Tracy has been lately.

CREDITS

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.

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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Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 8: Battle in the Clouds

Nowhere near as many wipes this chapter, but that lack doesn’t really help things. The cliffhanger resolve is another reveal one; turns out it wasn’t the bad guys shooting those guns off-screen, it was the good guys. So there wasn’t really a cliffhanger at all.

Like always. It’s never a cliffhanger in Dick Tracy and Ralph Byrd is never in danger. Except he can be sucker-punched. Even though he can literally fend off five thugs in a fist fight, Byrd goes down for the count with a single sucker punch. Byrd also doesn’t pay attention to people warning him about incoming sucker punches either.

This chapter once again brings in the two old white guys (one credited–Edwin Stanley–and one not–Louis Morrell) to remind the viewer Byrd still hasn’t found out anything about his missing brother. The missing brother has actually been brainwashed and given plastic surgery to become villain Carleton Young. That situation hasn’t changed since the first chapter. There also haven’t been any developments on it. No idea why anyone thought the expository old white men were necessary.

But most of the story has to do with (also uncredited) Ann Ainslee and her (credited) father, Wedgwood Nowell. He designs fast airplanes, she test pilots them. The Spider Gang wants the plans to the latest project. Not for themselves, but for a foreign power. It’s up to Byrd to protect the plans.

He almost succeeds, but it turns out sidekick Smiley Burnette is actually so stupid he can’t relay a message to Fred Hamilton and the bad guys get away. The latest example of Burnette’s abject stupidity comes after he says Ainslee can’t fly planes because she’s a woman. Not to her face, just behind statically smiling Kay Hughes.

Even Lee Van Atta has started picking on Burnette for being an idiot.

Without any action to distinguish Battle in the Clouds–the battle is the bad guys shooting shotguns out their aircraft’s gun portals at the super-plane–it’s a particularly trying chapter.

At least the wipes are back to a tolerable level and there aren’t crappy inserts. But it’s clearly going to be a long seven chapters to the finish.

CREDITS

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.

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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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.

CREDITS

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.

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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Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 6: Dangerous Waters

Dangerous Waters opens with an unbelievable cliffhanger resolve. Not unbelievably good, unbelievably cheap. I can’t imagine what made me think they wouldn’t go unbelievably cheap. I was clearly giving Dick Tracy too much credit.

After the resolve, the chapter’s back to “formula.” It’s even about a missing scientific formula. Thanks to Kay Hughes reading the newspaper, Ralph Byrd’s able to predict the Spider Gang going after a scientist. So the whole Tracy crew–including nitwit Smiley Burnette, annoying kid Lee Van Atta, and “does all the real work” Fred Hamilton–pile into a car and drive down to the science building.

But they’re too late.

So it’s off to a waterfront bar to try to stop Carleton Young–who seems to know he’s in a bad situation participating in this serial–from selling the formula to a foreign agent.

There’s a lengthy, boring fistfight. It’s kind of funny when Byrd throws something at one of his opponents. Like a shoe. It seems ad-libbed. More ad-libbing might’ve helped.

Byrd and Burnette assault a bunch of guys eating lunch–they never identify themselves as law enforcement and have no probable cause. It is before Miranda, I suppose.

Not a good chapter. Not a lot of godawful acting–though Hughes’s so amateurishly bad she’s sympathetic–and John Picorri’s cat makes another appearance, but it’s still pretty weak stuff.

CREDITS

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.

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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