New Dick Tracy Movie Once Again Teased by Warren Beatty in Bizarre Fashion

Warren Beatty is Dick Tracy again! And this time, he really means it when he says it's time to make a new Dick Tracy movie. Or TV series. Maybe.

Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy
Photo: Disney

Warren Beatty’s 1990 Dick Tracy movie holds a special, nostalgic place in many a fan’s heart. Released the summer after Tim Burton’s Batman kicked off a new wave of Batmania, a level of pop cultural superhero obsession not seen since the original Batmania that followed the 1966 TV series, Dick Tracy was supposed to be the next big franchise giant, with its all-star cast, larger-than-life villains in grotesque, over-the-top makeup, and a production design meant to recall nothing less than the comic strips that first brought the world’s most famous (non-costumed) detective to life. Hell, it even answered Batman’s Prince soundtrack with one of its own by Madonna, not to mention original tunes by no less than Stephen Sondheim.

Anyway, despite a heady summer where at least some kids (whistles innocently) inexplicably found themselves buying action figures of weird looking gangsters in pinstripe suits (because what kid doesn’t want to play out their very own Prohibition adventures?), the film ultimately was neither the overwhelming box office smash nor the critical darling that Batman was, and a sequel never materialized. Writers Jim Cash and Jack Epps had an idea of what that sequel might have looked like (Epps told us about it here), but it simply wasn’t to be, and that was the last anyone has seen of Dick Tracy outside of the printed page since then. 


You’d think in the age of reboots and IP dominance that someone would have brought Dick Tracy back to life in the last 30 years. But that hasn’t happened, and can’t happen, because the last man to play Tracy also owns the film and TV rights to the character. And he ain’t giving them up. In fact, so intent is Beatty on holding on to those rights that he will periodically “prove” that he’s still doing something, lest those rights revert back to Tribune Media, who could then (presumably) license them out to someone who might actually make a movie or TV show. It’s pretty convoluted, but we wrote more about that here.

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The last time Beatty did one of these bizarre turns in character was for 2011’s Dick Tracy Special, where he appeared in character in order to be interviewed by film critic Leonard Maltin, where “Tracy” talks about Warren Beatty as if he’s someone he worked with. It’s bizarre, and you should feel free to watch it yourself here. But it’s not NEARLY as bizarre as what just aired on TCM, with Dick Tracy Zooms In, essentially a sequel to that Dick Tracy Special, in which Beatty once again dons the yellow hat and fedora, and conducts a Zoom meeting with brilliant TCM host and film historian Ben Mankiewicz, as well as (once again) Leonard Maltin. 

But this time, “Tracy” is here to trash the 1990 film, complaining about its “pink streets” and lack of realism and “musical comedy” elements. He goes on at length about each of these points, wondering why the villains’ makeup is so over-the-top while footage of the film plays. Then he shows footage of 1930s and ‘40s Dick Tracy films starring Ralph Byrd and Morgan Conway (which kick ass, by the way, and which TCM had spent the rest of the evening airing several of), praising them effusively for being “real” compared to Beatty’s efforts. “Tracy” insists that Beatty wouldn’t listen to “his” creative input on the film, which led to its over-the-top elements and mentions that Beatty stood him up for an important meeting to discuss these points.

Whew. Weird, right? BUT JUST YOU WAIT, BECAUSE…

Warren Beatty himself then joins the Zoom, where he allows himself to be berated by…himself…as Tracy repeats many of the same points. Tracy lectures Beatty on how moviemaking has changed, hinting that perhaps people would be more willing to embrace the character as a streaming series as long as it’s more “real” this time. Tracy even says it might be time to let a younger actor play the character this time, rather than letting Beatty play the role (in this um…reality…Beatty did indeed play the character in that film, the “Tracy” on screen in these specials is meant to be the “real” one who merely advised Beatty…despite the fact that this is B…oh, forget it, I have a headache). Finally, Beatty concedes that it’s time for them to renew their talks and have a true creative partnership. “Dick Tracy returns!” Beatty-as-himself exclaims, in what could very well be the title of a new movie or series…if we actually believed that he had any intention of allowing that to happen, and this wasn’t just the latest attempt to clutch those film and TV rights a little longer. The special ends with Beatty and Tracy talking excitedly over lunch, presumably hatching plans for Dick Tracy Returns.

There are so many ways that this character and his world could be resurrected for modern audiences. Is it time to bring the character into the modern day? Is he better suited to his original 1930s setting, but this time with a story told in a more hard-boiled, noir context than what we got in 1990? Perhaps it would even be a TV series this time (a good excuse to remind everyone that Beatty is the reason we never got Bruce Campbell as Dick Tracy in a TV series). Maybe some day, Dick Tracy will return to our screens in a manner befitting a character whose adventures and rogues gallery were one of the key inspirations for Batman. But today is not that day. And as long as Beatty has anything to say about it, that day may never come.