Dick Tracy vs Cueball: One of the worst films of all time?

Harry and Michael Medved, the reviewers famed for recognising bad films with the Golden Turkey Award, named Dick Tracy vs Cueball as one of the fifty worst films of all time. But is the movie really so bad?

The second in a series of four feature films released in the 1940s about the famous comic book detective, Dick Tracy vs Cueball was released in 1946, a year after the original Dick Tracy movie. Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys and Lyle Latell returned to reprise their roles as Dick, Tess Trueheart and Pat Patton respectively from the first film, this time to tackle a heist by a new, original villain, Cueball.

While all four of the Dick Tracy movies are sharp, punchy detective stories, it wasn’t until the second instalment that the series remembered its roots. Cueball set itself aside from the other crime and detective films of the era by aligning itself more closely with its source material than its predecessor. The first Dick Tracy film opened with a bang (or, more accurately, with a slash,) and didn’t slow down until the closing moments.

The sequel matches this pace, but ramps up the comic-book style, with the action taking place in venues including the underworld haunt the Dripping Dagger bar, adorned with a suitably silly neon sign. Complex backstories are negated by over-the-top performances and characters with names that tell us all we need to know, like Percival Priceless and Filthy Flora. Action scenes see the characters drawn into dramatic posturing, with high-speed car chases a given.

Jumping from the comic to the screen for the first time, Ian Keith steals the show as Tracy’s friend, the actor Vitamin Flintheart. As well as being a worthy decoy to allow Tracy’s investigation to continue, his camp performance gives way for some hilarious misunderstandings with Dick’s partner Pat Patton.

Is it worth of the status of cinema classic? Perhaps not, but Dick Tracy vs Cueball is certainly a highlight in a series that will keep fans of its comic source material happy, and an example of a movie adaptation done right.

The Dick Tracy: Original Feature Film Collection will be available from One More Reprise in April 2022.

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