The Spider Ring, led by the mysterious Lame One, is taking over the gangster
syndicates of California, & everyone opposing the organisation is killed.
Initial investigations lead G-Man Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) nowhere, but when one
of his acquaintances, millionair Elliott Brewster (John Dilson), who was
secretly in cahoots wioth the ring, is killed too & evidence points at the
Spider Ring, Tracy knows he might have a lead. & when his brother Gordon
(Richard Beach) is kidnapped when he wants to get further evidence handed to
him by Brewster, his suspicions are confirmed.
The Lame One meanwhile has decided to use Gordon as a weapon against his
brother & has his hunchbacked surgeon Moloch (John Piccori) transform
mild-mannered Gordon into a ruthless criminal (as now played by Carleton
Dick Tracy, along with his colleague Steve (Fred Hamilton) & his
(Francis X.Bushman), his secrtetary Gwen (Kay Hughes), his inept sidekick
(beware - bad comedy by Smiley Burnette !) & the nosy kid Junior (Lee Van
Atta, playing pretty much the same role as in Undersea
Kingdom) now have to investigeate Gordon's disappearance & at the
same time tryto spoil each & every devillish crime the Spider Ring commits with
the help of Gordon (unbeknowest to Tracy & company) & their futuristic
airplane, the Flying Wing (looking remarkably like a Northrop B-35 that wasn't
put into operation until 10 years later).
And crimes there are many, & they vary remarkably in scale: First the
criminals want to destroy the Bay Bridge by using sonic waves, later they want
to steal a shipload of furs or a most valuable necklace from an airborn blimp,
a secret alloy that was developed by the military & chased after by many
foreign powers. A western goldmine owned by old duffer Death Valley Johnny
(Milburn Morante), a newly developed jet plane to sell to a foreign power and a
gold shipment are also among the things the Spiderring whants to get their hands on.
But of course the FBI is always hot on their trail & in a series of chases
by car, boat, plane & blimp, & Dick Tracy always manages to save the
At the same time though, Dick & company fail to get any nearer to the
core of the Spider Ring (& with it the identity of the Lame One) itself or
find Gordon - that is until the Spider Ring wants to abduct an engraver in
order to help them forge money, & Dick disguises as that man to infiltrate
the Ring. Dick's cover is of course soon blown & Moloch prepares him for
brain surgery, but he had enough time to transmit the location of the Spider
Ring's headquaters to the FBI, who soon close in on the Ring, while the Lame
One reveals his identity to Dick - he is in fact mild-mannered philanthropist
Odette (Edwin Stanley), who only played a small part in the previous
proceedings - before he sets a time trigger to blow up his headquarters, &
Dick with it. But Dick of course is always in hot pursuit of Odette & the
explosion in the end only takes out Moloch.
Odette soon has Gordon drive him to safety, but Gordon starts to remember
his past life again, starts to distinguish between good & evil again -
& when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Junior & Gwen run in front of
his car, his conscience kicks back in full swing, & instead of running the
2 of them over, he drives the car (& with it himself & Odette) over a
cliff to certain death. Dying, he says a last farewell to his brother ...
Ed 'Oscar' Platt & Lou Fulton make another appearence as the comical
backwood yokels Oscar & Elmer.
For many, Dick Tracy is the finest serial produced by Republic,
maybe the finest serial ever as it looks extremely polished & was
the first serial to bring the newly developed formula for serials to full
effect - which meant essentially that a serial would no longer tell one story
chopped up into 10 to 15 episodes, but tell one story per episode (always
culminating in a cliffhanger that is resolved in the beginning of the next
episode before the next story begins) , & these stories loosely connected
by an overall theme. & in my view, this started the downfall of the serial
itself long before the competition of television would put an end to this sort
of movies. Fact is that while earlier serials cheerfully went out of their way
to make a story exciting, fascinating & suspenseful over it's 10- to
15-episodes run, full of plot developments & often with exhilerating
results, later serials (circa from the 40's onwards) would tell 10 to 15
seperate stories that would adhere to more or less the same formula, & each
in about 20 minutes time, & only in the final episode try to tie it all up
neatly - or not so neatly indeed.
Be that as it may, Dick Tracy was an enourmous success for Republic,
causing them to make 3 (!) more serials about the comic-book-G-Man. & when
in the mid 1940's RKO tried to make a series of B-movies about Dick Tracy
starring Morgan Conway, they had to replace him with Ralph Byrd after only 2
movies, as Byrd's popularity in the role was too overwhelming. Shortly before
his death, Byrd also starred in a Dick Tracy-tv-series in 1952.