They Don’t Make Movies like Dick Tracy Anymore

When Jake and I first started dating, we both really wanted to see Dick Tracy again. For me, it was one of those childhood movies I always remembered. Even as an adult, I still carried images of gangsters in brightly-colored suits and a young Madonna in skin-tight black lace. Jake at least carried images of the latter, as well, so we scoured Blockbuster until we found a copy and watched it together on my couch. Surprise, surprise: it was still good—great, actually, and fun to watch.

I caught it again last night, and again, I couldn’t pull my eyes away. It’s like stepping into a vintage comic book. The bright cartoon colors seep into my brain, and I’m hypnotized. I adore the offbeat performances by some of Hollywood’s elite, including Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke, and James Caan. Madonna as the hot jazz vocalist is stunning, and Warren Beatty looks dashing in bright yellow. More than that, it’s a simple battle of good versus bad with violence, action, suspense, and a big romantic smooch before the curtain closes. It’s got something for everyone, including a glorious score by Danny Elfman!

Oh my gosh, give me her wardrobe!

Then, today I realized … there aren’t any cuss words in Dick Tracy. There isn’t any blood. No nudity. In fact, this gangster flick is rated PG! And it’s still a total blast! Can you say that about any action or gangster movie made in the last five years? I don’t think so, Tim.

Jake brought this up a couple weeks ago after we watched Date Night. Date Night is funny. I was entertained—thoroughly, during certain scenes—and I would recommend it to comedy fans. But Jake made a good point. He was annoyed by the penis jokes. He wanted to know why movies have to push the envelope. Why do we have to take it far and then go just a little further? The penis jokes could have easily been dropped. In fact, they felt forced and not funny. Does Hollywood think we like penis jokes? That we can’t live without them? I’m beginning to think so.

When we discussed Date Night, we went back to a shared favorite, Old School. Yes, Old School is not for kids, but in the vein of Dick Tracy, Old School never went too far. There weren’t any awkward dirty jokes that went on too long. The dirty jokes were subdued, in comparison with recent comedies I’ve seen. The nudity wasn’t crude. The drinking scenes were harmless, and cuss words were made laughable by use of “earmuffs.”

So the question remains: will we ever go back to movies like Dick Tracy, or do we require gore, profanity, and penis jokes to get us through a film? Jake is getting sick of it. I’m getting sick of it. I bet there are other people who are sick of it, too.

The funniest parts of recent comedies are the parts that make the mundane comical. Case in point: the best scene in crude, rude Get Him to the Greek was the “stroke the furry wall” bit. The best scene in Old School is the “you got a dart in your neck” montage. The best part about Dick Tracy is … all the parts, because it hails back to honest movie-making before morality and artistic ability went out the window. It’s like The Sting in fluorescents.

And maybe my love for movies like Dick Tracy does go back to childhood, when my parents showed me immortal classics like Harvey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Arsenic and Old Lace. These films required no cuss words. They required no blood. And they sure didn’t resort to penis jokes. I hope modern directors soon realize they don’t need to either, because unfortunately modern film is no longer evolving—we’re going in the other direction.

7 thoughts on “They Don’t Make Movies like Dick Tracy Anymore

  1. Many thoughts are running through my head. As i’m doing this on my phones tiny keyboard, i’ll be brief! 1: you are very right, but left out horror movies! They too, are pushing the envelope! Very graphic violence which isn’t all that scary. What about Psycho? The Birds? Gratuitious slasher films have their place I guess, but the whole torture genre really turns me off. Paranormal Activity scared the bejeezus out of me, and hardly anything happens! Its using the audiences mind and imagination to its advantage. 2: the other issue is that there are very few original ideas anymore, so it seems hollywood is making up for it by “pushing the envelope” and doing a bunch of remakes with more swears and violence. 3: there is a reason the old movies stand the test of time…they are just plain better! However, some very crude movies which the violence and/or swearing are not only necessary, they make the movie better. Case in point: Pulp Fiction. Who enjoys watching this on television?

    • 1. Ah, horror movies. I miss the old school horror flicks. At Halloween time, I watch mostly old movies, because frankly, most new ones suck. I mean, come on, torture flicks?? Who thought THAT was a good idea??? And yes, Paranormal Activity even gave Jake the creeps.
      2. Hence why we’re remaking all the old classic TV shows. Sigh … so awful.
      3. Old movies rock, but yes, Pulp Fiction is wonderful in its explicit nature. Another one of my favorites: The Big Lebowski. It wouldn’t be the same without the f-bombs. The cussing fits the characters, which is why it doesn’t offend me, because it doesn’t feel gratuitous. There is a time and a place for crazy stuff, but I will always adore classic film!! And Rocky Horror 🙂

  2. Yeah, I totally wouldn’t want to watch Pulp Fiction without ball gags, sodomy and big bowl full of coke. =)

    Regardless, I think we’re just getting old as well. I remember watching Harry Brown a few months ago (it’s on Netflix), and was somewhat traumatized by not only the opening scene, but on the reality of the film. No longer do I just see Hollywood violence in films, but real life.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve spent time on some of the most violent streets in the country, mopping up the mess. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old. Or, that I’ve got kids. But, things are different now. I’ve seen too much to find it amusing any longer.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t give up the gas in Reservoir Dogs either…

    • At least Pulp Fiction owns its badness. Walking in, you knew what to expect, and I ADORE that film, so I wouldn’t change it. But it fits its genre perfectly. It is a masterpiece. Modern comedies, I can’t say the same.

      You’re right, you know–maybe we are old. I also saw Harry Brown, and it was a very difficult film to watch because it felt so real. The older we get, the more we have invested in life, so the more we have to fear–which is why movies like Harry Brown are so scary.

      We will continue the search for great film and basically let Tarantino do whatever he wants 🙂

  3. Now that we’ve had this conversation, I can’t watch movies the same way! You’ve ruined me! But yes, I agree with you. I think that we live in a culture that is all about taking things to the next level, pushing the envelope, doing the outrageous and expectations of toilet humor. I think of movies from my childhood (Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Uncle Buck, Batman Forever, Labrynth…oh, this list makes me laugh) and they are “tame” in comparison to, say, Bridesmaids. Now, I will admit that I love Bridesmaids, but I also appreciate modern movies that understand restraint and don’t feel like they have to go there to get a laugh or to get a point across. Case in point: I watched Crazy Stupid Love last night and I thought of you. Ryan Gosling plays this crazy womanizing guy who takes a new girl home every night, but there isn’t one ounce of nudity in this film (some implied nudity on his part, but it’s not offensive). In fact, there’s a lot of bedroom action implied, but very, very little shown. There is swearing, but it isn’t gratuitous and it’s chosen carefully. A lot of the comedic moments are based on random circumstance, the unexpected and a gem of a moment when a high school girl impersonates a seal in the middle of a conversation…not penis jokes…Viva le Dick Tracy…with The Hangover thrown in every few months instead of every night.

    • Okay, I’ll check out Crazy Stupid Love. And you’re right: movies like The Hangover are fun on occasion. We gotta have both, but there’s gotta be BALANCE. It was great fun discussing this at length the other night, too 🙂 Please send movie suggestions any time!

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