Saturday, October 20, 2012


At the risk of pissing off any readers who haven't seen the 1990 Warren Beatty-Madonna DICK TRACY, I'm spoiling the ending: the mysterious masked mastermind known as "the Blank" is none other than Madonna's character Breathless Mahoney.

As noted in my writeup of the comic-strip Breathless, the original character was something less than a high-roller.  She's not even a major seductress as per the then-current Madonna personality (not that Chester Gould created a lot of seductress-types).  There's nothing much in common between the original and the film-version except the name.  It may one of the few times, if not the only time, that a secondary medium improved on not one but two of DICK TRACY's classic villains.

For most of the film, Breathless seems to be one of the typical "bad girls" of film noir, set to tempt the hero-- Dick Tracy in this case-- from his loyalty to a pretty-but-not-glamorous "good girl."  Breathless does a pretty good job of keeping Beatty's Tracy "out of breath," but her role in the story seems tangential to Tracy's war on the criminal forces of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) and his many strip-derived allies: Flat Top, Itchy, Prune Face, etc.  At the same time Tracy also has to contend with a mysterious blank-faced man trying to take over Caprice's criminal empire.  Surprise ending: when it all shakes out, behind the Blank's mask is the face that launched a thousand, uh, fans.

The plot never expands on what motivated Breathless to become a supervillain.  However, there is one crucial scene that proves suggestive: after Big Boy takes over the club where Breathless performs, the goony-looking gangster not only takes charge of her career but tries to tell her how to perform as well.  That sounds like good enough motivation to turn to crime right there.

I mentioned that the film does two DICK TRACY villains better than the originals, by which I meant that the original Blank, while interesting (and male), is something less than one of the classic Tracy villains.


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