The cult classic comic book movie, Dick Tracy, celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 15. Despite having a stellar cast, passionate director, and impressive hair and makeup teams, the film is less well-known than its fellow comic book flicks. The ’90s action crime drama is based on the comic book series from the 1930s of the same name. It follows a detective, Dick, who is trying to protect his city from the cartoonishly villainous bad guys, while working on a relationship with his longtime sweetheart and dealing with the advances of a foxy bar singer. The film adaptation is a true homage to the comic strip and the outlandish artistic style. Production on this movie wasn’t easy, but after 30 years, it seems to have paid off. The lengthy creative process has led to some interesting facts, stories, and even scandals from the set.
Comic books have inspired plenty of box office hits, such as Marvel’s The Avengers, DC’s Wonder Woman, and Super-Man. But none of these are quite like Dick Tracy, a comic book adaptation of its own. The movie bounced around from multiple directors and studios before finally landing on Warren Beatty, who directed, produced, and starred in the film. The movie had a hard time getting its footing, but ended up being a total cult classic and earning three Oscar wins.
Madonna, Al Pacino, Beatty, Glenne Headly, Dustin Hoffman, and Dick Van Dyke all star in the film, which is packed full of characters and A-list celebrities. Read on to learn 17 fast facts about the comic book crime drama, and be the biggest fan on the block.
The Original Comic Strip Was Deemed Too Violent
Comic strips were a popular form of entertainment at the start of the 20th century. But Dick Tracy was a different kind of story than the typical superhero comic book series. The crime drama was gruesome and depicted the first murder in a comic book. The series creator, Chester Gould, responded to criticisms that his work was too violent by saying, “any policeman on night duty sees far more blood than I have ever put in my strip.”
Disney Studios Had Little Hope for the Movie
Dick Tracy had a hard time landing a studio. First, it was picked up by Paramount Pictures, but then Disney nabbed it under its label Touchstone Pictures. To keep up with its younger audience, Disney aired a Roger Rabbit cartoon before the movie. The head of Disney at the time thought the movie was such a waste of time and money, and Warren Beatty found out about the comments he had made. When the film was deemed successful for the company, the Disney executive mailed Beatty an olive branch: two doves, and a dart board with his own face tacked on it.
Warren Beatty Was an ‘Insane’ Director
Warren was so obsessed with getting the movie right that he became a tyrant on set. The film’s composer even called him “insane.” In an interview with Movieline, Danny Elfman said, “Warren was insane. But, see, what overshadows all the craziness involved in working with Warren is that I wanted to write a big, romantic Gershwinesque melody and that’s what I got to write.”
Prosthetics Came With Intense Rules
Nobody wanted to have to redo their makeup, so there were makeup police patrolling the set to make sure no actors were messing up their makeup. Actors with the most intense prosthetics had hired makeup police to make sure they didn’t eat the wrong food during lunch breaks — like spaghetti — that could ruin the look. These strict rules ensured that their faces stayed intact.
Some Faces Took Three Hours to Apply
The intense makeup and prosthetics were no easy feat, and some of the more difficult pieces took hours to perfect. R.G. Armstrong, who played Pruneface, told Entertainment Weekly that he would sleep in the makeup chair while the artist worked. His entire face had to be covered in a gelatinous material that’s often used to make teeth impressions in dental offices.
Warren Was Supposed to Wear Makeup, Too
Warren stars as Dick Tracy, the titular detective in the movie. Warren wanted Dick to have a “square look” to imitate the comic book art. The actor-director told Newsweek, “I put on all the prosthetics, I tried to wear all kinds of makeup on my chin and nose. It just didn’t work. There were no capillaries (in my face). No blush, no emotion. And you wouldn’t have been able to follow the story because you couldn’t have stopped studying my face.”
Madonna Couldn’t Sing Sondheim’s Songs at First
Musical legend Madonna had a hard time learning how to sing in Stephen Sondheim’s style. Sondheim became the artist’s personal vocal coach and helped her get the perfect sound. The hard work paid off, because the original song, Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man), won the Academy Award for best original song.
Breathless Mahoney Was Almost Played by Someone Else
Kathleen Turner, Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger, and Michelle Pfeiffer were all considered for the role of Breathless Mahoney before Madonna ultimately got the part. It was her seventh acting credit and her first time in a major motion picture. The singer pushed hard to be considered for the role, and now, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else filling those shoes.
Another reason the film executives may have chosen Madonna was because she worked for chump change. While Warren was paid $9 million upfront as the producer, director, and film’s lead, Madonna was paid scale — an actor’s version of minimum wage. The singer made $1,440 a week and received a percentage of the box office profits, which ended up being close to $162 million. The singer also made money from the soundtrack.
Macaulay Culkin Almost Played The Kid
Macaulay Culkin was offered the role of The Kid, which ultimately went to Charlie Korsmo (Hook). The child actor had an important choice to make as Macaulay had to decide between the comic book adaptation, or a holiday flick called Home Alone.
Obviously, he went with the latter.
Sean Young Was Replaced After a Week
Glenne Headly replaced Sean Young as Dick Tracy’s girlfriend, Tess Trueheart. Sean alleges she was fired from the movie because she turned down Warren’s sexual advances, although he denies it. Producers claimed it was because Sean wasn’t “maternal enough.”
Madonna Flashed Al Pacino
Madonna has always been a bit of a tease, and master of her own sexuality. The performer apparently flashed costar Al Pacino during rehearsals, giving him a peep show on set. The award-winning actor has claimed that if anyone catches him smiling, he is recalling the incident. Madonna’s costumes were already revealing, and one dress was completely see-through.
Poker Table Foreshadowing
If movie fans pay close attention at the poker table scene, there is a huge hint at who is going to die. Five of the villains die after a close-up of a dead man’s hand is shown. The Brow’s hand consisted of two pairs, aces and eights, which was an omen for what was to come. This scene shows how detail-oriented Warren was about everything in the movie.
Gene Hackman Turned Down a Role
Lips Manlis, played by Paul Sorvino, was originally offered to Hollywood A-list Gene Hackman. The character is a crime boss and one of the minor antagonists in the flick. Gene reportedly refused to work with Warren again after the two were on Reds together. If Warren hadn’t signed on, then Gene may have stuck with the movie.
Dustin Hoffman Suffered in His Makeup
No actor had a more difficult time with the prosthetics than Dustin Hoffman. Dustin played Mumbles, one of the head honcho’s minions who starts out at as a villain, but switches sides. To get into character, Dustin had to wear a bald cap and a wig, a rubber chin, rubber eyelids, and rubber lips. Even though he doesn’t have one of the craziest looks, he spent the longest in the makeup chair.
‘Dick Tracy’ Featured 21 Villians
The comic strip has countless characters — from criminals and villains, to friends of the detective. Warren liked all of the villains so much that he wanted to be able to get as many of them into scenes as possible. It ended up working out, and 21 villains from the original comics appear in the film adaptation. He wanted to get as many in the movie as possible to include in a sequel, if there were one.
The Original Cut Was Much Longer
Dick Tracy has a runtime of an hour and 47 minutes, but originally, it was much longer than that. The first cut was two hours and 15 minutes, but Disney refused to release a film that long. Years later, Warren got to revisit his masterpiece in a 30-minute television special that ran on TCM. The special featured Warren as Dick Tracy and some interviews about the movie and character.