While my DVD Late Show review column has been on hiatus for many months now while I ponder its future, I still get the occasional discs in my mailbox for review.
In fact, I've recently received two Dick Tracy serials from the 30's – Dick Tracy Returns and Dick Tracy's G-Men – from VCI Entertainment.
As you might gather from the latter title, in these 15-chapter serials from Republic Studios, the hardboiled detective is actually an FBI agent, and not a big city homicide cop. Nonetheless, Ralph Byrd, who also played the character in two features for RKO and on television in the 50's, makes a formidable Tracy, and the pacing and action in these cliffhangers is unrelenting. It helps that both serials are directed by Republic's A-Team – William Witney and John English, the directors responsible for all of the studio's best chapterplays.
In 1938's Returns, Tracy's up against a tight-knit family of crooks led by the ruthless, saturnine Pa Stark (played by Charles Middleton, the original – and best – Ming the Merciless) and in 39's G-Men, he's up against an international spy and saboteur.
Great stuff, and the visual quality of these DVD transfers is far better than I expected, considering how beat-up 30's serials tend to look after all these decades. Each of these editions also include brief introductions from Tracy expert Max Collins. Definitely recommended for serial buffs.
ADDENDUM: VCI also offers the original Dick Tracy Republic serial, and plans to release the remaining one, 1941's Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc., soon. They also offer all four of the RKO Dick Tracy B-features – Dick Tracy, Detective, Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball (both starring Morgan Conway), Dick Tracy's Dilemma and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (both with Ralph Byrd reprising the role; Gruesome is Boris Karloff!) – in a single set. These are also available from numerous budget labels, but VCI's versions are of somewhat better quality.