No one is surprised when Adult Swim drops half an hour of alternative-comedy art into its late-night lineup — Too Many Cooks begat many a bizarre follow-up. But when Turner Classic Movies teams up with Oscar-winner Warren Beatty, playing an elderly version of Dick Tracy from his 1990 comic book movie, that’s a different story.
In 2010, Beatty did exactly that with the help of movie critic Leonard Maltin, who, God bless him, interviewed Beatty in character in a “movie” that aired exactly once on TCM. The ephemeral special naturally surfaced on YouTube years later and became an instant cult favorite, thanks in large part to the interview being weird as hell. Due to whatever requirements demanded the special be filmed in the first place, Beatty — again, in character as Dick Tracy — leads Maltin through wandering thoughts about crime-fighting and his work on the Beatty film adaptation “of his life.” For many hoping there might be new life to be found in a Dick Tracy film franchise, this is all Beatty had to offer.
But wouldn’t you know… he’s back. Doing… another interview…
On Friday, out of nowhere, TCM will air Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In, another half hour that I would say, having bore witness to the spectacle, is even weirder than the first go-round. In the special, current TCM host Ben Mankiewicz rings Maltin for help when he learns that Dick Tracy is once again asking for an interview.
“Leonard, Dick Tracy has scheduled a Zoom call with me and it’s coming up in a minute!” Mankiewicz exclaims in rightful fear. “I have no idea if he’s trying to be serious or funny!”
Having watched it, I’m not quite sure either — but the TCM crew knows how to play ball.
Mankiewicz eventually cajoles Maltin into joining him for what it says on the tin: a Zoom call with Dick Tracy (played by Warren Beatty). Dressed in his big yellow coat and hat, “Dick” finally dials in and proceeds to unload additional thoughts on the 1990 film; how he compares to Ralph Byrd, who played the cop in serials, films, and TV shows throughout the early 20th century; and eventually, his gripes with Beatty. Dick Tracy has plenty of notes for Beatty, who directed as well as starred in the 1990 movie (“Fighting crime is serious!” he moans when a snippet of Al Pacino’s dance sequence from the film pops up during a clip reel). He also complains about Beatty, who has apparently cut Dick Tracy out of his life. So Mankiewicz and Maltin rise to the occasion, eventually inviting Beatty himself to join the call.
If you have ever wanted to watch an 85-year-old man bicker and make amends with himself, while one version of him wears a big yellow coat, the day has arrived.
Why is this happening now? Ostensibly, it’s so Beatty can continue to hold onto the Dick Tracy rights, although with a lawsuit accusing him of committing sexual assault in 1973 currently stewing in Los Angeles Superior Court, it might be a play for goodwill. As you can imagine, Dick Tracy does not ask Beatty about the accusations.
He does ask why the heck Beatty wants to hold on to the rights to Dick Tracy if he doesn’t plan on doing anything with them. Can’t he imagine a sequel? Or a TV show? Or something that is not a random TCM special unloaded on a Friday night without warning? Dick Tracy is right to ask, even when Dick Tracy is just Warren Beatty in a big yellow coat and hat.
Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In premieres on TCM tonight at 10:30 p.m., and life will never be the same.