Warren Beatty's Second (?!) Dick Tracy TV Special: Watch the Weirdness!

Apparently you can now use a two-way wrist radio to Zoom.

On Friday afternoon, I got wind (via GameSpot) of a Warren Beatty-produced Dick Tracy TV special that would (quietly) be airing on TCM that same night. The synopsis for Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In read, “Film experts Leonard Maltin and Ben Mankiewicz interview famous detective Dick Tracy about his life and career, with a surprise appearance by legendary actor and director Warren Beatty.”

If that very premise isn’t wild enough — Beatty-the-actor makes a “surprise” appearance in a special in which he is also reprising his 1990 Dick Tracy film role! —  this was actually the second such TV special Beatty has produced and starred in, all apparently in a bid to retain the rights to the comic book detective.

Beatty first purchased film and TV rights to the character in 1985, made the 1990 movie co-starring the likes of Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Madonna (and which failed to spawn an actual sequel), and he has since gone to court lots to hold onto the rights. (The first small-screen follow-up, simply titled Dick Tracy Special, also aired on TCM, back in 2010; watch in on YouTube, if inclined.)

Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In was written (to use the term very loosely) and directed by Beatty and Chris Merrill, as was the 2010 special, and “weird” is the dominant adjective that those in my social media feeds have used to describe it. Because it just plain was, as much as it was also pure pain to watch.

In the reality of Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In, the famously yellow-coated crimesolver (played by Beatty) is not the character we saw in the 1990 film, but an inspiration. A consultant. And in this second TV special, Dick Tracy takes aim at Warren Beatty, lambasting the actor and director for choices made in the comic book-style movie, all as Mankiewicz and Maltin do very, very little more than listen and trade glances.

Again, the credits said “written by” Beatty and Merrill, but there seemingly was no actual script. I mean, there’s a sequence where Dick Tracy cues up footage from the 1990 movie for Mankiewicz and Maltin, and then provides rambling commentary that consists of little more than, “No, no, no,” “I would have done that differently” and “No, no, no” (though he at one point forms a couple of complete sentences to mock the color-oversaturated movie’s depiction of pink and red streets).

Adding to the weird is if you pay close attention to Beatty-as-Dick Tracy throughout (the special is embedded above), you can spy countless, trying-to-be-seamless but actually-jumpy edits. That suggests that this special was tightened up at all, when in fact there are myriad awkward pauses. Similarly, it’s easy to speculate that Mankiewicz and Maltin banked just a few reaction shots that got recycled and dropped in where appropriate.

Toward the end of the half-hour, actor/director Beatty himself joins the Zoom, to directly field some of Dick Tracy’s critiques (about the movie’s humor, color palette, knocking out seven guys with one punch, etc;), and here Mankiewicz gets to do a modicum of moderating. There are also vague, half-hearted hints from Beatty and Tracy at doing “new things” with the character, maybe “another movie.” But that all comes off as but part of this rights-retaining legal maneuver.

Warren Beatty Dick Tracy Rights TCM

Capping the special is a wordless split-screen sequence, set to Stephen Sondheim’s “Back in Business,”  in which Beatty makes good on a lunch with Dick Tracy at the Polo Lounge (which he apparently was a no-show for in a bygone era). Here, Beatty picks at a salad and Dick Tracy gnaws at a sandwich, all as the two apparently continue their airing of grievances.

Did you, too, by chance stumble across Dick Tracy Special: Tracy Zooms In? If so, did you make it all the way through the 27 minutes?