Dick Tracy (1937) – Chapter 9: The Stratosphere Adventure

‘Dick Tracy (1937) is a 15-chapter Republic movie serial starring Ralph Byrd based on the Dick Tracy comic strip by Chester Gould. It was directed by Alan James and Ray Taylor.

Starring cast

Ralph Byrd as Dick Tracy
Kay Hughes as Gwen Andrews
Smiley Burnette as Mike McGurk
Lee Van Atta as Junior
John Picorri as Dr Moloch
Richard Beach as Gordon Tracy (pre-operation in Chapter 1)
Carleton Young as Gordon Tracy (post-operation in Chapter 1)
Fred Hamilton as Steve Lockwood
Francis X. Bushman as Clive Anderson

The above cast members appear in the opening credits in “cameo” display — sequential pictures of each actor with his/her name (and sometimes character name) superimposed at the bottom of the screen — for the first episode, followed by a listing of supporting players. Subsequent chapters simply listed the stars on one screen and the same supporting cast a second. This approach to cast display was used by Republic from its first serial through Haunted Harbor in 1944. Universal serials presented a similar approach to cast display until 1940, only in their case, the star-cameos appeared with the first 3-4 episodes, and subsequent episodes listed these names usually followed, on a scrolling cast list, by part, but not often all, of the supporting players who had been named on the episodes with the cameos. Occasionally, a new player or two might be added. Columbia only a few times adopted this approach to displaying the cast of its serials. Republic, Universal, Warner Bros. Pictures, and some independents also used star “cameos” in numbers of their B pictures during the 1930s.

Supporting cast

John Dilson as Ellery Brewster
Wedgwood Nowell as H. T. Clayton
Theodore Lorch as Paterno
Edwin Stanley as Walter Odette
Harrison Greene as Cloggerstein
Herbert Weber as Tony Martino
Buddy Roosevelt as Burke
George DeNormand as Flynn
Byron K. Foulger as Kovitch

The above cast members appear in the opening credits as simply a list of the actor’s names.


Dick Tracy was budgeted at $112,334 although the final negative cost was $127,640 (a $15,306, or 13.6%, overspend). It was the most expensive Republic serial until S O S Coast Guard was released later in the year.

It was filmed between 30 November and 24 December 1936 under the working titles Adventures of Dick Tracy and The Spider Ring. The serial’s production number was 420.

In this serial, Dick Tracy is a G-Man (FBI) in San Francisco rather than a Midwestern city police detective as in the comic strip. Most of the Dick Tracy supporting cast and rogues gallery were also dropped and new, original characters used instead (for instance the characters of Tracy’s girlfriend Gwen Andrews and his detective partner Mike McGurk were stand-ins for Tess Trueheart and Pat Patton respectively). Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould approved the script despite these changes.

There were three sequels to this serial: Dick Tracy Returns (1938), Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939), and Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. (1941). They were all permitted by an interpretation of the original contract, which allowed a “series or serial”. That meant that Dick Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, was only paid for the rights to produce this serial but not for any of the sequels.


George DeNormand as Dick Tracy (doubling Ralph Byrd)
Loren Riebe (doubling Jack Gardner)

Special effects

John T. Coyle
The Lydecker brothers


Dick Tracy’s official release date is 20 February 1937, although this is actually the date the seventh chapter was made available to film exchanges.

Alpha Video released the serial on two DVDs in 2003. Volume 1 contains Chapters 1 through 7, and Volume 2 contains Chapters 8 through 15. VCI released all four Dick Tracy serials on DVD in 2008 separately, then put them all out together in one boxed set in 2012.

A 73-minute feature film version, created by editing the serial footage together, was reported by Jack Mathis to have been released on 27 December 1937, based on a single memo in the Republic Pictures corporate papers files; however, no evidence of any showing of this film, at least within the United States, has ever been located, nor any other evidence that such a feature version was even made. The only known feature version of this serial is a direct-to-TV movie edited and syndicated in the late 1980s, and subsequently made available on videotape and DVD (most recently, under the altered title Dick Tracy and the Spider Gang).’



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