The square jaw. The fedora. Scruples in spades. Face it: Dick Tracy’s a stiff. What animates this grim-mouthed crime fighter are his enemies, those deliriously deformed, defiled, mumbling and mutated mounds of sheer evil.
“The ugliest thing in the world is the face of a man who has killed,” said the late Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip, which made its debut in 1931. Warren Beatty the director scooped up an odd dozen of Gould’s most repulsive pusses for his hit Dick Tracy film, then let them overwhelm—if not overrun—Warren Beatty the star.
Dustin Hoffman’s Mumbles does it with a shake, rattle and snore. AI Pacino, who helped create his own makeup, gives his hunchbacked Big Boy an urge to dance. Paul Sorvino’s Lips Manlis only has to lift an oyster to his mouth. But what a mouth!
Beatty’s silent stars are makeup artists John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler, who credit Gould. “The strip was our bible,” says Caglione. “Every makeup artist was drooling for this.”
Speaking of drool, the elaborate face masks were high-maintenance. “A lot of carnage after lunch,” says Drexler. Makeup patrols, known as MPs, tried to keep the thugs’ mugs intact. “Some got a little carried away,” admits Caglione. “They would write down, ‘8:32 A.M., Pacino eats toast, chews 26 times.’ ”
Despite the surveillance—and the discomfort of itchy, hot prosthetic makeup—the actors ended up feeling great about looking bad. Here, rising from the gunfire, they get the last word.
Big Boy Caprice’s righthand goon and personal accountant, Numbers is more prominent in the film than he was in the strip. Indeed, James (all three Back to the Futures, Top Gun) Tolkan had little more than a name from which to invent a character. “I tried to bring a robotic, computer sense to Numbers,” says Tolkan. Entering the world of Tracy took him back to his boyhood. “I remember how important it was when Dick Tracy arrived [in the Sunday funnies],” he says. Although the tales were entertaining, they struck a deeper chord. “This was the Depression, and things were really bad. Even though it was a comic, there was something depressing about it. Suddenly, all these years later, I’m working in this marvelous picture.” Not that he’d ever confuse Numbers with Macbeth. “It’s one-dimensional,” says Tolkan of his performance. “It’s Dick Tracy; it’s the comics.”
Introduced to the strip in 1942 as a Nazi and wartime saboteur, Pruneface, also known as Boche, originally rented a room from Tess’s mom, Mrs. Truehart. Chased by Tracy, Pruneface ended up freezing to death while hiding underneath a wharf. Luckily for R.G. Armstrong, the reality behind the wrinkles in the movie, Pruneface was resurrected in 1984 by cryogenics expert Dr. Freezedried, with help from Dick Locher, whom Gould hand-picked to take over the Tracy cartoon before his death in 1985. “If it wasn’t for the Prunefaces, I don’t think people would read the strip,” says Locher. “If a character is colorful enough, they’ll pay attention.” Armstrong, who started out as a playwright, didn’t find the role too much of a stretch. “I’ve always felt like a pruneface inside most of my life anyway—that ugly,” he says. “But the makeup really did work for me. You could see yourself transformed. Once it was all on, and I started doing my lines—’I’m taking Tracy out of the headlines,’ ‘I’m rubbing him out’—it came out like I never dreamed it would.” Armstrong played a role in Beatty’s Reds and was the manager of Beatty’s football team in Heaven Can Wait. “Warren told me, ‘You know, I have to have you in every picture I do,’ ” he says. “Warren is a creative genius.” Makeup men Caglione and Drexler, though, had an interesting second choice for an actor to play Pruneface: Ronald Reagan.
Tracy’s archenemy, this contract killer got his name from World War II aircraft carriers. Introduced in 1943, he actually met his demise in 1944, wedged between a pier’s pilings and drowning while trying to get away from Tracy. “Flattop is my favorite villain,” says Locher. “He’s such a cold customer. Nothing could shake him, except the time he crawled down a chimney that had a beehive in it.” For the film, William (Once Upon a Time in America, Raising Arizona) Forsythe wore 15 different prosthetic makeup “appliances” and carefully studied the cartoon strip. “Flattop really hears a different song from everybody else in the room,” says Forsythe. The daily transformation, which took up to four hours, did pose something of an identity crisis for the fresh-faced actor. “I would have my makeup on before everybody else got to the set,” he says. “At night they’d leave before me. So nobody ever saw what I really looked like. Because I was in such an ugly head, people would keep real cool, distant. Warren would even do it to me, and Madonna.” Laments the actor: “Maybe I met Madonna only two times as myself.”
Pronounce the name Itchy “All Over,” and you get the idea: He has a rash that needs constant scratching. Introduced in 1945, Itchy is best remembered for covering Dick in wax in a wax museum. Veteran villain Ed (Another 48 Hrs., Red Heat) O’Ross, 43, recalls the day he asked Beatty for advice. “I said, ‘How do you see this character?’ And in his own indecisive way, he didn’t know. He’d say, ‘Well, he’s kind of like, he, um, well, kind of um, he’s like a comic strip character but like real but like not real.’ I said, ‘Thank you, Warren, give me the script and I’m out of here.’ I read the strips, then I put my storyboards around my living room. I decided Itchy was a masochist and extremely brutal. He’s a real nervous guy, especially when Tracy comes around. Then I came up with the nervous laugh—’Heh, heh, heh.’ ”
Blessed—or cursed—with an expression that never changes, Influence, introduced in 1946, virtually hypnotizes people into doing exactly what he wants. Unlike the rest of the Gould gang, he doesn’t rely on violence—he doesn’t have to. That power makes him another of Locher’s favorites. “He reminds you of a very sad pet, but he’s not sad, that’s the beauty of him,” he says. Actor Henry Silva, a veteran villain whose credits include Sharky’s Machine and The Manchurian Candidate, came equipped with an equally intense gaze. “Influence is a contemporary Pied Piper, but on the dark side,” says Silva. “He looks at you and you’ll do anything—steal, go through a window, make love. He’s a control freak.” Silva, like many of Beatty’s bad boys, was chosen in part because of an honest resemblance to his character. Drexler says he and Caglione tried to amplify most of the actors’ faces by about 30 percent. “Henry was on his way to being Influence,” he says. “Of course his character was grossly distorted, but there was some remnant of Henry. We wanted to take Henry and Influence and combine them into one.”
On their personal scale of “weirdness,” say Drexler and Caglione, “Little Face is the 10.” The dubious fame of playing the blimp-faced villain, introduced in 1941, fell to Lawrence Steven Meyers, 34, after Beatty spotted him in a Beverly Hills pizza parlor. The 4’8″ film distribution exec at Lorimar International was “playing hooky” from his job when “I noticed a guy in glasses pacing around the restaurant.” As Meyers was on his way out, another Tracy producer ran after him and asked if he wanted to be in a movie. The plucked-from-anonymity scenario soon turned into something less glamorous: The makeup wizards encased his head in plaster, the beginning of a four-month process to create the gargantuan Little Face noggin. The five-pound head required a neck brace and constant attention. In costume, Meyers could go nowhere, meaning not even you know where. Still, he says, “I had a great time. Warren was wonderful. He had a vision.” The experience was actually Meyers’s second screen gig: In 1980, on a dare, he appeared in a similarly strange role in Battle Beyond the Stars. Since Tracy, he has become an independent producer. He has also recently written a book, No I’m Not a Jockey…and I Don’t Play Basketball Either, published in Europe, to help kids with physical weaknesses or differences cope. Larry himself was a sickly infant who wasn’t expected to live and then didn’t speak until he was 5. Now he’s fielding calls from agents. More acting? “I’d do anything,” he says. Obviously.
Proprietor of the Club Ritz as well as the owner of Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), Lips is a glutton with a thing for oysters swallowed in quick succession. (“Mind if I leave?” asks Breathless as he slurps. “I get sick when you eat.”) Although Gould actually gave Lips a second chance—the character introduced back in 1936 soon after became a law-abiding citizen and Tracy sidekick called Bob Honor—Beatty has Lips meeting a concrete demise.
Actor and opera singer Paul Sorvino, 49, a veteran of some 30 films, including Oh, God and Reds, skipped any Method approach to the part. “There’s no research to do. What is the precedent for such a character?” he asks. “It’s a cartoon, so you go with an idea. I had to look into myself for that person who was very inner-directed, controlling and ponderous.” Beatty left him to his own demi-deranged devices. “He creates a nurturing climate so those little gremlins inside of you feel free to play,” says Sorvino. “Then Warren’s ready to film it. He just knows when it’s there.” Despite an affection for Lips, Sorvino keeps his respect for Tracy. “He was a neat character because of his extreme manliness. There weren’t any doubts in his mind about anything. His face indicated he wanted those criminals in jail. Childhood can be a frightening time, and it’s encouraging to know that there are characters like Superman and Batman out there. But Dick Tracy was someone who could actually exist.”
—Tim Allis, Sue Carswell in Lake Buena Vista