Toy Tribute: Dick Tracy, Shoulders, and The Rodent (Playmates Toys)


1990 was a dark year for my action figure collection: it was a few years after I had stopped buying toys as playthings but still a few years before I would start buying toys as collectibles. And yet, the toy industry chugged along without me, producing some memorable, if short-lived, toy lines. One of those was Dick Tracy, a bunch of colorful "cops and robbers"-style action figures based on the movie of the same name. As a fan of Playmates action figures, I finally picked up a set recently.

I hadn't seen the movie before I started collecting the figures and I thought I should watch it before I write about the toys. If you haven't seen it, it stars Warren Beatty in the titular role as a detective in a city overrun by organized crime. Based on a comic strip from the 30's which featured villains with abstractly exaggerated physical traits, the film's villains mimicked the strip's character designs with some pretty wild makeup and costumes.

I won't go into much of a review of the movie here, but I will say that it's a fun movie that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. One one hand, its colorful cinematography and the wacky villains imply that it was designed to appeal to kids; on the other hand, the lack of action/adventure scenes, the tommy gun killings, and a slightly-too-naked-for-PG Madonna make the movie more adult in nature. Oh, and Warren Beatty exhibits the acting range of a subdued Keanu Reeves in this movie. But it's such a visually interesting flick that it would be fun to watch on Blu-ray.

Playmates produced a line of Dick Tracy figures in 1990 to coincide with the release of the movie. The figures are very much a product of their time with TMNT-esque proportions and articulation, some Easter egg sculpting details, and vibrant colorations. Strangely, the line is probably the most villain-heavy one I've ever encountered with only two heroes up against twelve villains. Villain-heavy toy lines are often very short-lived. (Anybody remember the animated Ewoks line?) That might account for the fact that Dick Tracy lasted only one wave... or, maybe the box office juggernaut of the first TMNT movie completely overshadowed Dick Tracy and its merchandising.


The packaging is nifty with a colorful comic-booky illustration of Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy. The card is unique to the figure in that the quote on the front and the comic strip and file card on the back are character-specific.

For each of these Dick Tracy tributes, I'll look at three or four figures at a time. Like my Star Trek: The Next Generation Archive, I'll not cover the accessories so that my sanity is kept in check. I'll also not include The Blank because I don't have a couple hundred bucks to burn to buy a sample. So let's start with the main man himself:

Dick Tracy


Here we see one-half of the good guy team for this line: Dick Tracy himself in his police vest. Since it's a look that we usually see him sporting while sitting behind a desk at the police station, it messes up some of the play potential for the figure. Also, he's missing his signature yellow overcoat. I'm not sure if the likeness can really be said to be representative of Warren Beatty, but that's okay considering his performance was so forgettable. Tracy does have his signature walkie-talkie wristband, so that's cool.

Although I really dig the toy-like quality of the Dick Tracy line's proportions I can't help but think that it might have worked better with sculpting more like Playmates Trek. Check out the shot of Dick Tracy with Dixon Hill below-right. It looks like there might be some forced perspective with Tracy standing closer to the camera, but nope... the two figures are on the same visual plane. It's too bad that Playmates didn't use the more realistic Trek proportions but that revolutionary line was still more than two years away in 1990.


Shoulders


Of all the physical traits to be grotesquely mutated, this dude gets shoulders. I guess somebody had already taken elbows.

Shoulders has a brief cameo as he's gunned down at a card game in the intro to the movie. The figure does a pretty good job of capturing Shoulders' ugly mug and weird sneer. I just wish its shoulders were more pronounced. He is called "Shoulders", after all... he should have the shoulders to justify the name.

By the way, if you look closely you'll see what appear to be brass knuckles on his belt. Neat.


The Rodent


The Rodent is at the same card game in which Shoulders is "rubbed out" and meets the same fate. I dig this figure because it does a great job of capturing the look of the character in the movie. His suit color is also fun (even if the purple coloration of the sleeves and pants doesn't quite match that of the coat). But my favorite feature is the mouse trap clamped shut on his coat. Watch out, Splinter!



And that's it for the first tribute to the Playmates Dick Tracy line! Stay tuned... there are a lot more cool figures to come!

4 comments:

  1. I tend to find these figures a lot at Flea Markets but always pass on them but they are still pretty decent and should be easy to collect outside of the Blank action figure.

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  2. very cool figures...something about this line screamed playability. They had such an iconic 90's feel to them very similar to the Toxic Crusaders or Buck O' Hare lines. Nice article!

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  3. These were fun! My favorite was Pruneface. My brother and I had a few of them and so did my cousin, but neither of us had any of the cars, which were really nice.

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  4. I had a few of these as a kid. It always bothered me that Tracy didn't come with his trademark yellow trench coat.

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