The Stark gang is run by Pa Stark (Charles Middleton) and his five sons, Champ (John Merton), Trigger (Ray Bennett), Kid (Ned Glass) Dude (Jack Roberts) and Slasher (Jack Ingram). Stark runs his gang and his sons with an iron fist. Currently they operate a car theft ring. Now they set their sights higher.
They plan on holding up an armored car. New FBI recruit Ron Merton (David Sharpe) is assigned to guard the truck and its cargo of cash. FBI agent Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) is in a back-up car. The truck is high-jacked and loaded onto a larger truck. The gang takes it to where they can open it at their leisure. They net a half a million dollars in cash. During the heist agent Merton is killed. Stark’s son Kid is caught. One son down.
Tracy and the other FBI agents recover the money and raid the garage the gang used to alter the stolen cars. With the help of his assistant Gwen Andrews (Lynne Roberts), agent Steve Lockwood (Michael Kent) and Mike McGurk (Lee Ford) Tracy vows to get the rest of the gang. When Tracy investigates the garage they find a clue to the gang’s next job.
Each step of the way Pa Stark and the rest of the gang try to steal experimental planes, a tank, a speed boat, diamonds, and try some extortion all to get money. What Stark accomplishes is to get his sons killed, one by one.
“Dick Tracy Returns” was released in 1938 and was directed by John English and William Witney. It is a fifteen chapter serial produced by Republic Pictures and is the second of four serials based on the Dick Tracy character.
The stunt work was great as were many of the special effects. The special effects were created by the Lydecker brothers. One of the main draw backs was the music score. Well, what music score, it was pretty much all stock music, which in itself is not necessarily bad but you need to match appropriate music with the action on the screen. Otherwise things don’t flow as well as they should. Unfortunately that wasn’t always the case here.
The Pa Stark character, played by Charles Middleton, was based on the real life criminal Ma Barker. I didn’t recognize Middleton at first since he wasn’t sporting the Fu-Manchu beard and bald head he is normally seen in as Ming the merciless. He was one of the bright spots in the serial.
In the funny papers Dick Tracy is a police detective. In the serials he is an FBI agent. Tracy’s side kick Mike McGurk is now being played by Lee Ford instead of Smiley Burnette. As far as comic relief, I wasn’t crazy about Smiley Burnette and I found Lee Ford unmemorable. The new Junior is played by Jerry Tucker, who doesn’t exactly look like a street wise orphan but more like the overweight kid that gets picked on. I liked Lee Van Atta as Junior in the first Dick Tracy serial better.
“Dick Tracy Returns” was good. There was plenty of action and some decent cliffhangers among the standard ones. Ralph Byrd is once again good as the feisty G-man who has never heard of back-up bulldozing his way into every caper Stark is trying to pull off like a hyperactive child. Still, to me, it just wasn’t as good as the first serial. I liked the creepy master criminal and the spooky doctor Moloch. The horror and science fiction aspect was much more fun. If, on the other hand you prefer your G-men fighting standard crooks and minions then “Dick Tracy Returns” has everything you need.
Since this serial didn’t hold my interest as much I missed the subtle nuances in the Stark boys’ characters. Their names illustrated their personalities. Kid is quick tempered and over compensates for his youth by trying to be a bad ass. Trigger is heartless and quick with a gun, Dude is laid back and prefers to not get mussed up, Champ is the hired muscle and the protective big brother, and Slasher is the quasi leader when his father isn’t around who prefers a knife to a gun when possible.
Chapter Titles: 1. The Sky Wreckers 2. The Runway Of Death 3. Handcuffed To Doom 4. Four Seconds To Live 5. Death In The Air 6. Stolen Secrets 7. Tower Of Death 8. Cargo Of Destruction 9. The Clock Of Doom 10.High Voltage 11. The Kidnapped Witness 12.The Runaway Torpedo 13.Passengers To Doom 14.In The Hands Of The Enemy 15.G-Men's Dragnet