“Paw said, you can’t trust a woman, or a mule.”

FBI agent Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd) is after a crime boss known as either The Spider or The Lame One. He keeps a tight hold of his Spider Ring. Anyone that goes against him is eliminated. The Spider is assisted by a hunchback doctor called Dr. Moloch (John Picorri). In his arsenal The Spider has a flying wing plane and a sonic weapon.

Tracy has on his side his assistant Gwen Andrews (Kay Hughes), Steve Lockwood (Fred Hamilton) and Mike McGurk (Smiley Burnette). Along the way he acquires an orphan named Junior (Lee Van Atta).

Dick’s brother Gordon (Richard Beach) is an attorney who works for Ellery Brewster (John Dilson). At a party at his home for orphaned children Brewster is killed by The Spider. Tracy is called in to investigate. Tracy gives his brother an important piece of information to take downtown. On the way he is run off the road and severely injured. He is taken to the lair of The Spider where Dr. Moloch performs brain surgery on him. When Gordon wakes he is under the total control of The Spider. Now Gordon Tracy (Carleton Young) becomes The Spider’s head minion.

The Spider instructs Gordon to perform many evil capers for him. Using the sound weapon Gordon tries to destroy the brand new Bay Bridge. Tracy foils that caper and manages to find out where the sound machine is kept. He destroys the machine. The Spider continues his schemes heisting furs, stealing a valuable necklace, a special plane, a gold shipment and anything else that he can sell to the highest bidder, usually a foreign government.

Tracy continues to chase after The Spider’s goons trying to catch the bad guys and stop whatever mayhem The Spider is up to. All the while his brother is the main goon doing the bad stuff. Tracy never recognizes that it is his brother he is chasing. This, to me, is not totally surprising since Gordon’s face has changed along with his personality.

“Dick Tracy” was released in 1937 and was directed by Alan James and Ray Taylor. It is a Republic fifteen chapter serial based on the comic strip by Chester Gould. It is the first of four Republic serials done featuring Dick Tracy. Ralph Byrd plays Tracy in all four of the Republic serials as well as the TV series that aired from 1950-1951 and the movies “Dick Tracy’s Dilemma” 1947 and “Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome” 1947 by RKO.

The serial was fast paced and very entertaining. The stunts were well done and adding some actual forensics was a nice touch. The acting was good and the special effects were great.

Byrd as the lantern jawed G-man is energetic and tenacious. Each episode he manages to round up more of the gang. And each episode he manages to find a clue to the next job The Spider is planning on doing. Usually he reads it in the paper. As far as clues to where the bad guys are or where they have been he sometimes gets those clues from trace evidence. For example mud on a car, quartz on the bottom of a boot or a footprint in sesame seed oil.

Most of the comic relief is in the form of Smiley Burnette as one of Tracy’s sidekicks, Mike McGurk. His rapport with Lee Van Atta, the orphan Junior, in little vignettes peppered throughout the serial adds humor. Most of it is Junior outwitting McGurk in one way or another. Of course McGurk doesn’t need Junior to do stupid stuff. He’s capable of being an idiot all by himself.

As for Junior, apparently orphanages are just giving kids away. At one time that was true. Children were sent on trains from orphanages to families out West for adoption and/or fostering. Although not all the children were orphans. Some were from parents who could not afford to keep them. The orphan trains, as they were referred to, operated between 1854 and 1929. Approximately 200,000 children were relocated. As of 1937 these practices were no longer being done, however, Dick Tracy managed with no problem.

Chapters: 1. The Spider Strikes, 2. The Bridge of Terror, 3. The Fur Pirates, 4. Death Rides the Sky, 5. Brother Against Brother, 6. Dangerous Waters, 7. The Ghost Town Mystery, 8. Battle in the Clouds, 9. The Stratosphere Adventure, 10. The Gold Ship, 11. Harbor Pursuit, 12. The Trail of the Spider, 13. Fire Trap, 14. The Devil in White, 15. Brothers United.