"Dick Tracy vs. Crime Incorporated" is a 15 chapter Republic serial, the last of the four with Ralph Byrd as Dick Tracy, released in late December of 1941. It is also the last of the 17 serials directed by the team of William Witney and John English.
A mysterious criminal, known as "The Ghost" seeks revenge on members of the "Council of Eight" who helped send his brother, "Rackets" Regan, to the Chair. They had planned to build a vast orgnization, called "Crime, Incorporated" which now The Ghost, secretly a member of the Council, will carry out alone, with the aid of an invisibility machine developed by his associate, Lucifer (John Davidson). As the story begins, two members of the Council have already been killed, and Tracy arrives too late to save criminologist Dr. Stephen Chandler (Howard C. Hickman), killed at close range despite being heavily guarded. While Tracy and the police are baffled, they had noticed an odd sound, caused by Lucifer's invisibility machine. Tracy spends the next fourteen chapters tracking that sound, battling the Ghost's schemes and trying to learn his identity.
For purposes of the serial the acting is fine, with Ralph Byrd as reliable as ever as the square-jawed detective/G-man, supported mostly by agent Bill Carr played by Michael Owen. Instead of Gwen, the main female role is June (Jan Wiley), the daughter of the late Dr. Chambers, but she appears no more often than Gwen did in the other serials. She finally gets to do something in Chapter Ten, analyzing the sound of Lucifer's machine. Jan Wiley had better roles in Universal's 1945 serials "Secret Agent X-9" and "The Master Key." The actors for the remaining members of the Council of Eight are Hooper Atchley, Robert Fiske, Robert Frazer, Ralph Morgan and John Dilson, all good at playing suspicious characters. The Ghost is supported not only by John Davidson as Lucifer, but Anthony Warde as the main henchman John Corey. A lot of familiar faces show up in smaller roles, including Edmund Cobb, C. Monague Shaw, Stanley Price, John Merton, Jack Mulhall and Edward Hearn, plus stunt men David Sharpe, Duke Taylor, Ken Terrell and Bud Wolfe.
Those looking for a lot of action will not be disappointed, but little logic is used in solving the case, and Tracy seems to be waiting with the audience to see which Council member is left in the last chapter. Screenplay writers Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall and Joseph Poland were also involved with the earlier "Adventures of Captain Marvel" which had a similar "Who Is.." plot, but here Tracy is supposed to be protecting those Council members. While there are no "retrospective" chapters, there's a lot of recycled footage. The first chapter ends with the destruction of New York City by tidal wave, taken from the 1933 film "Deluge," though the associated new footage doesn't quite look right. Maybe the palm trees lining the streets were the wrong kind for New York. Most chapters contain extra "cliffhangers" at the mid-point for added action, usually from an earlier serial, though often with a different resolution. In the middle of Chapter Three the hero chases a runaway train in an army tank, from the second Dick Tracy serial. Then we get a rerun of the first chapter cliffhanger from "Dick Tracy's G-Men" where a remote-controlled boat loaded with explosives is heading to destroy the canal locks. To fit it into the story, a clumsy explanation is needed by Tracy, who is able to see from an airplane that dummies have been substituted for the people and that a remote-control unit is operating the boat. Reuse of cliffhangers is not unusal in serials, but the amount of it is especially high for the time this one was made. The "scientific" explanations related to The Ghost's invisibility don't enhance the credibility either, though there's entertainment in the rapid wearout of the tubes in Lucifer's machine. Fortunately originality and plot aren't the only things that matter in serials, and Republic's production values are in top form, including the choreography of the fist fights and especially the musical score by Cy Feuer, the most pulse-pounding in the Dick Tracy serials.
VCI's edtion on DVD, # 8526, is properly spread out on two discs, the first double-layer with chapters one through nine, the second disc having the remaining five chapters. There is but one extra, an introduction by Max Allan Collins, who wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip from 1977 to 1993. This is on the first disc but can only be accessed with the "play all" option; it does not appear on the main menu. VCI's image is quite good, if from a reduction print, seen in the softness of focus toward the edges especially in the lower-right corner of the screen, with blurred words "fictitious" and "coincidental" in the disclaimer about the similarity to persons living or dead. This is also the location of the MPPDA certificate numbers, and the one for Chapter Nine is quite blurry, though probably correct, like the ones for the other chapters. But overall the sharpness, gray scale and lack of scratches and dirt are impressive. The sound in Chapter One has some noise reduction artifacts causing the dialogue to be a little garbled, but VCI's videotape edition, # 1169 had the noise doing about the same thing. The other chapters are better, clear enough if with some background hiss, a good compromise between noise and high-frequency enhancement.
The other Dick Tracy serials are closer to the comic strip, with better atmosphere and plot development, and a lot less recycled footage. Still, by Amazon's rating system "Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc." deserves five stars for the lively action and fine production values of the serial. The blemishes are fairly minor, and this is the best-looking transfer of the four Dick Tracy serials on DVD.