Dick Tracy celebrates its 30th anniversary this year as the blockbuster to beat in the summer of 1990. Featuring an all star cast including Warren Beatty, Madonna, Al Pacino and more, this crime-smashing action film has a legacy that extends beyond the colorful movie theater experience.
Following the formula of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, a wave of Dick Tracy merchandise deluged every retail store in bright yellows, reds and blacks with trading cards, action figures (as discussed in this article), a novelization and activity books. These were all to be expected, but there were also some more unique items to be found on the fringes. So join me as we look at the 15 Weirdest Dick Tracy Movie Merchandise Items.
Cap’n Crunch Door Hangers
Unlike Tim Burton’s Batman, Dick Tracy did not get a fully branded cereal on grocery store shelves, though the standard yellow color of cereal bits would have worked perfectly with the color scheme of the film. Instead packed into boxes of Cap’n Crunch were Dick Tracy Door Hangers. Taking the idea of Do Not Disturb to the next level, these colorful pieces of cardboard featured a rotating series of messages like “Hold It! No Knocking Allowed” or “Off-Duty, Come In”. Most hilarious though was the branding of Big Boy’s gangster goons from the film as “The Knob Mob”. From what I understand a “knob” is slang for a certain body part which Quaker would likely want to distance themselves from, but I guess they couldn’t resist the power of rhyme.
Cap’n Crunch Wrist Radio
You may also have noticed on the side of the box, a mail away offer for a Dick Tracy Wrist Radio. The 2-way wrist radio is by far Tracy’s most iconic crime fighting gadget, but in this case for $5.50 plus 75 cents shipping and handling you could get an FM radio mounted to a wrist band with headphones to jam out the latest single from Madonna’s I’m Breathless album based on the film.
I just happen to own this kitschy piece of history and it is a sight to behold. You have to applaud Quaker for not simply sending the wristwear in a nondescript plastic bag, but a fully branded display box. The Cap’n himself even assures us we will enjoy the radio. It’s actually big enough to still be worn by an adult, so you better believe I’ll be rockin’ out in retro style as I walk the streets as part of the neighborhood watch program to make Dick Tracy proud.
Dick Tracy Sunglasses
Statistically, most criminal activity takes place in the midnight hour where darkness reigns and this is certainly represented in the film, whose action is set in the blackest night, so the colors can pop on screen. How then are branded Dick Tracy sunglasses thematically appropriate to the movie? Answer: They are not. Add to this oddball marketing that graphic of Tracy pinning a deputy badge on The Kid and the message becomes even more confusing. Are these police issue Blue Blockers? Protective goggles to keep your eyes safe from all the gunfire? Unfortunately, these sunglasses leave us with more questions than answers.
Dick Tracy Print Kit
Remember that in 1990, the idea of a home computer was still a relatively novel concept. These were the days before the internet or even decent PC gaming graphics. So what was our favorite pastime on our desktop computers? PRINTING! I’m not kidding, ask any kid of the late ’80s and early ’90s, we were printing out dot matrix printer banners for every occasion and looking for excuses to hang them up across the family garage or our bedroom walls. The freedom of expression was intoxicating. Now imagine you can add a Little Face mask or The Rodent greeting card to the mix. Amazing!
Dick Tracy Rad Rollers Action Marbles
With the milk cap/POG fad still 3 years away at the time of Dick Tracy’s release, kids of the early ’90s had to settle for licensed marbles. A game as old as the comic strip the movie was based on. These were dark days indeed. Branding themselves as “Action Marbles” was a bold move, even positioning Rad Rollers as collectible items with “All The Hot Looks!” that you could trade. But just how exactly were we going to get these valuable orbs in protective sleeves?
Dick Tracy Bandana
My fellow TRN contributor, Stacey Rader (@geeky_vixen) proudly adorns her dog in this Dick Tracy bandana which is the height of pop culture geekery. Though I doubt, “Pet Fashion” was the original intention of this item. The main issue I see with branded fabric like this is that a bandana is traditionally worn folded in order to be tied and worn around the neck or in this era, twisted to be worn as a headband or even around your leg (if you were part of a breakdance crew). In this state of folding there is no way any of the iconic promotional graphics from the film’s marketing department can be seen. Like a blind man firing a Tommy Gun, they missed the mark.
Dick Tracy Rain Poncho
As I have scoured the internet over the years for movie tie-in merchandise, the rain poncho is a standard item produced by almost every major studio for their blockbuster film releases. And it baffles me. In this case, you could maybe justify a branded poncho by saying it would protect you from a “hale of gunfire” or Tracy “raining down justice on the crooks”, but all I see from someone wearing this is a cheap way to make a Big Bird Halloween costume.
The most hilarious result of this item’s existence, however, is the debate over its value on the secondary collector’s market. As you can see from these 2 eBay listings, while both sellers agree the item is “rare” there is a massive discrepancy in the measurement of value versus desirability of the Dick Tracy poncho (or “pancho”). It may all be part of a Big Boy style money laundering scheme, then again, someone might just be getting a little greedy. Which side of the fence do you fall on?
Dick Tracy McDonald’s Crimestopper Game
Now a McDonald’s sweepstakes is not such a stretch for a big-budget movie, but for one as violent as Dick Tracy, it seems a little odd. Remember, just 2 years later when Batman Returns came out, McDonald’s was getting all kinds of flack from parents groups for promoting a movie with adult themes aimed at kids. Dick Tracy has just as much sexual innuendo and bullets flying at the Bat-Sequel, but apparently the cartoony nature of the crooks in this world threw more sensitive people off. Otherwise, nothing odd here, just a fun scratch-off game to win yourself a free small french fries or a million bucks.
Dick Tracy Head Mugs
Speaking of McDonald’s, the fast-food chain also released a series of Dick Tracy collector’s cups as part of their promotion, but then the Walt Disney parks took the next step…into insanity. These porcelain mugs were painstakingly crafted to look like Warren Beatty and Madonna from the film, they are true works of art. Unfortunately, this artistic achievement caused the merchandising department to overlook the fact that you are asking consumers to consider sipping their coffee or tea from the open cranial cavities of the film’s sexy stars. It was different when Clark Griswold drank out of a Tasmanian Devil mug in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which was a cartoon character. These are human faces with expressions that seem to convey their concern over the liquid lobotomy being performed each time you need a pick me up in the morning. Now let’s never speak of them again (shudder).
Dick Tracy Suspenders
Can you imagine the kid who comes to school with all of the previously mentioned wearable items and tops it all off with Dick Tracy suspenders? There’s just no coming back from that until you get accepted to an out of state college and re-position yourself as DJ Dick Tracy, hoping your hipster friends find it ironically cool. I will say this, of all the items we’ve discussed this is the most thematically appropriate tie-in. The Kid in the film actually wears suspenders! That being said, anybody playing Dick Tracy Jr in the ’90s using these suspenders was in for some serious “snap back” from their classmates.
Dick Tracy Clip-On Magnet
Nowadays these sculpted pins are the kind of pop culture ephemera you can find hand-made on Etsy, but back in the day, these grotesque items were maybe just outside the realm of decency. I mean look at Lips Manlis. Did Playmates decide to depict the mobster happily slurping down oysters? No, they focus on the supposed last moments of breath where he was pleading for his life before being encased in a cement-filled crate. Disgusting…but also hilarious.
Breathless Mahoney Satin Jacket
I was recently in a retro antique store and came upon this truly rare piece of tie-in clothing. Yes, that is a Breathless Mahoney satin jacket. Attempting to cash in on the popularity of Madonna, there was also a line of Breathless Mahoney dolls for girls, but this fashion extension is truly one step too far. The movie is set in the 1930s, but this jacket looks like it belongs on the set of Happy Days or Grease. I’m trying to imagine a girl seeing a rack of these jackets at the local department store and begging to add it to her wardrobe. Not likely.
Dick Tracy I.D. Composite Kit
File this one under weird, but awesome. The mix n’ match plates that you could cover in paper and rub a crayon over to create an image was classic technology by 1990, having been applied to monsters, superheroes and girls fashion designing for decades. But what makes it perfect for the world of Dick Tracy were the disfigured criminals our yellow-clad hero put in the slammer on a regular basis. Making a WANTED poster of your own “Creature Crook” was a weird way to get your kicks, but the idea of “Flat Face” or “Prune Brow” was just too enticing to let the idea go by the wayside.
Dick Tracy/Breathless Mahoney Grooming Kits
Make no mistake, Madonna and Warren Beatty are beautiful people and I guess that was the idea behind these bathroom kits for kids. The Breathless kit features perfume, “lip tint” and a folding comb so little girls could practice playing seductress with their stuffed animals? The Dick Tracy kit feature After Shave, but no fake shaving brush or foam. They made up for that oversight by including the “Anti Chap Lip Radio Watch” which I’m assuming had a flip-open compartment containing chapstick, which is totally rad (aaaaand I just bought it on eBay). The only missed opportunity here is producing a mob themed shampoo/soap set proclaiming, “Hey kids, now you can take a bath, just like Lips Manlis!”
Charles Barkley And The Referee Murders Graphic Novel
OK, so this isn’t official Dick Tracy merchandise, but it is obviously inspired by the hype from the film. Yes, in this fully illustrated comic book story, Charles Barkley dresses like Dick Tracy to solve a murder case. To be fair, this isn’t half as weird as the time a giant Barkley faced off against Godzilla in another comic book adventure, which actually had it’s own line of merchandise including a lunchbox. That being said, this book certainly sets up Sir Charles as the natural successor to Warren Beatty should we ever get a Dick Tracy sequel.
Well there you have it, the 15 Weirdest Dick Tracy Movie Merchandise Items from the summer of 1990. Is there another item you remember seeing in stores as a kid? For more Dick Tracy fun be sure to check out the TRN Drive In podcast episode where my co-host Michael Cannetti and I reminisce about the film at this link.