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Antique Store Finds: Dick Tracy Memorabilia

I've posted several articles chronicling the retro treasures I've found during visits to my favorite antique stores, but I've noticed a trend which has gone mostly unmentioned (except for a brief segment in this article, Dick Tracy movie merchandise.

Every time I walk these nostalgia laden aisles, I see bright yellow boxes featuring Warren Beatty glaring at me, as if to say, "I dare you to commit a crime on my turf" and I can't help but snap a picture. Why? Because in 1990, Dick Tracy was a big, freakin' deal! In the wake of Tim Burton's mega blockbuster Batman in 1989, comic book movies were proven to be cash cows that could not be ignored and The Walt Disney Company (through Touchstone Pictures) imagined Dick Tracy to be the next big thing. 

As a result, store shelves were packed with toys and memorabilia, most of which I'm going to imagine sat unsold. I say this because even though we saw the movie, no kid I knew had a firm grasp on how to "play Dick Tracy". Still the wide range of products emblazoned with his likeness was impressive, so let me show you what I've found in my travels.

Flying Disc

For those who don't know, Frisbee is a trademarked term, so the slightly damaged packaging for this "Radical Flying Disc!" from the Spectra Star company doesn't feature "the F word" anywhere. But who needs it? These are some fantastic graphics! Of course we have the intense image of Tracy firing his pistol on the disc itself, but looking below we can see that this is not Dick's weapon of choice.

Here we have a 3 panel comic strip showing how this hard-nosed cop prefers to dispense justice to the disfigured criminals on his beat. Yep, Dick Tracy was imitating Batman in more ways than one by using his patented flying disc projectile attack to easily disarm the freckle-faced gangster, Flat Top. By the looks of it Tracy isn't terribly accurate, so he throws up to 4 at a time, letting the discs fly where they may. Personally, I would have loved to see this scene in the movie, just to break up the monotony of endless tommy gun blasts present throughout the film.


While retro lunchboxes are often cited as a favorite childhood memory, I have long had an appreciation for Thermos art. While some lesser offerings were limited to a logo or single image on one side, Dick Tracy gave us 360 degrees of gangster stomping action to be enjoyed from any angle. The artist really did capture the essence of the film's characters.

Flat Top definitely seems to be the baddy of choice for merchandisers (maybe because he was the least grotesque?), but we also get a look at our hero using his two-way wrist radio which is later featured in a close-up graphic. I especially enjoy the full body shot of Tracy running through the streets, which he really seemed to do a lot of in the movie.

Speedmobiles by Applause

These old timey gangster cars are not the kind of toys I remember catching site of at the time of Dick Tracy's theatrical run. Maybe because they were in the pre-school section of the store to catch the attention of younger children? But if so, what a miscalculation! Considering all the ghoulish gangsters, constant murder and sexual advances by Madonna in the movie was hardly appropriate for me at age 8, let alone the 5 year olds who would enjoy these things. There are so many questions.

While there are only 2 cars on display in this photo, that tub was obviously meant to hold at least a dozen. Which also leads to me to wonder, was this container sold as a set or were individual cars for sale as impulse items at cash registers for $2.99 a pop? If these were replica cars from the film made by Matchbox or Hot Wheels I would understand, there's a collector's market out there, but you can barely even see the character silhouettes in the car windows. None of my friends would have given these things a second glance in 1990.

Topps Trading Cards

Did you pick up a pack or two of these back in the day? I collected these cards as a kid (and pretty much any other Topps movie card series) and the vivid color scheme of the film made the images of Itchy, Prune Face and to a lesser extent 88 Keyes more exciting. I found these things in random drawers of my parent's house for years after the movie.

I'll admit, I was extremely tempted to buy one of these boxes. It was always my dream to have entire box of cards to open in hopes of walking away with a complete set. But then I realized that this series only had extras in the form of stickers. So without hologram cards of Little Face or The Blank to look forward to, what I probably would have ended up with was a whole lot of Lips Manlis doubles and that ain't a pretty picture. Still, some great nostalgia for me here.

Sir Charles Barkley Comic

Now this was the real find of my many trips to the antique store. You wanna know how much of an influence Dick Tracy had in 1990? Even NBA star Sir Charles Barkley was dressing up like a 30's era detective. You'll recall that "Sir Charles" was making a name for himself off the court endorsing deodorant at the time and even had a comic book where he faced off against Godzilla, but what are we supposed to make of this pop culture mash-up?

Opening up the book I found a noir tale of a basketball player investigating the murder of NBA referees as the cover suggested, but Barkley wasn't pulling any punches, he was delivering them! He's roughing up gangsters in a most "uncivilized" manner to get to the bottom of the case and speaking of which, there was a bonus. Every page had a glamour photo of the real Charles Barkley doing Dick Tracy cosplay in the lower corner of the page, which was awkwardly intruding on the illustrated action. So strange, yet this was a truly unique piece of history right here. 

So what are your memories of the Dick Tracy film? Did you own any of these tie-in items or other merchandise?

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fuschnikt Posted on May 31, 2017 at 04:17 AM

I remember trying so hard to draw that first shadowy image. It was not very good. I also remember owning two figures. After crushing hundreds upon hundreds of cans with my dad, he gave me a cut of the recycling proceeds in the form of Dick Tracy. I would later get The Tramp, because I liked that he came with a knife and a plank. I often chose my figures based on the accessories. I really want to rip open some Tracy wax packs.

Vaporman87 Posted on Mar 29, 2017 at 03:02 AM

So much Dick Tracy goodness here, it makes me want to listen to the Read-Along Story in our Read-Along section.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Mar 26, 2017 at 11:31 PM

@Caps 2.0 So basically you were "The Kid" from the movie and got to use Dick Tracy's name in real life? That's awesome! Maybe you should try to set-up one of your famous interviews with that child actor, Charlie Korsmo, since he was also in Hook and What About Bob?

Caps 2.0 Posted on Mar 26, 2017 at 01:52 AM

I loved Dick Tracy so much that, for the first half of my second grade year, I signed all my papers as Dick Tracy. The teachers, although they wanted me to use my birth name, were understanding. That was probably my first time that I wanted to separate myself from my birth name.

While my birth name is still my legal name, I rarely introduce myself to people under my birth name anymore. I now use the name Johnny Caps in my writing and on my social media.

Feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook, Hoju. I'd be interested in learning more about your writing process.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Mar 23, 2017 at 06:06 PM

@oldschool80s Sounds like a cool collector's item. I had no idea they were doing midnight screenings of new films that far back.

@jkatz Yeah, I actually got the Dick Tracy NES game recently and man, is it a bummer. I like the varied gameplay and mystery concept, but all the snipers on the rooftop are ridiculous.

OldSchool80s Posted on Mar 23, 2017 at 02:00 PM

I saw a special midnight premiere showing of the film with a group of friends because it was so hyped. I remember being a little disappointed compared to what my expectations were, but that it was still a fun time. I received a special t-shirt for attending this showing and I believe I still have it packed away somewhere.

jkatz Posted on Mar 23, 2017 at 01:51 AM

This movie certainly has more merchandise than I thought it would...I'd take any of these over the notoriously awful NES tie-in game.

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