Although Warren Beatty’s 1990 version of Dick Tracy landed itself an esteemed place in our list of failed film franchises, Beatty has nevertheless held onto the rights to the character throughout the years as if he’d always planned to give it another go—a move that’s long riled its original rights-holders, Tribune Media Services. In 2008, these grievances were brought to court in a case that could well have been titled Shit v. Get Off The Pot, with Tribune attempting to retrieve Chester Gould’s disconcertingly angular detective under a clause in Beatty’s original agreement from 1985, which said that the rights would revert back to them if Beatty failed to produce any Dick Tracy-related content within a “certain period of time.” Their long-running argument led to Tribune sending Beatty a letter in 2006, telling him he had two years to make something or else they’d be taking Dick Tracy back; Beatty responded in 2008 by letting them know he’d begun filming a Dick Tracy TV special, then sued them after they claimed they could still kill his right to do so. And then Tribune countersued, making a big old mess.
And today, after all these years of legal back-and-forth, a California judge has ruled in favor of Beatty, saying that the Dick Tracy TV special he supposedly began filming was enough to retain his rights, and that the character is still his. This once again raises the question: Why does Warren Beatty want to hang onto Dick Tracy so badly if he’s not actually going to do anything with it? That “TV special” he supposedly filmed has never seen the light of day, and reportedly its only connection to the comic was a brief scene of Beatty being interviewed while dressed in his old yellow fedora, while the rest of its cast features such beloved Dick Tracy characters as “Security Guard,” and “Studio Personnel,” and “Leonard Maltin as himself.” Back in 2008, when the special was being planned and he was first publicly standing up for his rights, Beatty’s attorney asserted, “[Beatty] has all sorts of creative thoughts about what he might do with this character”—which, great, he should keep it then. Lord knows the 1990 film was the definition of “unrealized potential.”
But Tribune (and many others) rightfully saw Beatty’s “TV special” as a slapdash attempt to selfishly hold onto the character, just for the sake of not letting anyone else have it while he spent nearly two decades figuring out what shape those "creative thoughts" might take. So now that Beatty is once again very publicly in control of Dick Tracy’s future, hopefully he’ll do the right thing and actually create something to justify all this effort he’s gone to keep it from everybody else—but only if the Internet shames him into doing so. So, everybody start shaming him. Shame on you, Warren Beatty. Come on, it’s sort of fun. Shame shame shame.
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