A schoolteacher alights from a bus one night and begins her walk home, but there's someone following her. She can hear the footsteps growing closer in the dark, and as they approach she tries to get away but... This is a case for Dick Tracy (Morgan Conway), but at the moment he is interrogating a criminal about a bank heist. When his assistant Pat Patton (Lyle Latell) enters the room and whispers to him about the schoolteacher murder, Tracy seizes an opportunity to get the criminal to confess the name of his boss, thus freeing him to devote his attention to this new case. If only his girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Anne Jeffreys) would understand...
There had already been serials in cinema and on the radio featuring Chester Gould's famed comic strip character, but this film began a short run of B-movies. He had been played by Ralph Byrd, the actor most associated with the role, but here Conway took over for a couple of instalments, with Byrd returning to play Tracy later. Conway is fine, but purists prefer his predecessor. At least this is entertaining, though not so much a tale of the criminal underworld that you might expect, rather a villain working largely on his own: regular heavy Mike Mazurki as Splitface.
Mazurki would turn up in Warren Beatty's mega-budget version of Dick Tracy in 1990 in a neat cameo-tribute, and here he is memorable as the imposing "slasher" whose motives the detective has to work out if he wants to prevent any more murders taking place. He discovers the schoolteacher was being blackmailed, and now the mayor has received a note threatening violence if he doesn't hand over a large sum of money. Obviously this is serious, and it's good that the title character is seen to be using his sleuthing skills to put the pieces together and track down the bad guy. Although it turns out there is more than one when Tracy discovers a mysterious astrologer, Professor Starling (Trevor Bardette) has something to do with the killings.
Apparently this Dick Tracy never has anything to eat, because whenever Tess suggests they go out for a meal, he keeps her waiting for hours and then calls off their date. He doesn't even have breakfast, saying he'll have a cup of coffee at the station. But it's the thrills you'll be watching this for, and if this is something of a typical crime B-move of its day then it's produced with effiency. Nice moments include the Professor staring into his crystal ball and seeing into the future, and the searching of a house in darkness which just so happens to include Splitface hiding in there to threaten Tess. If it doesn't quite capture the Tracy of the comic strip, I doubt there were many complaints at the time; this is brisk and diverting enough for an hour. Music by Roy Webb.