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Breathless Mahoney
Dick Tracy character
First appearance May 11, 1945
Created by Chester Gould
Portrayed by Madonna
Nationality American

Breathless Mahoney is a femme fatale in the American comic strip Dick Tracy which was created by Chester Gould in 1931. She first appeared in the strip on May 11, 1945, and was apparently killed on August 26, 1946.

The character found worldwide fame in 1990 in the much-hyped Dick Tracy film, as a villainous nightclub singer played by pop superstar Madonna. The character's glamorous outfits, described extensively in the press, sparked a brief fad for 1940s fashion.

Comic strip character

Breathless Mahoney was created by Chester Gould and introduced to the Dick Tracy comic strip on May 10, 1945. Garyn G. Roberts, author of Dick Tracy and American Culture: Morality and Mythology, Text and Context, noted that the introduction of Breathless coincided with Gould's efforts to "integrate characters and episodes with a sophistication that would mark the 1950s Tracy continuities".

The character was illustrated as an attractive young blonde intended to resemble actress Veronica Lake. Breathless is portrayed as greedy and obsessed with money, willing to commit murder to obtain it. She is the stepdaughter of Shaky, a Dick Tracy antagonist who had recently been killed in the storyline; she discovers his skeletal remains near the waterfront in one of the strips. Writer Meredith M. Malburne-Wade said the character is named "Breathless" because "she both speaks in a breathy voice meant to pull others closer to her and strives to leave the men around her breathless in her wake".

The original comic strip version of Breathless Mahoney is depicted as a ruthless and psychopathic killer, in contrast to the character's more sympathetic later version in the 1990 film adaptation of Dick Tracy. At one point, she stabs a man in the back with a pair of pruning shears. During one of her storylines, Breathless encounters B.O. Plenty, an unkempt hillbilly-like character who schemes to steal her money. Roberts said of this storyline: "The conflict between the physically beautiful villainess and the unwashed country bumpkin makes for entertaining reading". Breathless made her final appearance in a Dick Tracy comic strip on August 25, 1946, in which the character died. Just before her death, while laying in a hospital bed, she wrote a final letter forgiving B.O. Plenty for past issues she had with him.

1990 movie

Breathless Mahoney appears in the film adaptation Dick Tracy (1990), in which she is portrayed by actress and singer Madonna. The film character differs from the original comic strip counterpart, most notably in her profession as a nightclub singer. She is also less violent and psychopathic that the comic strip version of the character, more calculating in her actions, and is revealed to be as intelligent as Dick Tracy himself. Writers Christopher L. Lukinbeal and Cristina B. Kennedy wrote of the character: "Breathless, in the film, provides a complex, more 1980s, opposition of good and evil, moral and amoral".

In another difference from the source material, Breathless was not introduced in the comic strip until 1945, but the film is set in the 1930s. She is one of several characters in the film who was introduced in the 1940s in the comic, along with 88 Keyes and Sam Catchem. Breathless Mahoney also disguises herself in the film as a villain known as "The Blank", wearing a mask that makes her appear to have no face. This is another deviation from the original character; The Blank was a character in the original Dick Tracy comic strip, but he was not associated with Breathless Mahoney at all.

In the film, Breathless is portrayed as a femme fatale, and as Lukinbeal and Kennedy note: "Where Tracy represents day, she represents night. While Tracy fights to protect the city from evil, Breathless is only concerned with her own future and, like Big Boy Caprice, with her desire to "own" the city". The song "More", which Breathless sings at a nightclub, is symbolic of her plans to own the city, according to writer Steve Swayne. On the surface, it sounds like a song about a flirtatious woman who can never get enough, but Swayne said it in fact symbolizes her secret plan to trap Big Boy Caprice and take over his criminal operation. The fact that Breathless continues to sing the song unabated in the nightclub while Big Boy's men engage in a shootout with the police, due to events Breathless herself put into motion, only further underscore this. Breathless is portrayed as Dick Tracy's temptress in the film, providing as a stark contrast against his girlfriend Tess Truehart, who represents the more pure and clean-cut choice.