Pruneface was a high-ranking Nazi saboteur working within the U.S. during the second World War. He was sometimes known by the code-name "Boche" (the French word for "German"). Pruneface was not elderly, and his wrinkles were the result of a skin condition. He had light hair.
Early in his adult life, Pruneface and his wife Ana were part of a vaudeville act that included whip tricks. Both became proficient in the use of a whip. His exact age is unknown, but Dr. Freezedrei claimed that Pruneface was nearly a hundred years old when he was "reanimated" in 1983 (though his gravestone gave a birth year of 1914, see "Notes" below).
First Shown Encounter with Dick Tracy
In the early 1940s, Pruneface was put in charge of the manufacture of a deadly nerve gas created by Cal Bullet. Pruneface had been communicating with Cal though a woman named Clara, who ran a request jukebox in a local tavern sending messages back and forth through the machine. Dick Tracy, Junior and amputee nurse Frizzletop discovered the arrangement and captured Clara. Posing as the woman, Frizzletop (with Junior's help) gave Cal a phony message to report back to "Boche", so they could learn the Nazi's location.
Cal rushed to Pruneface's hideout with gelatin capsules filled with the nerve gas. When Tracy and Officer Dennis O’Copper followed him into the building, Pruneface activated a trap making the hallway nothing but mirrors. Tracy and O'Copper were then trapped in a basement.
Not willing to let Cal go unpunished for attracting the attention of the police, Pruneface tied Cal up and threw the poison gas capsules into an active light fixture, which would release the gas due to the heat of the bulb. Before succumbing to the gas, Cal repented and warned O'Copper and Tracy about the danger, enabling the officers to escape. Pruneface took off from the top of the building via an autogyro to the building right next door (intending to confuse the police) and was pulled down from a retractable part of the roof with the help of his Japanese assistant Togo.
After Tracy and O'Copper were freed, they investigated who had rented the building. They learned that Togo had also rented the building next door, where the street level entrances were all boarded up. Seeing that the police were about to investigate, Pruneface went up to the roof and escaped by crossing a collapsible flagpole, leaving Togo to be captured.
Looking for another place to stay, Pruneface used the alias of "Mr. Jones" and rented a room from Mrs. Trueheart, the mother of Tracy's girlfriend Tess. Taking some equipment from a storage locker, Pruneface set up a small spy operation with a short-wave radio typewriter and umbrella aerial. Plotting to blow up a nearby defense manufacturing plant, Pruneface arranged to have a bomb delivery device produced while Tess and Tracy grew suspicious. Unknown to them, Mrs. Trueheart and Junior were also suspicious and had developed a plan to expose Pruneface.
Mrs. Trueheart managed to take a photograph of Pruneface and also switched out the delivery device for a facsimile. She was then knocked unconscious by Pruneface after he learned about the deception. Pruneface chased in a taxi after Junior, who was taking the device to Tracy. Pruneface slipped of the outside running boards of the taxi and broke his leg pursuing Junior.
Finding that his picture had been printed in the newspaper, Pruneface killed a dog for its sweater so his face wouldn't be recognized. He then found a doctor whom he forced at gunpoint to set his broken leg. The doctor recognized the sweater as belonging to his own dog and he deduced that Pruneface must have harmed the dog.
Pruneface called his superior,Agent 20 to extract him, keeping the doctor as a hostage. Dr. Rex took the address plate off of 20's house without being seen and threw it into the ambulance, which was found by the police after the men had arrived at their other hideout. With this clue, Tracy and the police were able to track Pruneface down.
Agent 20 was prepared to leave Pruneface to be captured, but was killed by Pruneface after the escape route was blocked. After Pruneface let the doctor and the dead spy out of the house, Tracy and the police disconnected the heat and electricity, broke all of the windows and tried to freeze Pruneface out of the house. Finding that he only had two bullets left, Pruneface decided to kill Tracy and then commit suicide. As he was aiming his gun out the window, a broken pane of glass struck his hand and forced him to drop the weapon. Pruneface suffered serious frostbite and was eventually taken into police custody (See "Notes" below).
Pruneface, the Cryonic Man
Unbeknownst to the general populace at the time, Pruneface was put into cryogenic slumber by Nazi scientist Dr. Kryos Freezdrei, who reanimated Pruneface in 1983 in order to gain customers (such as Vitamin Flintheart) for his cryogenics lab. He also sought to establish support for Neo-Nazi groups. Unlike the cloning of Mumbles, (which was revealed to be a hoax), the unfreezing of Pruneface was genuine.
Pruneface had a difficult time adjusting to modern society, and wanted to get revenge on Tracy. Tracy survived being sealed in one of Freezdrei's cryogenic chambers thanks to a last-minute rescue by Sam Catchem. Freezedrei was seemingly killed in an explosion at his lab that was arranged by Israeli Mossad Agents, and Pruneface was apprehended. It was later discovered that he had managed to escape or arrange release.
The Xylon Plot
Sometime after this, Dick Tracy revealed to Wendy Wichel the untold facts about the recently declassified Xylon incident which involved Pruneface heading an espionage ring determined to steal the Xylon explosive formula developed by Professor Roloc Bard. After getting the formula and the Professor with aid from the treacherous Flattop Jones Sr., Pruneface planted the bombs in key locations including FBI headquarters and the police station. After Tracy, FBI Agent Jim Trailer and Junior followed professor Bard back to the warehouse he was kept, Tracy got the drop on Pruneface only to be knocked out by Pruneface's wife. Both of them escaped and left Tracy to die in a warehouse tied to a chair next to a "baby" Xylon Bomb. Tracy escaped and the incident was never mentioned again.
Tracy revealed why the incident was classified and his first encounter with Pruneface, Shaky, Flattop, and Mrs. Pruneface was undocumented. This was because Pruneface had one of the bombs moved to an "alternate location", where it remained very dangerous. It was revealed that Bard's unrequited love, the now-elderly Frieda Smith was charged with hiding the last bomb in her cellar (10 blocks away from the nation's capital) awaiting orders from Pruneface to detonate it. Pruneface, who came out of hiding at this point, attempted to contact Freida, but she was captured and the bomb was defused thanks to Tracy, Wichel, and Trailer.
Pruneface Strikes Again
Pruneface resurfaced in 1987. He was again working with Dr. Freezdrei, who had survived the explosion at his cryogenics lab. The two were now working with chemical weapons. Pruneface and Freezedrei had developed a virus that would induce blindness, and they distributed it in the suburb of Homewood. One of the victims was Tess Tracy, which prompted Dick Tracy to investigate.
Pruneface was using ninjas as subordinates, and he had one of them broadcast a ransom demand using the alias "Captain Cure". This prompted the involvement of FBI Agent Jim Trailer, who was dispatched to help Tracy with the investigation.
Tracy tracked down Pruneface and Freezdrei and confronted them. Freezdrei was killed and Tracy turned his attention to Pruneface, the only other person who knew the antidote for the blindness virus. Tracy tricked Pruneface into thinking that Pruneface had contracted the virus, and Pruneface nervously wrote down the antidote. Pruneface was so convinced by Tracy's ruse that he suffered a case of psychosomatic blindness as he was taken into custody.
The Death of Pruneface
Pruneface was later re-captured by Israeli Mossad agents and was held captive in a secret location in Europe. It was hoped that Pruneface would help recover art treasures that had been stolen by the Nazis, but he was unresponsive when questioned.
His granddaughter Prunella attempted to arrange for his release during a case that also involved Dick Tracy and an art forger. Pruneface died after falling from an air gondola in the Bavarian mountains near Berchtesgaden during the exchange. His last words were "Sieg Heil". Prunella took her own life shortly thereafter.
Appearances in Other Media
1950s TV Series
Pruneface appeared in 4 episodes of the 1950s Dick Tracy TV series starring Ralph Byrd. Pruneface was featured in 2 separate storylines, each comprised of 2 episodes. He was played by actor Alan Keys (sometimes credited as "Keyes").
1960s TV Cartoon
Pruneface was one of the featured villains in the 1960s humorous cartoon version of Dick Tracy, often paired with Itchy. He did not interact with Tracy directly, but was instead foiled by Tracy's "funny" subordinates. He was sometimes depicted as having purplish skin, much like a literal prune.
Pruneface also appeared in an episode of The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, produced by UPA, the same company that made the Dick Tracy cartoon. He was voiced by actor Marvin Miller.
In the episode "Dick Tracy and the Mob" (original airdate Feb. 6 1965), Pruneface was the leader of the gang that hired Squinty Eyes (a doppelganger of Mr. Magoo) to kill Dick Tracy. The gang also included the Brow, Flattop, Mumbles, Oodles, Itchy, and the Mole.
1960s Live-Action Series
In the 1960s, a pilot was produced for a live-action Dick Tracy TV series by William Dozier, who had also produced the 1960s Batman TV series. Pruneface did not appear in the pilot, but a make-up test was prepared for a possible future episode with actor Lon Chaney Jr. in the role. The character's appearance seems heavily influenced by his appearance in the UPA cartoons.
Archie's TV Funnies
Pruneface was a character in the "Dick Tracy" segments of the 1971 animated television series Archie's TV Funnies, produced by Filmation Associates. Pruneface's appearance closely resembled his depiction in the comic strip. He was one the villains featured in the show's opening and closing credits sequence.
Pruneface was said to be the leader of an international criminal organization who used the home of the unwitting Miss Canine as a base of operations. He and his henchmen trained dogs to hold off police while they committed crimes such as bank robberies. He was eventually stopped by Dick Tracy, with the aid of a robot dog.
Pruneface joined the consolidated underworld organization run by Big Boy Caprice. It was revealed during the big gangland meeting that Pruneface had thrown a firebomb in Big Boy's car previously, but Big Boy was willing to let the past be forgotten. After Tracy and his squad planted surveillance expert Bug Bailey in the Club Ritz attic, Pruneface was present when Baily was discovered.
Pruneface aided Big Boy in setting a trap for Tracy at the Southside Warehouse, with Bug relaying the information to Tracy before being captured by Pruneface and Influence. Tracy arrived at the warehouse and freed Bug while Pruneface and Influence's attention was diverted. As they turned around, a cement-covered Tracy found himself vulnerable with a jammed gun. A faceless figure in the shadows fired two shots, killing Pruneface. Pruneface's last word before attempting to shoot Tracy- "Reload!".
Tie-In Comic Book
The prequel comic book - which gives him the real name Lorenzo Prunesti - showed Pruneface to be one of Lips Manlis' more prominent rivals. Pruneface employed corrupt lawyer Danny Supeena, and specialized in sabotage, demolition, and explosives. He was arrested, but was released shortly before the depiction of the events shown in the film.
Tie-In Video Games
- Nintendo Entertainment System- Pruneface is identified as an explosives expert who provides Tracy with information about where he got his materials
- Sega Genesis- Pruneface is a boss that Tracy encounters at the 7th Street Warehouse. He throws dynamite at Tracy.
Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive
Pruneface was one of several villains shown as part of a large gang in issue #2 of the comic book miniseries Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive published by IDW. Mrs. Pruneface was also part of this group. Pruneface was not shown being taken into custody after the villains' hideout was demolished, so his fate is unclear.
Dick Tracy: Forever
Pruneface appeared as an antagonist in the second issue of the comic book miniseries Dick Tracy: Forever. In a story set some time after the end of World War II, Pruneface was a Nazi agent who was working with the Brow to produce poison gas that they planned to use against the people of the United States. The plan was thwarted by Dick Tracy and the private detective Bricks Walker. Pruneface attempted to escape, but was captured and arrested.
Pruneface also appeared in the epilogue in issue #4.
- At the conclusion of the "Death of Pruneface" storyline, his gravestone displayed the year of his birth as 1914. This conflicts with the fact that Dr. Freezdrei mentioned that by 1983 Pruneface was over one-hundred years old. This could be considered a continuity error.
- In his initial appearance, Pruneface was shown to have a slight build, and often adopted a friendly and avuncular (if deceptively so) demeanor. Following his resurrection, he was consistently depicted as a larger and imposing figure, as well as being more prone to melancholy and anger.
- in his initial appearance in the strip prior to any other media depiction, Pruneface's name is consistently spelled as "Prune Face". It also appeared hyphenated on occasion. In the Mrs. Pruneface storyline, it was spelled as one word, and this has been accepted spelling since then. The Dick Tracy Encyclopedia consistently spells the character's name as two words.
- Pruneface's appearance in the live-action feature film was partially inspired by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Pruneface confused Reagan for his brother Louie in the comic strip when he was first shown a picture of the President.
- The cardback for the Playmates Toys action figure refers to Pruneface as the "best spy of the underworld". This is possibly a reference to his origin in the comic strip as a spy.
- Pruneface's resurrection is somewhat controversial among some fans of the Dick Tracy comic strip. At the end of the original continuity in February of 1943, Pruneface was still alive after suffering frostbite and being taken into custody. A Sunday strip shows Chief Brandon and Tracy discussing how Pruneface will eventually be transferred from the hospital to a jail, after which he will be tried and (almost surely) executed. Tracy is then off on another case involving Frizzletop and an abducted child. Therefore, the claim of him having "frozen to death" in the cryonics storyline would seem to be inaccurate. At the beginning of the Mrs. Pruneface storyline (in August of 1943), she claims that Tracy is responsible for her husband's "capture and death". She clearly believes that her husband is dead. It is unlikely that Pruneface could have recovered, been tried, convicted and executed all in the span of 6 months, especially since his case involved treason, sedition, and murder. It's entirely possible that he could have taken a turn for the worse and did not recover from his wounds in the hospital, and therefore he would have died as a result of the freezing, even though that would make the cryogenics process more difficult. It's also conceivable that he was spirited away from the hospital by fellow Nazi agents who falsified the public record regarding his death, but this is purely speculative.
- Pruneface is considered among Tracy's most well-known enemies, possibly second only to Flattop. As one of Tracy's most notorious villains, Pruneface has been referred to in episodes of The Simpsons and Robot Chicken.
- Unlike another classic Tracy villain Mumbles, the death of Pruneface in the late 1990s is treated as canonical by the current creative team, and writer Mike Curtis has stated that he considers Pruneface to be deceased.
- Pruneface was the villain featured on the cover of IDW's The Complete Dick Tracy Volume 8.
- In the Midnite Mirror series, Pruneface was the Chief of Police. He was identified by the name Chief Boche.
- Dr. Fine, a member of the Rogues' Gallery Cosplay Club dressed as Pruneface for their Dick Tracy-themed event, as seen in a 2018 Minit Mystery.
- In the Star Wars Universe, an eyepatch-wearing alien character named Orrimaarko, who also shared the nickname "Pruneface" took part in the Rebel Alliance's raid on the forest moon of Endor.