Dragnet 1967 review by Matt Fuerst


A quick flashback to 1967. Population of Los Angeles: about 2.7 million (currently about 9.8 million). Fred Zinnemann and A Man for All Seasons was clearing house at the Oscars. Race riots were breaking out in Detroit. And Joe Friday was cleaning up the county of Los Angeles, one criminal at a time. Dragnet is much bigger than the Nick-at-Night reruns you may have occasionally caught over the years on cable. Dragnet actually started out with Joe Friday (Jack Webb) doing his detective work in a weekly radio show. The show worked so well that as television became more popular, un 1951 Dragnet debuted in Black and White on television. Dragnet ran until 1959 and went off the air. Dragnet triumphantly returned to television in 1967, in color, and ran until 1970. These episodes are often repeated on cable and I am very excited to say the 1967 series has been released on DVD.

I understand there's a portion of discriminating television viewers who have yet to actually view an episode of classic Dragnet. The setup for most episodes is quite predictable. Friday introduces himself, his county (Los Angeles), and his position (detective in the LAPD). A call will come in and Friday and his partner, Detective Gannon (Harry Morgan) respond to the call. The detectives assess the situation, more wax a bit amongst themselves about the sad state of {teenagers/crooked businessmen/bank robbers/racism/druggies} today then set off to solve the crime. Dragnet is a half hour show, so it is a lot different than most cop shows today. The scenarios are set up pretty lightning quick and there's little room for artsy directorial touches. Much like Joe Friday himself, Dragnet is straight to the point. Dragnet managed to cover a huge variety of topics in it's first year in color: drugs, kidnapping, murder, shoplifting and illegal gambling are all highlights from the season.

The first color Dragnet episode is a pretty famous and memorable one involving the "Blue Boy". At the beginning of the episode the drug LSD is not yet illegal in America. Friday and Gannon get the call for a teenaged boy acting suspiciously in a field. Friday and Gannon arrive to find "Blue Boy" - face painted blue with anti-police slogans written on his clothing. In spite of obviously being under the influence, his vice of choice is the still-legal LSD. In a superb move of one-upsmanship, Friday books the youth for "Immoral Activity" (a real eyebrow raiser!). "Blue Boy" is kicked to his parents with Friday and Gannon knowing the youth still has the monkey on his back. Fast forward through time, the California and Federal legislature has decided to outlaw LSD, Friday and Gannon manage to catch another LSD call involving the "Blue Boy". Friday and Gannon arrive and kick in the door only to find a stiff "Blue Boy" who no longer is able to peddle his community destroying pills. The whole episode plays out like a bad 80's after school special. The anti-drug message is so heavy handed it comes off very humorously and entertaining. Friday and Gannon take a trip to the police lab to find out what exactly LSD is, and the police scientist, dressed in his all white garb, all but hands pamphlets to the class while he describes the potential ill effects. This is a great first episode since it gives the viewer an excellent idea what's in store for them in the remaining episodes.

Some highlights from the remaining 16 episodes (there are 17 half hour episodes total, spread across 2 DVD's) include: Probably my favorite parts of Dragnet aren't the actual cases, but instead the brief moments where they decide to further the personal stories of the characters. These moments don't even occur every episode, but are snuck in here and there where there are a spare few moments at the end of an episode. We learn that Friday is single and Gannon isn't shy about trying to set him up with fellow female police officers. Gannon can manages to overcompensate regularly; When traveling to west, Gannon manages to pack for the trip within his sports jacket, fresh clothes, toiletries, everything pinned right into his jacket; Similarly any time Gannon is eating, he's trying to force some grub down Friday's throat as well. Perhaps most interesting is the episode where Friday goes undercover with the LAPD Chaplain. The episode begins with Friday and Gannon attending a non-denominational breakfast held by a local organization. However, before it begins, the Chaplain gets up and says a prayer, to which Friday visibly scowls. He then proceeds throughout the episode into a little verbal jousting match with Gannon and the Chaplain over the merits of religion, really an interesting and unexpected touch.

I should probably mention how much respect I have for Jack Webb. It's obvious he was a driving force behind Dragnet, he starred in it on radio, in the black and white television series in the 50's and again in the color series in the 60's. But, at least in 1967, Webb directed and produced all the episodes. I don't know how common it was at the time for one man to be such a controlling force, but I find it really impressive and Webb managed to collect so much control over a show he obviously loved and wanted presented with his voice. So when I think about Friday grimacing at the prayer, I definitely think of it as Jack Webb definitely trying to send a message: he approved the script, he set up the camera and he acted out the part.

The Dragnet 1967 DVD is a very worth purchase and I hope the first of many to come. Included with the DVD set is a CD with an episode from the radio series. While a very different cop series than you see on TV today, I think it's far more satisfying in it's quick and painless nature.

9 out of 10 Jackasses
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