Archive for the ‘1960s Dragnet’ Category

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #1: The Big Departure

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The Big Departure is a powerful episode of Dragnet that really does the best job of showing Dragnet’s view of America. While, it may not top everyone’s list, it’s a personal favorite of mine for its wonderful message.

Dragnet is often accused of being a forum where Jack Webb pushed his political views. However, Dragnet’s ideas were not seen as all that political at the time. What we know of Webb’s personal politics is really quite limited. What we can say safely of Webb’s political beliefs was that he was anti-Communist, supportive of the Civil Rights movement,  and pro-law enforcement.    However, this episode provides a good view of Webb on America.

The episode tells of Friday and Gannon encountering a young gang of thieves who look down on society and plan to flee to island to start a just, peaceful, and moral nation. To this end, they begin robbing stores to acquire needed supplies and injuring anyone who stood in their way. (Irony alert.) 

In the interrogation room, Friday and Gannon confronted the younsters to get them to help them get the rest of the gang, and challenged them. Michael Hayde pointed out that the Big Departure was actually of a 1957 TV episode, “The Big Constitution” where the miscreants were draft dodgers and that Webb’s talk had a different tone as “The Big Departure” had a message of working within the American system.

“The Big Departure” really was born of its times. The 1960s radicals, many of whom in one form or another urged young people to tune out. There were all types of opportunities to destructively turn away from a society with its troubles. There was the drug culture, hippy communes, and terrorist organizations like the Weather Underground, all of which urged people to tune out of traditional American processes and in many cases, to violate the laws of the land.

In “The Big Departure,” Friday and Gannon don’t bother arguing that America is perfect, rather they argue that its worthwhile and that the boys need to engage in life, not run away from it:

Friday: Don’t think you have a corner on all the virtue vision in the country or that everyone else is fat and selfish and yours is the first generation to come along that’s felt dissatisfied–they all have, you know, about different things; and most of them didn’t have the opportunity and freedoms that you have.
“Let’s talk poverty. In most parts of the world, that’s not a problem, it’s a way of life. And rights? They’re liable to give you a blank stare because they may not know what you’re talking about.
“The fact is, more people are living better right here than anyone else ever before in history. So don’t expect us to roll over and play dead when you say you’re dissatisfied. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great deal better than when we grew up: a hundred men standing in the street hoping for one job; selling apples on the street corner– that’s one of the things we were dissatisfied about; and you don’t see that much anymore…”
GANNON: “Don’t think we’re telling you to lose your ideals or your sense of outrage. They’re the only way things ever get done. And there’s a lot more that still needs doing. And we hope you’ll tackle it.
“You don’t have to do anything dramatic like coming up with a better country. You can find enough to keep you busy right here.
“In the meantime, don’t break things up in the name of progress or crack a placard stick over someone’s head to make him see the light. Be careful of his rights. Because your property and your person and your rights aren’t any better than his. And the next time you may be the one to get it.

Webb understood what it was to be angry about injustice. When he was 26, he made a radio series, “One Out of Seven” that dealt with racial prejudice and intolerance. By 1968, the situation had begun to improve. But, this only happened because people worked to make things better, not escaping to a fantasy land.

“The Big Departure” may be the most timeless episode of Dragnet. After each of the the last few elections, the Internet has filled with webpages declaring apocalypse. Many send around e-mails suggesting that states secede or threatening to move to another country or starting a commune because their candidate lost. 

While this may have an appeal,  Joe Friday’s advice makes more sense.:

Don’t try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world’s standards, that’s hardly more than yesterday.

And the strong hopeful message of this episode makes it my personal favorite.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet Episodes #2: The LSD Story

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

This episode is perhaps the most definitive episode of Dragnet. If people know anything about Dragnet, they know about this episode which brought it back to the air eight years after left.

The show does a great job showing how those who are charged with enforcing the law are often frustrated by the law. It was also cutting edge in dealing with the issue of LSD in 1967.

For some, this represented a hard hit back against the emerging counterculture. When Dragnet had left the air in 1959, it’d been a tired franchise worn out by nearly 600 radio and TV performance over the course of the decade. This episode began a new life with this episode as Friday re-emerged as the rock solid hero we needed in a time when everything was shifting.

For many advocates of legalized drugs, this episode began a lifelong hate affair with Webb and Dragnet that continues to this day.

For fans of classic television, it’s simply a classic. TV Guide and Nick at Nite’s TV Land voted this episode #85 on its list of greatest TV episodes of all time.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #3: The Grenade

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

This is probably the most exciting episode of the 1960s Dragnet, with perhaps one of three most tense and exciting moments in Dragnet history. It’s in the same league as The Human Bomb from the 1951 series and Joe Friday’s dangerous climb in the 1966 Dragnet TV movie.  It was a great way to kick off Season 2 with a bang. (To find out whether I mean that figuratively or literally, you have to watch the episode.)

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #4: The Pyramid Swindle

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

This is a great episode where Friday and Gannon go undercover to bust up a pyramid scheme operating in the guise of a business opportunity. Virginia Gregg delivers her best Dragnet performance as confidence woman Bonne Bates. It’s fascinating to see her working her marks into a quasi-religious fervor. Webb hit the bulls eye in his portrayal of the clever business opportunity con.

The episode has a definite element of humor to it. Gregg’s fantastic portrayal ensures that. At the same time, it also serves as a memorable proverb against get-rich quick schemes. Education, entertainment, and humor. It doesn’t get much better than that.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #5: Juvenile: DR 19

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Dragnet’s focus on child abuse comes into full focus in this gut-wrenching episode, as Friday tries to help a boy who is being abused by his mother.

The show shines a light on child abuse and the problems faced by the police force in trying to protect children.  It’s a moving and heart-renching story.

It’s also pretty illustrative of how Webb could invoke emotion without needing to be graphic. We don’t actually see the results of abuse, but we see the actors’ reactions which are just as real.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #6: The Big Explosion

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

This was the second episode of Dragnet 1967 and one of Dragnet’s most suspenseful stories as Friday and Gannon search for 400 pounds of missing explosives. This episode is fantastic as the suspense builds as we go from finding out the explosives were taken to finding out who has them and then we have to wonder what he’ll do with them.

This episode is notable for being the first airing of Dragnet to address racial issues. (While the Dragnet 1966 movie touched on a racist criminal, the movie didn’t actually air until 1969.)

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #7: D.H.Q.: Night School

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

This episode takes Joe Friday to college. Friday is studying in Night School when he notices a fellow student in possession of Marijuana. After class, he busts the student who used the famous oregano defense, “”No, man, it’s oregano for a pizza sauce. I’m a gourmet chef.”

Friday’s professor decides he wants Friday removed from class for being a Narc. Friday makes his case but thanks to the influence of the professor he’s yanked from the class. Friday asks the instructor for another chance and the professor agrees, but requires that Friday get a 2/3 majority.

It’s an interesting study in intellectual tyranny, and Friday’s pleas, particularly his second are spot on.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of this episode. Michael Hayde wrote in his book, “We’re asked to believe that Friday, whose job involves protecting young people from themselves, is depressed because he’s incapable of being accepted by them as a peer…Here the immortal seargent, firmly set in his ways, is utterly out of his element.”

In one sense, Hayde has a point.  Joe Friday is an iconic figure. It’d be almost like Batman having the same problem. Part of the trouble as well may come from the fact that going back to 1949, Friday was never revealed to have much of an outside life. So seeing him pursuing a college degree is sudden and hard to deal with.

But in a larger sense, I think the episode works in that Friday represents policemen everywhere.

And policemen across the country, including those with a lot of experience have reason to go to college to acquire additional education that can help them be better police officers or to pursue other goals. These officers had a rough time of it in the 1960s and 70s, do to some of the rabid anti-police attitudes on campus. This was also addressed in a somewhat less direct way in an episode of Adam 12.

So, this represents a very unique, but still entertaining, episode of Dragnet.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #8: The Interrogation

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

This episode of Dragnet turned on a speech by Friday, but what a speech!

Friday and Gannon are working in Internal Affairs and a young undercover officer is brought in, suspected of being involved in a robbery. The young officer expresses frustration with being accused and explains how his career has cost him his girlfriend.

It’s then that Webb delivers one of Friday’s most memorable speeches, “What is a Cop” which explains the hardaches and sorrows of a policeman’s job and what makes it so important. (The full transcript is at the bottom of this post via Badge 714.)

The speech was an instant hit, being entered into the Congressional Record in both the House and Senate, by Republican and Democratic members of Congress. It earned Webb recognition from the International Conference of Police Associations. The speech and sometimes the whole episode was used by Police Academies across the nation.

Webb’s delivery was flawless. Webb’s inflection and facial expression made the speech perfect. According to Michael J. Hayde, the original version of the speech written by Preston Wood didn’t seem good enough to Webb, so he turned to his  long time friend Richard Breen, who wrote the 1954 and 1966 Dragnet movies, and also had written for Webb on Pat Novak for Hire. Breen rewrote the speech, but died before it could air.  Webb’s delivery was a fitting tribute to his great friend.


My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #9: The Fur Job

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

This episode may do better at bringing the talent of Harry Morgan than any episode of Dragnet as he learns to talk like a fur buyer. Guest star Henry Corden (more famous for being the second voice of Fred Flintstone) does a great job with Dragnet-style comic timing when giving his lesson to Gannon.

The episode also features some of the best hard boiled dialogue of the 1960s Dragnet series with Webb undercover as Gannon’s associate.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #10: The Shooting Board

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

This is another episode that broke new ground. As interesting as it was to see Joe Friday acting  as defense counsel for an accused police officer, “The Shooting Board” is even more fascinating as Friday himself is the subject of a police investigation after a fatal shootout in a laundromat with a known criminal.

This was yet another episode of Dragnet/Adam 12 that showed policemen have to account for their actions. The LAPD wanted to communicate, and in this episode actually came out and said, that they police their own. What better way to illustrate that than by showing that even Joe Friday had to account for his actions and face a shooting board that could lead to criminal charges. Over on Adam 12, both Jim Reed and Pete Malloy had to face shooting boards, althought after the first couple of seasons, these were not portrayed prominently perhaps because the public got the message, and it wasn’t as interesting after the first few times.

This episode has a pretty good solution. In fact, in a 1993 episode of the Cosby Mysteries, Bill Cosby’s character discovers an important clue, as watching this episode  causes him to realize where a bullet is embedded. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, having the episode used as a cheap plot device is probably close behind.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #11: The Harassing Wife

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Dragnet and Adam 12 showed the frustrations of police officers, whether it was something as light as paperwork or laws and court rulings that tied the hands officers. And a big frustration can people.

Perhaps, the biggest annoyance to vex the police was Jean Sawyer, a woman who keeps accusing her estranged husband of committing whatever the latest robbery is and attacking the police for not having arrested him already.

Peggy Webber didn’t really get great roles in the 1960s Dragnet shows, but here she really steals the show with a fantastic performance as Jean Sawyer. As is often the case with Dragnet, the ending is pure genius. Though, in this episode, its ironic comic genius.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #12: Homicide: The Cigarette Butt

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Dragnet investigations are most usually long involved affairs that take Joe Friday and his partner all over Los Angeles in search of their man. This episode is noteworthy for almost the entire episode being at the scene of the crime.

This episode had the nice feel of a whodunit with some nice Dragnet touches including the Musician apartment manager and the Hindu neighbor studying America, and of course a cocky suspect that thinks he knows exactly how things are going to go. This episode is a reminder of why Dragnet is more remember than other contemporary series, because in most episodes, Dragnet is a mystery show.

The payoff is good with solid policework. It’s not a flashy deduction that’s associated with more fanciful detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, or Adrian Monk, but it’s the type of thing good cops spot all the time that the layman won’t pick up on.

I should note that this wasn’t the only Crime Scene-centric episode of Dragnet. However, this one is my favorite of the bunch with its combination of a solid mystery, and great use of traditional Dragnet elements.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #13: The Trial Board

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Joe Friday for the defense? This intriguing scenario was brought about by Dragnet’s efforts to dramatize how the LAPD police themselves. In this case, a young police officer accused of accepting bribes from a bookie faces an internal LAPD trial board, and given the chance to choose his own defense, he chooses Joe Friday.

Jack Webb won’t make anyone forget Perry Mason, but this is a nice look inside the LAPD, with a good mystery to boot.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #14: The Bank Examiner Swindle

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

This Season 1 epsiode was a classic Dragmet bunco story.  Even though the crime was non-violent, the show established how much harm was done by swindling senior citizens. 

This episode was the earliest episode featuring Bust Martin, though his role was not as prominent as it would be in future shows. The episode had a great payoff in the final scene that makes it truly a must-watch.

My Favorite 1960s Dragnet #15: The Big Kids

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

This episode has a lot to commend it as Joe Friday deals with young shoplifters. The show has some fascinating (including some that could be considered breeches of 21st Century political correctness.)

The show, however features Friday facing a very unusual juvenile foe. Friday delivers a decent “Jesus” speech but it fails to impress the young  delinquent, who is a real smart mouth. In this episode, Friday and the juvenile are fairly equally matched. The ending of the show is classic, it’s completely unexpected and surprising, and counter to the usual Dragnet youth show formula.

The episode addressed a meme of the counterculture to disenchanted youth. The cops “don’t understand you.” This episode told disenchanted teenagers that it was possible for despised authority figures to understand them and what can drive them to the point of frustration, and even crime.

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