The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

20Sep/140

EP1370: Dragnet: Production 8 (aka: The Big Missing)

Jack Webb
A woman from Utah calls to report her daughter missing and Friday and Remero set out to find the missing girl by Christmas.

Original Air Date: July 28, 1949

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13Sep/140

EP1364: Dragnet: Production 7: Attempted City Hall Bombing

Jack Webb

A mad man threatens to blow up city hall if the police don’t release his brother. Friday and Romero have to get the bomb away before it is too late.

Original Air Date: July 21, 1949

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6Sep/140

EP1358: Dranget: Production 6 (aka: The Red Light Bandit)

Jack Webb
Friday and Romero search for a brutal man who impersonates a police officer to beat and rob innocent citizens.

Original Air Date: July 14, 1949

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30Aug/140

EP1352: Dragnet: Production 5 aka The Helen Corday Murder

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero search for a man who killed a waitress.

Original Air Date: July 7, 1949

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23Aug/140

EP1346: Dragnet: Production #4 Homicide (aka: Quick Trigger Gun Men)

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero are on the trailer of three robbers who murdered a police officer.

Original Air Date: June 24, 1949

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16Aug/140

EP1340: Dragnet: Production #3 Robbery Aka: The Werewolf

Jack Webb

Joe and Ben go searching for a criminal nicknamed the “werewolf” who is terrorizing young women in LA’s Central district

Original Air Date: June 17, 1949

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9Aug/143

EP1334: Dragnet: Production #2: Robbery (aka: The Nickle Plated Gun)

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero are on the trailer of robbers who kill for fun.

Original Air Date: June 10, 1949

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1Mar/140

Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Just like the first of the Second Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, only the audio remains for the second serial, "The Highlanders."

In The Highlanders, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Ben and Polly find themselves caught in the midst of a war between the British red coats and the Scottish highlanders.  The Doctor and his companions have to escape from the British and get back to the TARDIS while also thwarting the plot of a corrupt government barrister who plans to ship captured Scots to brutal slavery on Carribean Islands.

This story isn't as good as Power of the Daleks, but it definitely is worth a listen. This serial features some great comic scenes for Troughton and the Doctor certainly shows some cleverness in this tightly plotted story.  This was actually a surprisingly strong story for Polly who in two previous stories I've seen/heard her in, her role was limited to making coffee as serving as a hostage. In this case, she's the one member of the TARDIS not captured and key to their rescue.

This serial was noteworthy for a couple other reasons. After about a third of the First Doctor stories were historicals, Troughton wanted to get away from them, so this would be the last purely historical Dr. Who episode until 1982. Also, this episode introduced the character of Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines) who appeared in more Doctor Who episodes than any other companion.

Overall, this is a historic serial with plenty of fun, swashbuckling action, and the introduction of a great companion in Jamie, so it's definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

2Mar/130

The Top Twenty-Five Dragnet Programs, Part Five

Continued from: 10-6, 15-11, 20-16, 25-21.

5) The Big Meet
Original Air Date: October 26, 1950

This was perhaps the best of the classic Joe Friday undercover narcotics buy stories just because the risks were so outrageous. Going up to buy money from drug dealers and hoping to bluff your way through with a wad of cash mixed with newspapers and worth about 5% of what you're paying  is a tense enough situation particularly when much of the "cash" is newspaper. However, when it appears that the drug dealers have managed to lose your fellow officers tail, you're looking a suspenseful classic.

4) The LSD Story

Original Air Date: January 12, 1967

This episode is perhaps the most definitive episode of the 1960s Dragnet as it's known by people who weren't even into Dragnet. The show does a great job portraying how those who are charged with enforcing the law are often frustrated by the law when it failed to deal with an issue like LSD use. The episode  is often known as the Blue Boy episode for the central suspect Benji Carver who first appears under influence of the drug with his face painted blue. The downbeat ending was beautifully done by Webb both from a directing and acting standpoint.

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 including cherished values.

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

3) The City Hall Bombing/ The Human Bomb
Original Air Date: July 21, 1949 (Radio)
Original Air Date: December 16, 1951 (Television)

This story is quintessential Dragnet. A man holding a bomb is threatening to blow up city hall if the police don't release his brother from county lock up and time is running out. Friday and Romero opt to try and stop the scheme at the risk of their own lives. The episode manages to mix the best elements of Dragnet: humanity, professionalism, and realistic danger and excitement. The end scene is a classic and sets the tone for the series. Too often, fictional cops were portrayed as almost superhuman or buffoons.The Human Bomb gives us a portrait of brave but cautious men who can make mistakes like everyone else. The story was great over radio and it was the perfect selection to lead off Dragnet over television in 1951.

2) Dragnet 1966

Original Air Date: January 27, 1969

From pure quality of the production, this may be the greatest Dragnet production ever.  Friday returns from vacation early to investigate the disappearance of three missing women. This was a made for TV movie and it took full advantage of its length to create a fully fleshed out thriller with amazing twists and turns, and one of Joe Friday's finest action moments ever.

The film provides the context through which Joe Friday is commonly understood  It includes the dynamic, "Quirk in the Law" speech and Dragnet's earliest attempts at taking on race relations. The suspect in that speech identifies Friday as an iconic figure when he calls him "the immortal sergeant.."

In addition to these dramatic features, Dragnet 1966 includes some great comic relief, most notably Virginia Gregg has the head of a matrimonial bureau. In addition, the impending retirement of Bill Gannon is a source of great comedy.

Sadly, this film is less well-known than it should be as it was not replayed often, wasn't re syndicated with the 1960s Dragnet TV shows, and is only legally available as an extra on the Dragnet 1968/Season 2 DVD, so many Dragnet fans haven't seen it. This is a pity as it is was a true classic.

1) The Big Departure

Original Air Date: March 7, 1968

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.)

“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.

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.

At the core of Dragnet was a belief in the rule of law. The police officers were the good guys because they enforced the laws and made America work, giving democracy a chance to work. As Friday said, "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." That is the heart of the series.

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23Feb/130

The Top Twenty-Five Best Dragnet Programs, Part Four

Continued from: 15-11, 20-16, 25-21.

10) DR-19

Original Air Date: February 27, 1969 (Television)

With the focus on Dragnet's anti-drug shows, what gets lost in the shuffle is how Dragnet really shined a light on child abuse. DR-19 is one of the more poignant episodes. It begins with Friday meeting with the President of a woman's club (Cathleen Cordell) as she previewed information that would be used for a presentation at the woman's club. Dragnet couldn't show pictures of child abuse but Webb's narration of the pictures Cordell was looking at combined with her reactions gave the viewers the idea of what horrific things were going on. Then they were called to investigate a missing child. When they find the boy, they find he's been abused. The show is powerful and portrays Friday's heart and brings home the dramatic way in which the system often leaves abused children vulnerable. It's one of Dragnet's poignant and most moving stories.

9) The Big Fraud

Original Air Date: October 27, 1953 (Radio)
Original Air Date: September 2, 1954 (Television)

Two conmen pretending to be cops are taking traveling businessmen for thousands of dollars by setting up a phony arrest and offering to take a bribe to "clear everything up."  A similar episode would air in the 1960s. I like this one better for a superior ending as well as the fact that it features one of Jack Webb's earliest speeches, "The Phony Badge."

8) The Pyramid Swindle

Original Air Date: November 30, 1967 (Television)

Legendary Character Actress Virginia Gregg looms large in this comedic bunco case as she plays an over-the-top pyramid swindle marketer trying to sell people on her get-rich scam with a religious fervor. The episode provides a great performance from Gregg while also serving as a warning to the public making this  a great fusion of education and entertainment.

7) The Big Red

Original Air Dates: January 3 and January 10, 1952 (Radio)
Original Air Date: August 23, 1959 (Television)

The radio version of this story was perfect. It came right on the heels of the  death of Barton Yarborough who played Friday's first partner Ben Romero, so a script that centered on Joe Friday working pretty much alone definitely was helpful. This was one of many episodes where Friday went undercover to bust narcotics. This was somewhat notable as in the first episode, he caught part of the drug ring, revealing himself as a cop. In the second episode, he has to have their boss somehow still believing that he's a drug dealer so he can get to the source. It's a tough job that Friday has to do. To do it, he has to break out a tough persona that's reminiscent of many of the hard boiled characters he played over radio prior to Dragnet. The Television version is not in circulation. It was the last 1950s episode of Dragnet, but probably wasn't as good as 1) it wasn't two parts and 2) those really late Dragnet episodes suffered in quality. That's a shame because the radio version's a pure classic.

6) The Grenade

Original Air Date: September 14, 1967

This is probably the most exciting episode of the 1960s Dragnet, with perhaps one of  most tense and exciting moments in Dragnet history. It all begins with Friday and Gannon investigating a case where a troubled teenage boy threw acid on the back of another teenager at the movie theater.  The boy is released to the custody of his parents, but he's not done. In a rage over attempts by his stepfather to impose discipline he storms into a party he wasn't invited to and holds a a group of teenagers hostage. This leads to an unforgettable showdown with a live grenade.   This was a key episode for the 1960s Dragnet.  Dragnet had returned to the air after eight years absence with a thirteen episode short season and they needed a strong season opener. This did it and with gusto.

Next week, we countdown the top five greatest Dragnet stories ever.

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