Category: Dragnet

The Twenty-Five Best Dragnet Programs, Part Two

Continued from: 25-21.

20) Big Trio

Original Air Date: July 3, 1952 (Radio)
Original Air Date: November 20, 1952 (Television)

This was cited by Jack Webb in an interview in the mid-1950s as his favorite Dragnet episode and it was definitely classic Dragnet particularly as it appeared on the radio. “The Big Trio” followed the detectives on three separate traffic investigations. The first and last were gut-wrenching stories of tragedies that had occurred due to foolish and careless drivers, with the second being a lighter vignette which helped make the impact of the last story even greater. The last scene in particular was intense. The episode was also one of the few episodes that they were very intentional about the timing. Airing the day before the Independence Day holiday, the Big Trio served as a perfect cautionary tale for a holiday that far too often is accompanied by traffic fatalities.

19) The Big High

Original Air Date: November 2, 1967 (Television)

This episode begins with a father concerned about his grandchild because his daughter and son-in-law are drug users. It then leads to a dramatic discussion of the pros and cons of marijuana use between Friday and the yuppie couple. Unlike another similarly themed episode, “The Prophet,” this episode packed a punch by wrapping up the debate with an actual plot that leads to a stunning and unforgettable dramatic moment that makes this a sobering episode that shows the power of Jack Webb as a director and producer.

18) Big Missus

Original Air Date: August 9, 1955 (Radio)
Original Air Date: October 11, 1956* (Television)

This episode begins with a woman coming to Friday and Smith to tell them that her husband is wanted for parole violations in Michigan. It’s made him paranoid and he’s on the verge falling back into crime, and she’s finally realized that the only thing to do is for him to go back and serve his time, so that they can have a hope of having a normal life. However, she doesn’t want him to find out that she had anything to do with the police finding him, for fear of what it’ll do their marriage. The way Friday and Smith handle this case shows incredible humanity that goes beyond Dragnet’s “by the book” stereotype as they could have just slapped him in jail and that would have been the end of it. What results is a truly compelling and interesting human story spurred on by a wife’s tough love for her husband.

17) The Big Betty

Original Air Date: November 23, 1950 (Radio)
Original Air Date: September 24, 1953 (Television)

There are certain types of crimes, that is really easy to communicate to the public how pernicious their actions are. Robbers, Child Abusers, and murderers are among the easiest. The con man is a bit trickier. Some movies both in the golden age and today portray them as whimsical fellows who play tricks and don’t harm anyone in any serious way. Against this backdrop, the Big Betty succeeds as all the best Dragnet bunco stories do by focusing on a case that connects with us on an emotional level. In this case, they deal with the obituary swindle in which confidence men visit the relatives of recently deceased people and tell them that their loved ones had ordered a gift for them but hadn’t paid for it. The grief-stricken marks then buy cheaply made and overly priced gifts. This episode really hits the emotional notes flawlessly, and it delivers a memorable and satisfying conclusion on New Year’s Eve.

16) DR-31

Original Air Date: March 6, 1969 (Television)

DR-31 is one of those 1960s episode that simply can’t be forgotten. It starts out as a case about a series of small time burglaries of movie memrobilia. Then, the perpetrator is caught, and he’s dressed as one of the old time superheroes, the Crimson Crusader. The interview that follows is classic Dragnet. While other episodes such as the 1950s shows The Big Present, The Big Show, The Big Shoplift, and the Big Mother presented people who committed crime out deep pain, this may be the best of the lot. It strikes a chord as our view of the character changes as he reveals his story. Truly, a classic story.

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The 25 Best Dragnet Programs, Part One

As I finish up my Old Time Dragnet podcast. I’ve seen and heard a lot of Dragnet: More than 300 radio episodes from which most of the 1950s TV version were created and I’ve seen a few of those TV episodes that weren’t based on radio shows.  In addition, I’ve seen the entire 1960s series, and both the 1954 Motion Picture and the 1966 TV Movie.

That’s a lot of Dragnet and I’ve developed a strong opinion as to which episodes that constitute the best. Of course, there are dozens of 1950s TV shows which were never done on radio due to the general unavailability of those programs. In addition, there are 9 radio episodes which aren’t in circulation nor are the television versions available  At least one episode described by Michael Hayde seemed like it could make on the list. (The Television show, “The Big White Rat.”) However, until they become available, this is my top 25 Dragnet stories from radio, television, and film.

25) 16 Jewel Thefts

Original Broadcast (radio): August 18, 1949

Dragnet sought to portray real policemen in the course of their duty and this very early script did a great job at it. Friday and Romero have their thief but to really make the charge stick, they have to find his cache of jewels. They’ve been able to narrow the neighborhood he was staying in, but now they actually have to find his apartment, and so they have to wander around from apartment house to apartment house in the heat, wearing these very hot suits, toting the suspect along, and trying to hide their discomfort. It’s an amazing episode in showing the drudgery that real police work can become but managing to do it an entertaining  way. It’s also somewhat noteworthy for being the first appearance of future Dragnet co-star Harry Morgan in the Dragnet franchise.

24) DR-32

Original Air Date (Television): March 27, 1969

A little girl is bitten by a dog and the dog can’t be found. Under the law, the girl must be given a rabies vaccination if it’s not known whether the dog was rabid. The problem? The girl is allergic to the rabies vaccine, so a rabies shot could kill her. If the dog has rabies, the rabies could kill her. Friday and Gannon have a limited amount of time to track down the dog and save a child from a potentially lethal injection.

23) Big Little Jesus

Original Air Date (Radio): December 22, 1953
Original Air Date (Television): December 24, 1953
Remake Air Date: December 21, 1967

The Dragnet Christmas episode was born out of writer Richard Breen’s belief that the original Dragnet story, .22 Rifle for Christmas was really not appropriate to the festive holiday season.  What Breen did was he took a story from San Francisco and transported to Los Angeles. It centers around a church which finds its statue of the Child Jesus is missing and the efforts made by Friday and his partner to recover it. The production became a holiday classic because it oozes Christmas Spirit, and the conclusion packs an emotional punch, making it a perfect fit for the Season and an all-time Christmas classic.

22) The Big Impossible

Original Air Date (Radio) : March 15, 1953

In this ’53 radio episode, police are able to trace a series of robberies back to a suspect. The problem is that the suspect was confined to a sanatorium. This is one of the better mystery plots in Dragnet’s very long history.

21) The Harassing Wife

Original Air Date: April 2, 1970

One of the funnier Dragnet episodes features a parolee whose nagging ex-wife continually reports him as a suspect in every robbery.  The role of the nagging wife would have probably been well-played by Virginia Gregg but Peggy Webber shows herself every bit as good in this great role. The plot has a pretty solid twist towards the end and one of the most ironic endings in Dragnet history.

Continued next week with 20-16.

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