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.
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.
If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.