Tag: Dragnet

EP3104: Dragnet: The Big Fraud (Jack Webb Centennial)

Jack Webb

Friday and Smith investigate when two impersonate police offers and shake down a visiting businessman.

Original Air Date: October 27, 1953

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Mail a donation to: Adam Graham, PO Box 15913, Boise, Idaho 83715
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EP3102: Dragnet: Production 7 (aka. The Attempted City Hall Bombing) (Jack Webb Centennial)

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero are called in to stop a man who claims to have a bomb and is threatening to blow up city hall unless his brother is released.

Original Air Date: July 21, 1949

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Mail a donation to: Adam Graham, PO Box 15913, Boise, Idaho 83715
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Book Review: Dragnet Dailies Septemer-November 1952


Dragnet was not only a radio program, a TV program, and a movie in the 1950s, it was a pop culture phenomenon that not only led to spin-off novels and board games but a daily newspaper strip that spanned from 1952-1955.

Single strips have surfaced. Lewis Lovehaug (aka Linkara) did a review of an Australian Dragnet comic book which appears to have been made up of several edited newspaper strips. A few strips have appeared on various blogs around on the Internet. There does seem to be disagreement on the start date with many websites indicating 1953 as the start date, but this appears to be inaccurate. As best I can tell, it started in June 1952 and continued through May 1955.

This book collects an entire storyline from September 22-November 8, 1952. The overall plot is a good, standard Dragnet story about a search for a drug ring with the first clue coming at the scene of a drug-related accident.

The story features Frank Smith as a young police officer rather than the middle-aged character we came to know on TV. The Dragnet strip began in the interim period between the time Barton Yarborough (who played Friday’s first partner Ben Romero) died and when Ben Alexander was cast as Frank Smith. Clearly, the idea of having Friday with a younger partner appealed to Jack Webb. In addition to the newspaper strip, on a radio show, a young Martin Milner was cast as Friday’s partner Bill Lockwood for a month, but it didn’t work out, with Milner entering the military during Korea foreclosing the possibility. The newspaper strip Frank Smith does have a resemblance to Milner with a touch of Jimmy Olsen thrown in. The one plot complication is Joe Friday having a young partner makes Joe Friday going undercover as a college student seem silly. Smith would have been a more natural fit.

The art is decent with a fair likeness of Jack Webb as Friday. To be honest, it’s tough to tell how much of the mediocrity in the art has to do with the art and how much of it has to do with the quality of the scan of the material.

If you’ve read other collections of major newspaper strips, such as those published by the American Comics Library, this will probably not be all that impressive. Collections of major strips are often carefully restored. The collections are readable public domain comic strips of fair quality.

In addition, the price of $7.99 for a 42-strip story is a bit steep. Still, if you want to enjoy Dragnet as a newspaper strip and want to own a physical book as opposed to downloading them online then you may enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Book Review: The Case of the Crime King

The Case of the Crime King was Richard Deming’s second original Dragnet tie-in novel for the original 1951-59 TV series.

The book focuses on Lt. Joe Friday and Sergeant Frank Smith’s efforts to break up a robbery ring. The case begins with the arrest of a clever criminal who Friday and Smith catch and send to prison.

Word begins to leak out of prison that about a new statewide gang with plans to accumulate a fortune and use the money to get one big score that will leave them living like kings. Friday and Smith are sure their man is behind it, but proving it is another matter.

The stakes have never been higher in a Dragnet case file as the lives of thousands and the freedom of millions depend on Friday and Smith stopping this criminal gang’s plot.

Like in his first effort, The Case of the Courteous Killer, Deming manages to capture the spirit of Dragnet, only telling a more complex case. In many ways, the case calls to mind the 1954 Dragnet film which focused on a gang-related investigation, only there are no out-of-character moments for Friday or Smith and we get a more satisfying resolution. The criminal is genuinely clever and the narrative remains at a strong level throughout. Unlike The Case of the Courteous Killer, there’s not really a sag in the story.

Worth noting is that The Case of the Crime King acknowledged the existence of steamier sides of life and Los Angeles that the 1950’s series avoided as it includes references to prostitutes and the criminals use an adult movie theater as an alibi. Neither aspect is written about in a salacious manner, but it does signal a slight shift that would be seen in the 1960’s revival.

On October 5, 2019, a review was held in the City of Boise, in and for the County of Ada. In a moment, the results of that review:

Verdict:

I will say that while this book was a fun read, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Case of the Courteous Killer. That case had a killer who came after Sergeant Friday and put him in peril. Here the criminals are dangerous but far more methodical. It also had less of Smith’s humor, which disappointed.

If you love Dragnet and you like mysteries of this era Dragnet: The Case of the Crime King is a worthwhile read and at $2.99 in the Kindle Store, it’s a great deal. It’s a well-written case that was probably better than most of the episodes aired during the original series’ final season.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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EP2913: Dragnet: The Big Badge (Standard Division #6 (Tied)

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero search for “The Badge Bandit” holds up couples in parked cars while pretending to be a police officer.

Original Air Date: May 4, 1950

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Mail a donation to: Adam Graham, PO Box 15913, Boise, Idaho 83715
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The Top Ten Things I Like About Dragnet, Part Three

Continued from Part One and Part Two
3) The Realism

While, some exceptions to the show’s realism (such as the constant changing of departments or Joe Friday giving speeches) contribute to making the show enjoyable, it’s the show’s overall realistic presentation that makes it stand out.

Any program is going to have to compromise on realism. With the exception of the five two-part radio episodes, and two movies, every episode Dragnet resolves itself nicely in half an hour. There are bound to be compromises to make for good, fictionalized drama. As Clive James observed, “Fiction is life with the dull bits left out.”

Where Dragnet excelled is turning things that would be dull into things stuff that was interesting. They made an anti-riot task force set up in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination where nothing happened fairly interesting.

The behind-the-scenes details of how a crime investigation worked were usually neglected on other programs for exciting chases and crooks talking in bad accents in the style of Guys and Dolls. Here we got details on how the police solved their cases in a way no other program had done.

It also created suspense as to the ending. It didn’t always end with them making a dramatic arrest of the suspect. Dragnet wasn’t afraid to portray spending half a day on a stake out only to find out other policemen made the arrest across town. It feels a little anti-climatic, but you buy into that because that sort of thing happens to real detectives.

Dragnet is not perfectly realistic and perfectly true to life. If it were, no one would want to watch it other than people training to be policemen. However, it’s makes the details of police work entertaining and features enough realism in its structure to create a unique feel that allows a listener or viewer to feel like it’s real.

2) The Willingness to Tackle Tough Issues

Dragnet often brought awareness and attention to important issues that most shows wouldn’t tackle. It’s well known for its anti-drug episodes but it doesn’t get enough credit for how it shined a light on child abuse and neglect.

These shows could be the most heartbreaking episodes ever, but that’s what they were designed for. When many modern day dramas  take on a tough issue, it’s exploitative. It was never that way with Dragnet. There’s a sense the show was trying to raise awareness. The earnestness about the show’s approach indicates they’re talking about this issue because it’s important. Jack Webb became highly involved in the LAPD community and the concerns of policemen and what they were seeing on the street became his concerns on the series.

While this can make for some sad and even uncomfortable viewing, I can’t help but respect the show’s honesty and sensitivity in dealing with tough issues.

1) It’s Understanding of the Power of Impact

In a world free of the restraint of prior generations’ mores, producers of film and television hit us with a constant barrage of sex and violence. The result is, what would have been shocking to older generations is rendered meaningless by the sheer volume of it that we encounter.

Dragnet not only stayed within the lines required of its culture, it was more economical with its use of violence. It went back to the show’s realism. Real police officers didn’t deal with shootouts every week, so why should Joe Friday?

Most weeks, Joe Friday’s gun remains concealed in his shoulder holster. However, when there is peril, danger, and gun play in Dragnet, it’s memorable and well done. An episode like, “The Big Break,” which involves smoke bombs, machine guns, and daring criminal escapes is really exciting. There’s Friday’s actions in the big scene of Dragnet 1966 that leaves him a total mess, or there’s also “The Grenade,” where he wrestles a disturbed young man with a live grenade. And limited violence makes Friday’s sadness believable at the end of, “The Big Thief,” when he’s had to shoot and kill a young robber.

Beyond violence, there were many emotions not regularly displayed on the show, but when they were, you knew a situation had really impacted the characters.

A show that uses violence and emotional theatrics all the time quickly makes those moments meaningless to the audience. By being disciplined, Dragnet made these moments truly matter to its audience which is a key to a powerful drama.

Ten Things I Love About Dragnet, Part Two

Continuing with our look at the ten things I love about Dragnet (See Part One)

7) The Music

The show’s incidental and theme music was one of it’s big assets starting from its third episode on radio until it went off the air in 1970. The show’s signature opening notes, followed by the disclosure that what you’re about to hear/see is true, ranks among the most iconic show openings ever.

But the music does more than that. After the opening notes, both the 1950s and 60s versions have different opening and closing themes, both of which are good, though I prefer the 1950s version as it’s just a bit more dramatic.

And once you get into the episode, the incidental music is able to convey sadness, excitement, or bemusement equally well. It’s a particular stand out over radio. In the 1950s, radio producers began cutting back on music, particularly on detective programs. Once you got to the mid-1950s, every single NBC program other than Dragnet was using the same set of canned and generic incidental and transition music. Dragnet continued to use high-quality music that set the mood and helped to tell the story.

6) Those Quirky Characters…

Dragnet had some wonderfully quirky characters throughout its run in terms of the witnesses, victims, and criminals.

The many memorable characters include:

  • the cranky religious book store owner in, “The Big Little Jesus” who was playing a long-term game of chess by mail.
  • the drifter killer in, “The Big Cast.”
  • the tortured woman who stole a baby in, “The Big Mother.”
  • the guy who collects exotic fish in, “The Big Frank.”
  • the young thief dressed in a superhero costume in “Burglary: DR-31.”  He stole movie memorabilia to further fantasies that let him escape for a few moments from school bullies and an overbearing mother.

Dragnet has the best guest characters. They only showed up for one story but they left an impact on audiences. The best Dragnet side characters could be funny or tragic, but they’re memorable. They also added a touch of humanity. While some of them are funny, just like the banter between Smith and Friday, they rarely went over the top, which makes them feel grounded and like real people.

5) The Sound Effects

The radio version of Dragnet has the best sound effects of any program during the Golden Age of radio. Most programs took the philosophy of doing the bare minimum, maybe an effect or two to ground the listeners in the scene.

Dragnet employed five sound effects men to create rich scenes where the sound showcases the location or activity going on perfectly. The many fine details in the sound of a Dragnet episode create a feeling of authenticity. You feel like you’re there with Joe Friday and his partner rather than hearing a radio episode. Even today, most modern radio producers don’t put this much effort into their soundscapes. Dragnet was decades ahead of its time in terms of the detail and quality of sound effects they used.

4) The Variety

Most detective programs and police programs have focused on murder investigations. There’s a reason for that: murder is a heinous crime. We all understand why it’s wrong and why the killer needs caught.

While Dragnet has its fair share of murder cases, Joe Friday works out of nearly every division in the LAPD at one time or another: Burglary, Juvenile, Robbery, Bunco, as well as more specialized divisions. This allows us to see procedures and parts of the police force that never are prominent on other shows.

Dragnet was cognizant that we may not care about these other crimes as much as murder, but they highlight victims hurt by activities like the obituaries racket, so we’ll care and understand why this crime is a real problem.

This approach has its drawbacks. The biggest is in the Dragnet 1969 series where they had Friday and Gannon working out of a lot of departments (like public affairs) which didn’t arrest people. Some were still interesting, but others were dull. Police officers sitting at a cabin in the woods and talking about race relations is something even Jack Webb couldn’t make interesting.

It also compromises on realism to have Friday switching departments every week, but it serves the show’s dramatic purposes and allows us to see a whole other side to police work you just didn’t see in other programs.

Next week, we wrap up the series by looking at the three things I like most about Dragnet.

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