Tag: Dragnet

Dragnet: The Garbage Chute Murder (EP4310)

Today’s Mystery:

An organist is found murdered in her apartment, and the police can figure out the killer got in.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: December 15, 1949

Originating from Hollywood

Starring: Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday; Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romero; Herb Butterfield

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Dragnet: The Jade Thumb Rings (EP4304)

Today’s Mystery:

Friday and his partner Romero race against the clock to recover $8,000 worth of stolen Chinese jade. The only lead? A vicious criminal and a six-year-old witness with a wild imagination.

Original Radio Broadcast Date: December 8, 1949

Originating from Hollywood

Starring: Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday; Barton Yarborough as Sergeant Ben Romero; Herb Butterfield

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EP3506: Dragnet: The Big Man, Part Two (Encore)

Jack Webb
Having arrested the number two Drug kingpin in the West, Friday and Smith join with a coalition of state, local, and federal law enforcement to bring down the Big Man.

Original Air Date: January 19, 1950

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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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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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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:


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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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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Top Ten Things I Like About Dragnet, Part One

I first began old-time radio podcasting in 2007 with the Old Time Dragnet show. The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio began in 2009 based on suggestions I received from fans of the Dragnet podcast and it’s safe to say my initial subscribers to this podcast were fans of Dragnet. In 2013, when my Dragnet podcast was finishing its run, I added a sixth weekly episode to this podcast for procedural shows and Dragnet took that stop a year and a half later.

Since beginning, the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio fan base has expanded to include people who don’t care for Dragnet. This is fine. With every series we’ve played on this podcast, someone hasn’t cared for it. Since we started, the strength of this podcast has been that we play a variety of shows so most mystery fans will have some series they can enjoy.

However, a few people have asked genuinely what I like about Dragnet because they just don’t get it. There’s a lot you can point to with Dragnet that shows it was popular and successful. If you’ve listened to the series in recent months, you’ve heard the series given multiple on-air awards, including the Edgar Award for outstanding mystery writing. However, this doesn’t explain the show’s appeal anymore than the box office success of the Harry Potter or Twilight films explains their success to people who don’t get that.

I’m not under the illusion this column is going to persuade everyone to love Dragnet. It’s not to everyone’s tastes and what I love about it may be what someone else despises about it. If anything, I hope some people who’ve never really seen it will check it out and maybe people with limited experience with it might get a fresh perspective.

The Dragnet franchise was actively produced for the better part of two decades across two TV series, a movie, and a radio series, and some of what I talk about will only apply to one of those. With that said, let’s get started with listing ten of the things I love about Dragnet:

10) The Zinger Lines

Many of these lines ended a scene or an episode. It would be rare for the last line in a Dragnet to be something like, “Thanks for your time,” or, “Alright, let’s get going.” The scene had to end with music being played and the show had a sense that the music had to be earned.

Whichever version you’re enjoying, that structure is there. Sometimes, it is humorous, such as in the episode, “the Badge Racket” where Friday is questioned by a detective who sees him making an arrest of two men who’d been pretending to be police officers at police headquarters. This lead to this bit of dialog to wrap up the episode:

Police detective: You make your cases right in the building now?
Joe: No, these two just made a simple mistake.
Police detective: What’s that?
Joe: They thought they worked here.

Other times, it was Joe Friday’s smack downs of the criminal and cowardly. In the 1954 film, a man backed out of testifying against a gang out of fear and asks Friday, “If you was me, would you do it?”

Friday: Can I wait awhile?
Witness: Huh?
Friday: Before I’m you.

In, “The Big Betty,” Friday and Smith had spent the episode on the trail of a gang who took advantage of the families of recently deceased people to find the mastermind half-drunk at a New Year’s Eve Party and blathering about how she cries at midnight at New Years. She declares she does it even though she, “Never had any reason for it.”

Friday frowned and said, “You’re going to have one this year, lady.”

The show’s zingers give it a unique and memorable style. Admittedly, not every zing line works, and some take too long to set up. Still, most hit the mark, and the zinger lines really gives the show a unique rhythm.

9) The Joe Friday Speeches

This one was only prominent in the 1960s revival and is a  controversial element of that series. Overall, I like them.

Probably the closest Friday came to giving big speeches  prior to the 1960s was the episode, “The Big Fraud” where he let his fury fly at con men who had pretended to be policemen and then in the 1954 movie where he detailed his salary to the villain of the film, Max Troy. Both speeches were under sixty seconds but still packed a punch.

It’s in the 1960s when things got epic with speeches like, “A Quirk in the Law” in the Dragnet TV movie or his “To Be a Cop” speech or his speech from, “The Big Departure.”

The best of the Joe Friday speeches were snappy but eloquent. They express their ideas well and often have evocative imagery. There’s nothing original about the idea that police have a challenging job, but the imagery used in his, “To Be a Cop” speech is so vivid:

“And then there’s your first night on the beat. When you try to arrest a drunken prostitute in a Main Street bar and she rips your new uniform to shreds. You’ll buy another one out of your own pocket. And you’re going to rub elbows with all the elite: pimps, addicts, thieves, bums, winos, girls who can’t keep an address, and men who don’t care. Liars, cheats, con men, the class of Skid Row. And the heartbreak: underfed kids, beaten kids, molested kids, lost kids, crying kids, homeless kids, hit-and-run kids, broken arm kids, broken leg kids, broken head kids, sick kids, dying kids, dead kids. The old people that nobody wants: the reliefers, the pensioners, the ones who walk the street cold, and those who tried to keep warm and died in a three-dollar room with an unvented gas heater.”

It’s a great use of language with good delivery that gives authority to the material. Of course, there’s a question of how this works with the idea of realism in Dragnet. Real life police officers don’t give big, eloquent speeches. They’ll give lectures to motorists but nothing like a Friday speech, particularly in debating non-criminal antagonists of the police force as Friday does in several episodes.

The important thing to remember is Jack Webb had spent many years working with the LAPD at this point and gotten to know several real officers. In many ways, in the 1960s, he made Friday their voice about issues that bothered them such as drugs, family decline, and what being a cop meant. Friday said things that most on-duty cops wouldn’t dare say but that most of the cops Jack Webb associated with really thought. So, it compromises realism but so does Joe Friday switching departments every week.

8) The Banter

This was an element that came into the show in 1952 with Ben Alexander coming on board as Friday’s partner Frank Smith and continued even into the 1960s TV series with Harry Morgan as Bill Gannon.

From 1952 on, this was in the vast majority of episodes and usually right at the start of the episode. Most episodes would begin with some good-natured banter between Friday and his partner, with the conversation often taking a comedic turn. This initial conversation would occasionally be followed up later on in the episode, but usually it was paid off in that one scene.

The scenes are always funny, but not too funny or over the top. Frank Smith and Bill Gannon aren’t sitcom characters or caricatures, they’re just a couple of friends with some personality quirks.

This serves several purposes other than being fun to watch. First, it makes you feel like they are real people with real personalities that play off one another. It also can serve the dramatic plot of the story. Most often, it creates a contrast. In a week where the show deals with a heavy topic, the light scene at the beginning serves as contrast and makes a heavier plot seem more serious and grim by comparison.

Next week, we’ll continue our look at what I think makes Dragnet so great to watch and listen to.

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EP2138s: Tenth Year Podcast Anniversary Special

Jack Webb

Adam Graham celebrates ten years of Old time radio podcasting by replaying his very first podcast, featuring the first existing episode of Dragnet, “The Nickel Plated Gun.”

Original Air Date: June 10, 1949

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Book Review: The Case of the Courteous Killer

In 1958, Dragnet had been with America for nearly a decade, with 318 Radio performances coupled with more than 200 TV episodes, and a movie. It’s in this atmosphere that Richard Deming wrote his tie-in Dragnet novel, the Case of the Courteous Killer.

It begins with an unassuming man holding up couples in lover’s lane, eventually killing a man who thought the unassuming robber would be easy to handle in the first of a series of murders. Joe Friday and Frank Smith are called in to locate and apprehend the suspect.

Adapting television shows to novels is tricky business, but the late Mr. Deming does a superb job capturing the spirit of the 1950s TV show while producing a story that was more gripping and involved than half hour television would allow.

Deming nails the voices of Joe Friday and Frank Smith. Friday was particularly important as the story is told in typical Dragnet first person. There were a couple moments I didn’t quite buy, though. For example, I found the idea Joe Friday watched the Boston Blackie TV show to be a little unbelievable. There are also funny moments with Frank Smith providing comic relief as he talks about his brother-in-law and various goings on. Truly, I could imagine this on TV as I read it.

The mystery was far beyond typical Dragnet cases, which were resolved in half an hour, but it was in that same matter of fact style. There are many twists as this criminal changes methods, the police stumble upon an almost unbelievable coincidence that’s too strange for Dragnet’s genre, and the courteous killer twice attempts to exact some not-so-courteous revenge on Joe Friday.

The story lost a bit of momentum and dragged in the last little bit with some repetitive moments before finishing up strong at the end.

Still, if you love 1950s Dragnet, or are a fan of clean early police procedural, this is a really good and engaging read.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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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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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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