The Hannibal 8. The blogathon is going all weekend, from today through October 19th. Be sure to stop by "The Dispatch" at The Hannibal 8 to check out links to other wonderful contributions, including a terrific post by Toby's daughter Presley on a fondly remembered 1969 episode of the DRAGNET TV series.
Jack Webb's shows are among my earliest TV memories. I remember watching ADAM-12 and DRAGNET when I was very young, and a few years later EMERGENCY! was a huge favorite. We could hardly wait to hear those sirens going off during the opening credits on Saturday nights!
Despite my great fondness for Webb, there are some gaps in my viewing of his work, and one of the Webb films I'd never seen was the DRAGNET movie from 1954. The Jack Webb Blogathon gave me the perfect motivation to finally watch it!
And the dialogue! Someone mentions that the first gunshot cut the murder victim in half, to which Friday responds that the second shot "turned him into a crowd." Yikes! After sputtering with shocked laughter, I actually rewound to make sure I'd heard it correctly.
In all honesty the plot kind of peters out in the last half hour of this 88-minute movie, which has an abrupt ending where justice is served, but not as one might expect. But what matters is all the great staccato dialogue -- by Richard Breen plus the uncredited Webb and Harry Essex -- the parade of veteran character actors, and the amazing mid-Century settings.
Webb's Joe Friday seems more high-strung than in his '60s TV incarnation, and he even flirts with policewoman Grace Downey (Ann Robinson, who disappears from the film too early). Webb has some memorable bits, such as the hotel room interrogation of Max Troy (Stacy Harris), where he has a speech about how much money he makes; he also has a great piece of physical business tossing a cigarette lighter to Troy.
And speaking of the hotel room interrogation, what was with police officers taking all the suspects to a hotel for questioning rather than to the police station? Some of the techniques seen in this film would surely face legal challenges in today's world. At the same time, some of the issues are still timely today, such as a discussion Friday has with a grand jury member about phone calls, the right to privacy, and circumstantial evidence.
The movie has an utterly fantastic mid-Century look, from the Googie pattern on the Red Spot bar curtains to the Yellow Cars in Downtown Los Angeles to the San Diego hotel lobby to the cars. Gorgeous!
And then there are the actors. Weaver unfortunately doesn't have much to do after the opening, but Boone appears throughout and is great barking out orders like "Bumper to bumper tail!"
There's a marvelous office scene where the D.A. (Vic Perrin) says they have enough to arrest a suspect; thunder from on high immediately crashes, and the scene is capped by Boone sending Friday and Smith out to get the murderer with the admonition "You'll need your raincoats."
William Boyett, the sergeant from ADAM-12, is the grand jury foreman. Webb regular Virginia Gregg, who appeared over two dozen times in DRAGNET, ADAM-12, and EMERGENCY!, plays the wife of the murder victim. Virginia Christine, who appeared on DRAGNET a few times, plays a member of the grand jury, as does Herb Vigran, who appeared over a dozen times on Webb's shows.
There's a great bit by James Griffith as a timid witness, including a sequence filmed in the L.A. County Natural History Museum.
Disney production designer Harper Goff has a bit acting role, as he also did in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), on which he also worked as production designer. Years later Goff would work with Boone as an associate producer on the TV series HEC RAMSEY.
Other familiar faces in the cast include Olan Soule, Art Gilmore, James Anderson, Dick Cathcart, Ross Elliott, Malcolm Atterbury, Dub Taylor, and Harry Lauter.
DRAGNET was filmed in WarnerColor by Edward Colman.
The Universal Vault Collection DVD mostly looks great but a few of the scenes look pretty bad. The variability is rather strange.
The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon.
Update: For another take on DRAGNET (1954) which provides a great deal of additional information, be sure to check out Toby's post at The Hannibal 8.