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This film is so true to the atmosphere of the 1950's that you could show it in a history class, but it's a lot of fun. Jack Webb is fantastically straight as Joe Friday; he never had a better role. He speaks every word with a cement-like conviction; he's always got a snappy answer for every sarcastic criminal. Everyone in the movie is great, but the standouts are Virginia Gregg as the murdered man's alcoholic and handicapped wife, Stacy Harris as Max Troy, insincere head of the crime syndicate, and Richard Boone as the police captain, who says to his men with angry authority "all right, bumper to bumper tail; get up with em in the morning and put em to bed at night".
"Dragnet" was the first theatrical feature to be based on a successful
television series. Too bad its script bears little relation to the
of that show.
In the 1952-59 series, viewers never saw the crime being committed. "Dragnet" was a mystery program; Sgt. Friday and Officer Smith would be called in to solve a crime, then locate and arrest the guilty party/parties. (As Webb put it, "This makes YOU a cop, and you unwind the story.") "Dragnet" (1954) begins with the actual crime, so that we KNOW who's guilty even before the titles appear. The movie is no mystery, merely the depiction of a murder investigation, in toto.
Worse, the Sgt. Friday in this film is not the quiet, dedicated cop of the radio and TV original. The feature marks the beginning of Friday the Supercop, the holier-than-thou sergeant never without a wisecrack for the criminal ("Unless you're growin', sit down!") or a put-down for the recalcitrant citizen ("Mr. Friday, if you was me, would you [testify]?" "Can I wait awhile... before I'm you?").
The film was a huge box office success, the most profitable of Webb's five theatrical productions. It cost a hair over $500,000 to make, and took in nearly six million. It was Warner's second-highest grossing film of 1954, after "The High and the Mighty." And, of course, it opened the door for the TV crossovers that continue to this day. It's just a shame that the "real" Sgt. Friday didn't appear, and an even bigger shame that this 'evil twin' eventually eclipsed the original.
I really enjoyed the Dragnet television shows back in the 1950s with
Jack Webb and Ben Alexander and later Harry Morgan. They were very
entertaining and fast-moving. I say that because this feature-length
film was just too boring to add to my collection. I wouldn't watch it
Oh, it started off with a bang as a man was murdered in a field, but then the rest of it is mostly detail work which gets pretty boring after 40 minutes! Some of the dialog is good: nice '40s-type film noir stuff.
What I missed was the humor of the TV show, in which Webb and his partner, Officer Frank Smith, would interview a number of crackpots and those interviews would be funny. Most of the characters in this movie did not invoke laughs. It needed a bit more action, too, for a crime movie.
I agree with the other comments that it is somewhat disappointing that we already know the identity of the killer at the beginning, but it is obvious that the killing was shown so that we know Friday and Smith aren't harassing an innocent man throughout the movie. And harass they do. Because we know the killer, we can laugh they way Friday and Smith do when they frisk him four times a day and tailgate his car. The main problem with the movie is that the story just isn't as interesting as most of the stories of the television episodes were, and, as someone wrote, Friday is a different, tougher man, not as likeable as before. Another unfortunate thing is that in making the movie in color to attract audiences who had only seen "Dragnet" in black-and-white, the movie loses the stark film noir feel that many of the television episodes had. In addition, the movie was made when the television series started to bring more silly comedy into it, and, as a result, the movie contains far too much of it. The early episodes had a lot of dark humor, but not silly humor like this movie does, such as the scene with the big-busted singer, and the scene in which the bystanders watch Friday and Smith frisk Max Troy. Even Friday's one-liners aren't as darkly funny or clever as they are in the early television episodes. That said, the movie is still very interesting and rather entertaining if you give it a chance. Webb directs with a nice pace and the big production gives it a grand atmosphere that the television show can't capture. Had a "Dragnet" movie been done in black-and-white, with a more accessible story, and during the 1951-52 season when the only comedy was dark comedy, the movie would have been a bonafide classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the 1954 film version of the 1951-59 original TV series. This time it's in color, but it's not exactly the same as the show. We know who the killer is at the beginning, so it's not even a surprise. They didn't even say what happened to him in the end (you know, when they show the criminal in handcuffs, with the narrator telling what the judgement was) because he died (which they still did on the show, they'd say the suspect was deceased instead). Despite that, it's an excellent film, and well worth seeing if you're a fan. Joe still has Frank Smith as his partner, well acted by Ben Alexander and the performance by Jack Webb is classic. Track this one down for sure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First, I need to point out that there is hardly any similarity between
this film and the television series (both the original of the 1950s and
the late 1960s versions of Dragnet). Yes, Jack Webb is playing Sgt.
Friday but this film NEVER would have been shown on TV when it was
first made--it was way too violent and the dialog was repulsively cool.
Snappy dialog is THE reason I watch film noir and this one is among the
best. Let's give a few examples: 1. The film begins with some sap
betting blown away in a field with a shotgun. When Friday appears later
to investigate the crime scene he says: "The first shot cut him in
half--the second made him a crowd". Yuck.
2. When Friday completely ignores the Bill of Rights (and all good noir cops MUST ignore the 4, 5 and 6th amendments) by harassing the man he KNOWS committed the crime,he has MANY snappy one liners. In one case, he (for the 6th or 8th time) pulls the man over and frisks him--making him empty out all his pockets. The guy complains that he is being harassed and is tired of it. Then he requests that he get the contents of his pocket back. Friday says "you have the Cadillac--why don't you drive over and get it yourself". Cool, man.
Finally, after badgering this guy through almost the entire movie, the prime suspect literally DIES from being harassed!! Cool.
PS--read the quotes on the title page for this movie--they are INCREDIBLE!
Check out the Chrome on the shiny 1950's automobiles. Look carefully
and you will see the clear plastic air-conditioning tubes inside the
rear window of the Cadillac. Wood furniture (not fiberboard),
non-filter cigarettes by the ton, neon signs, 8-miles per gallon autos.
This is authentic 1950's retro (and wastefulness) at its best.
Expensive color film and fine film editing. First-class musical scoring is seamlessly blended into the movie.
"Dragnet" is a meticulously planned movie project. Looks like every scene was thought out well in advance of the actual production. Webb must have been a very hard-working movie craftsman.
Stylistically, Webb's brisk handling of actors and clipped, monotonous dialog is not appealing to my tastes, but directing style is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. His style is OK for television shows but less so in a full-length movie. However, this is a good crime movie and Webb at least gives it a kind of watchable uniqueness.
Modern TV's "Law and Order" breaks no new ground. This "Dragnet" movie has the cops and detectives, then the District Attorney, then some sort of judicial hearing, etc. And of course "Law and Order" doesn't have those big chrome dinosaurs.
Every time I see this movie, I find something else about it that makes me like it all the more. Whether its the cars, the attitudes, the clothes or just the story itself. I liked the cast from the very first time and recognized most of them from the TV series. Seeing again, now, was like getting visit from some old friends. It departed from the TV show in that you saw the crime committed up front and there was no epilogue of the outcome. But otherwise, it was classic Joe Friday. Just the facts. Not a lot of superfluous rhetoric or endless scenes of police tailing bad guys. Lots of voice over with details like time of day, location, etc. Simple interrogation from Friday with smart-mouth answers from the bad guys and the snappy, emotional responses from Joe. It kind of gets you, right where you live, you know? Don't miss this one. You won't be sorry.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Early Joe Friday, whom we see here, was different from later, more
mature Joe Friday. His name was still Joe Friday and he still wore a
gray jacket with dark slacks but the jacket sometimes had little
STRIPES in it and, in one scene, he wears a DARK BLUE SUIT. I'll tell
you the truth. I was shocked.
This feature film is based on the series from the 1950s. It's tougher than the stories that we're used to from "Dragnet 1968" and in some ways not nearly as good. Friday and his partner, Ben Alexander, don't bump into quite so many loopy characters. Most of those we meet here are hardened criminals. There is Virginia Gregg as the pitiful, drunken wife of an executed criminal, true. You can tell she's a wreck because there is a newspaper scattered untidily across the floor. My house looks worse than that every day. If my place looked as good as that of this dissolute, weeping wife, I'd consider it suitable for visits from guests.
The sets provide some continuity with the later series. They're cheap and sparse, and the lighting is high key and flat, as in "I Love Lucy." We can't help notice that this Joe Friday is given to seriousness and gruesome quips, not that the later Friday was ever a barrel of delicate laughs. But here, in questioning a suspect they're already convinced is involved in the initial murder, Friday comes on tough, sarcastic, humiliating, in a way he wouldn't have in 1968. He makes the guy use his own palm for an ash tray although there is a glass ash tray only a few feet away.
The plot is a little complicated, what with all the physical evidence, the hit men called in from out of town, advanced technology like a small tape recorder, and name after name thrown at us without much in the way of introduction. I could follow Max Troy okay. He was the guy with the bad stomach but no ash tray. The other flood of names merely mixed me up.
The movie adheres to the conventions of the time. There are allusions to "the syndicate" and "the organization" but nobody who's a member has an Italian name. As far as I could tell, there was no ethnicity at all.
I found myself a little disappointed in it. It's a fast moving policier. I expected the more relaxed approach of the series I was familiar with. Joe and his partner should have slowed down a bit. His partner should have formed a bond of affection with Pismo clams or Dr. Scholl's foot powder. But for the most part, the beefy Ben Alexander just tags along. Joe Friday himself is younger, sleeker. And when a good-looking policewoman asks if his concern for his safety is personal, he smiles warmly (for him) and replies that he just wants to see her live to make sergeant. I think we'd ALL like to know more about THAT part of Joe Friday's life.
So popular was Dragnet proving to be on the small screen that producer
and star Jack Webb decided to expand it into a feature film. So what we
got here is a television episode of Dragnet expanded to 90 minutes and
Webb and partner Ben Alexander are assigned to the homicide of Dub Taylor whose familiar face and voice are hardly seen on the screen before he gets cut down with both barrels of a shotgun. The killer gave him two more while he was down to make sure. Altogether quite grisly and gruesome.
So the rest of the film under the command of their captain in gang intelligence Richard Boone, Webb and Alexander try to gather the evidence to nail the bad guys. Not that Taylor was any kind of solid citizen, he was a collector of bad debts for the mob and he was skimming on his collections. Still he was due justice.
Watching this film should make one realize how far we've come post the Miranda decision in protecting rights of the accused. One thing that Boone orders is something called a 'bumper tail' where the cops are assigned to tail up close and personal and to frisk at will. No way that would happen today except in some real right wing heaven.
Interesting film, nicely done in Dragnet's famous crisp, staccato style and be happy if you're a criminal you weren't operating back then.
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