Highway Patrol (1955–1959)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
Crawford, whose mom and dad worked the Vaudeville circuit, was a very talented and forceful visage in "Highway Patrol". One didn't have to look like Clark Gable in order to portray a dedicated cop. No, he wasn't pretty. Yes, he looked like an unmade bed. But, that just added authenticity to the show in my 15-19 year old (at the time) eyes.
I would have hated being interrogated by him even if I hadn't done anything wrong. Think about how much more latitude the first line of law-enforcement had during that show's time. It started four years before the passage of the Miranda Act. Folks who got too chirpy with "the law" in those days, learned a pretty good lesson before they even got locked up. Wish it still held true. Buddy Buchanan
Although syndicated shows were usually looked down upon as being sub-par to the typical Network Programming, ZIV managed to get some shows out there that topped the "Webs" (Show Biz Jargon for Network) showings. Our featured Highway Patrol show was one of the most successful series in syndication, and was so for the vast majority of its run.
The producers took a half hour and managed to weave in all kinds of criminal activity, all with Captain Dan Matthews (Broderick Crawford, Oscar Winner in 1950 for his lead performance in ALL THE KING'S MEN. There were many rank and file Patrolmen, who had come and gone during the series life on the air, and B.S.** But at least one member of the Highway Patrol was destined to become a career man in Law Enforcement. That Guy was William Boyett, a burly, athletically built sort of "Man's Man" of an actor who portrayed Sgt. Ken Williams. A few years later, in A.D. 1968, the rugged character actor retained his Rank of Sergeant, but being transferred to the Los Angeles Police Department and became Sergeant MacDonald on the non-syndicated Drama of Uniformed Big City Cops in Jack Webb's and R.A. Cinader's Mark VII, Ltd. & Universal Studios "ADAM 12" (1968-75).
As far as the filming, Captain Matthews*** & Company were for the most part (if not completely) on location. These locations would be on the open Highways in Southern California, and in the Truck Stops, Greasy Spoon Grills, Public Kybos and the small towns dotting each route, like Pearls on a necklace. For this the series closely resembled the over-all look of films like WHITE HEAT, THE WILD ONE and so many of those American International epics that kept the Drive In Theatres.
And as far as the realism is concerned we must remember that all Policemen, regardless of their locale or type of assignment, can and do run into all sorts of law-breaking and wrong-doers. Although the real Highway Patrols/State Police are usually assigned to the safe-guarding the highways and byways of our States, with the particular special attention to Traffic Enforcement, Accident Investigation and Safety Inspections of Commercial Traffic.
And please remember, there is no such thing as that "Routine Traffic Stop" that we hear so much about on the 10:00 Newscast. The vast majority of serious, forcible felonies committed in the U.S. make some use of the automobile in facilitating their anti-social behaviour. A Cop doesn't know who he's stopping, so cut him some slack the next time when you're stopped.
Who knows, maybe you'll even get a pass! NOTE:* In reality, the series are not "sold"to the individual stations, but rather rented or leased for a certain period of time.
NOTE:** Now relax, it's not that B.S.but rather the abbreviation for "Before Syndication". Re-runs of successful shows would be sent out via the syndication route to the individual stations for another bite at the Old Apple. Often these re-run episodes had alternate series titles; like "BADGE 714" for "DRAGNET". "SAN FRANCISCO BEAT" for "THE LINEUP" and for our "HIGHWAY PATROL", we had "10-4", Captain Matthews's favourite tag-line.
NOTE*** Broderick Crawford's Captain Dan Matthews became so much of a figure in American Pop Culture, that he made an uncredited appearance as himself, a motorist stopped by Ponch and John for traffic violation! That was in the 9th episode that first year entitled, "Hustle"
The atmosphere is great with all of those shots of the open road and those late 50's cars, any one of which makes today's cars look like dixie cups on wheels. Then there are all of those independent motels, cafés, and gas stations, just a brief time before they all became just a series of plain vanilla homogenized chains. Although it is never clearly stated that this is the California Highway Patrol, it is implied by the geography and some of the cities mentioned. Check it out if you are a fan of 50's TV.
It shows small town 50's USA with it's shops, businesses, cafes, motels and back roads in CA.
I am amused by the "machine gun fire" speaking by Broderick Crawford even when giving orders to subordinates, I have never heard one of them ask of him "Would you repeat that, and speak a little slower and a bit more succinctly?" It also is an amazing look into the social fiber of America at that time, it showed an angry Korean Veteran that couldn't find a job using his faked knowledge of bazookas to help do robberies, innocent vacationing honeymooners being kidnapped as well as interesting dialogue.
Do you wonder if American TV today is showing a positive or repulsive, ugly America to the rest of the world? Should it matter?
It's easy to see why. Academy Award winner Broderick Crawford brings his charisma along as chief Dan Mathews, and he appears in every episode. However the semi-doc style of the series emphasizes the story, not the star, thus the focus is seldom on Crawford himself. As Crawford was overweight, drinking heavily at the time, and, to the perceptive viewer, an east coast big city fish out of water in the then still heavily rural California of the 1950s, this is just as well. On the plus side, Crawford was, for reasons I still can't fathom, a riveting performer even when he was doing very little. With a lesser player, this still would have been an excellent show, but it's Crawford's brusque, ineffable authority that puts it over.
The episodes themselves are, from what I've seen of them lately, uniformly good, and some are better than that. Wisely, the producers chose to shake things up a good deal, thus some shows focus on cold-blooded criminals, others on lost children, some deal with cops in trouble, and there are those that feature amateur or accidental criminals, decent people who have, for various reasons, got in over their heads. Producer Fred Ziv filmed this one on the cheap, as was his custom, and he made a fortune from it. The series channels the style of the semi-documentary films Louis de Rochemont made in the late 40s,--House On 92nd Street, Boomerang!, Street With No Name--while the late Art Gilmore's opening and closing narration at times gives the show the feel of old-time radio. Crawford's closing remarks, as himself, not Dan Mathews, are priceless, the most famous one being "leave your blood at the Red Cross, not on the highway".
I was five years of age when this series hit the air. I watched as often as possible and through the entire series run. As a result I grew up to believe the California Highway Patrol was the finest law enforcement organization ever conceived; totally dedicated to preserving the peace and protecting honest citizens from predation and poor driving habits. Most importantly they accomplished this with an air of efficiency and natural superiority. You were lucky to have one pull you over on the highway to correct your aberrant road behavior. This they did with courtesy and ease. You left the encounter feeling the better for it.
Such is the power of myth.
Part of this is because of the 30-minute format. There just wasn't time to set everything up. They had to use every minute to develop and resolve the story.
The compelling drama makes it hard to get up, even for a minute. I wish TV shows were still like this. "24" was like this, but just about every other crime drama wastes a lot of screen time with banter and nonsense.
Just about every episode of "Highway Patrol" is a good ride.
For anyone who is interested, Amazon.com is now selling all four seasons but season 1 is the only expensive one and the other three are in short supply but at least available.
I only wish the U.S. was like it was back then.
"Highway Patrol" is now newly available on a local station I can pick up. It's so obvious that all the filming was in California -- and in at least one episode the scenes were clearly in a residential, hilly section of the city of Los Angeles, with LA street signage, and City Hall not far away at all in a background scene. Yet when I saw the show as a kid I knew nothing of such issues. Hence, just as Beaver Cleaver's "Mayfield" was never definitely linked to one state, it was fun to pretend that Crawford and crew provided law enforcement in an unnamed and unnameable state, in a rural area where people knew to call the "highway patrol" for first response. There were and still are areas like that in the U. S.
And, yes, Broderick Crawford still has to walk around the car before he gets in and drives away, usually to the familiar music.
Kind of funny that the first season used the same white Ford pick up truck for multiple episodes and different locations. Limited budget I guess. In the "Hot Rod" episode, two "youths" use the car for a fast getaway after armed robberies. After 1 robbery, they "peel out" and are going about 100mph down a rural highway. The driver accidentally hits a granny lady who's standing in the road watching her husband change a flat tire. I mean, he hits her dead on and the next scene shows her lying next to the car with one shoe lying next to her, and she's not bleeding and in one piece. Even her hair is still in place. I laughed out loud! Why? Had she been hit at 100mph, they'd be picking her out of the orchard trees with a stick and a spoon for a 1/4 mile down the road! (not to mention the car would have been totaled!)
Another bit of fun is the tire spinning. These guys, cops and perpetrators alike, cannot seem to start off without "scratching out", usually on dirt. This is where the vintage vehicle fans like me go, "Look! It's got the optional limited slip rear end!" Fun stuff and highly recommended.
The 50's was a popular decade for cars of all kinds. I expect another reason for success was action on the highways, where speed and skill prevail. A typical episode included riveting chases or some kind of speedy action. Never mind that highway locations seldom left greater LA with its non-scenic scrublands and mountains. On the other hand, city scenes were usually shot on location as well. Part of the series appeal, I think, came from consistent use of locations, showing 1950's styles and car models.
Plots were usually unremarkable, the kind of kernel (escapes or pursuits of some sort) that drew in Mathews and the Patrol. Generally, casts didn't include name actors or celebrities. That way focus remained on the story and action rather than actors. Even though the series remains mainly a period piece, there's enough entertainment value to keep modern audiences tuning in, as I do. As Mathews would say, "10-4".
This man was a criminal investigator and he commanded searches for criminals on California's highways. Be it looking for a radioactive part or a fleeing fugitive Matthews was out on the job directing the CHIPS officers in whatever case he was assigned.
Crawford's style was no nonsense, a lot like Jack Webb without the staccato speech pattern. The half hour stories were mini- documentaries unto themselves. And in those more innocent days, Crawford always nailed his quarry.
I'm surprised no one ever revived this on the big or small screen.