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This is my favorite episode of "Dragnet" and I love to watch it
whenever it comes on TV. However, at the same time, it might just be
the one my wife hates the most--not because it was poorly made but
because it makes her cringe--it is THAT hard to watch for some people.
An odd series of robberies is occurring. Some strange person wearing some sort of homemade superhero outfit is running about in tights--stealing memorabilia from local theaters and from a movie studio. All of the stuff relates to superheroes and it's inconceivable that anyone would do this. In the end, a very poor and extremely pathetic man is caught--leading to one of the most grueling and difficult interviews in TV cop history--you might just find yourself crying or changing the channel as it's tough to watch this loser disintegrate during the course of the interview. The very end, with the movie poster, is a classic. Some might find it goes 'over-the-top', I thought it was just perfect.
Tim Donnelly stars as the pathetic thief. You might recognize him as one of the firemen from Jack Webb's later TV series, "Emergency". His acting was actually better and more believable in this earlier show ("Dragnet"), as his role on "Emergency" was almost comic-relief.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Friday and Gannon manage to get their hands on one of the more bizarre
young thieves they've encountered. Someone has been burglarizing stores
selling Hollywood memorabilia, smashing glass cases at theaters and
making off with posters advertising a "Captain Lightning" movie. The
burglar is finally nabbed and questioned by the police.
"Who are you?", asks Joe Friday. Or, maybe more likely, "Tell us who you are, Mister." Who he is, is 23-year-old Stanley Stover, who was always a homely fat boy. The kids used to beat him up and ridicule him at school. His was only the wisp of an existence.
But then he discovered the action heroes of comic books and movies. They were proud, strong, decent, and they fought evil. An idea uncoiled in his head like a serpent.
Why couldn't HE -- Simple Stanley -- adopt the identity of an action hero? He made a ridiculous costume out of his mother's dresses and became "The Caped Crusader." He did -- and he wore the ludicrous wardrobe during his escapades until he was caught.
As Simple Stanley spills the beans about his history, Friday and Gannon change their attitude from authoritarian and demanding to something resembling empathy and pity. And, in its simple way, it really IS a touching story, despite the fact that Simple Stanley, in the person of Tim Donnelly, couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. What is it in human nature that inspires compassion for others who are suffering? And why do some of us seem to have so little of whatever it is.
Stanley Stover is sentenced and required to get psychiatric help. Good luck to him.
Oh, in the interests of full disclosure, I must add that that phrase, "uncoiled in his head" isn't original. Credit (or blame) the person I stole it from, a bright and talented young lady in Kuwait.
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