There have been more police dramas presented on television than I can enumerate. This is perhaps the definitive genre for TV, always popular and often defining a decade.
There is also little doubt that one police show stands out above the rest. From the ‘Da da dum dum, da da dum dum DA’ opening notes of the theme song this show went from radio to fifties television and was resurrected in the mid sixties.
The heart of Dragnet 1967: Season 1 in any of its forms was Detective Sergeant Joe Friday played with laconic perfection by Jack Webb. Sure, many television police series have come along since, each one pushing the edge further and further but none had the impact Dragnet did in its day.
Hill Street Blues brought multi-episode arcs, NYPD Blue gave us strong language, a jerky camera style and a long string of bare butts but Dragnet forever set the bar in drama.
It is almost impossible to separate Jack Webb from the character he made so famous. Webb was a man with incredible respect and admiration for the Los Angeles police department. This was reflected in Webb’s portrayal of Joe Friday as a by the book office, completely confident that his training as one of Los Angeles’ finest would take him successfully through any investigation no matter how strange the circumstances surrounding the crime.
It was not as if Friday was without emotion he had strong feelings that he professionally kept in check. When they did come out it was with a flourish that few actors on television could manifest. Friday would go into a tirade.
The fourth episode Friday dispenses the now famous ‘What is a Cop?" speech detailing the professional and personal sacrifices those in law enforcement undertake all for the good of the public. This monologue not only summed up Dragnet 1967: Season 1 nicely it showed that Friday was a man proud of his profession and one that truly hated those with no respect for the law. This form of advice was liberally dispensed in Dragnet 1967: Season 1.
Friday would council drug abuses about the dangers of addiction, in another he shows is patriotic side when faced with neo-Nazis who have planted a bomb in L.A. Even though Webb’s acting style is, shall we say, somewhat wooden, he presented his character straight from the heart and that goes a long way with most audiences.
In the episode where a widow is senselessly murdered leaving a young daughter behind Friday is actually moved to emotions. Friday may have deported himself in a stoic fashion but his feelings ran deep.
Unlike so many police series the case presented in the episode where not always high profile murders. Webb, who also produced and directed the series, like to show that sometimes there, was drama to be found in the more mundane cases.
Along with his partner Office Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) they would take on all sorts of crimes from a hit and run to con men preying on the elderly. For Webb police work was glamorous no matter what the assignment and this love for this profession came across to the audience.
Jack Webb played a lot of characters in his log career, he even played a jazz musician in Pete Kelly’s Blues but he will always be known as Joe Friday. He went further than owning the role, he lived it.
With is trademark deep, resonating voice he brought us a character that we could not only believe in but come to trust. From his buzz cut flat top hair to his always shined shoes Webb made Friday the poster of police efficiency. His love for the LA police did not go unnoticed, upon his death one of the buildings in the police academy was named in his honor, a fitting tribute.
Episodes from Dragnet 1967: Season 1 have become part of the training for new offices, something that would have made Webb very happy. Even the badge, number 714 received the honor of being "retired" by the L.A. Police force and is on display in the academy’s museum. Webb’s love for the police was well reciprocated.
With such a strong central character as Joe Friday there was a need for some contrast which was ably supplied in the form of partner Bill Gannon.
Harry Morgan was one of the pioneers in television. After a long career in film he was in the 1954 hit "December Bride" as well as one of the first television spin off series "Pete and Gladys". It was there that he honed the comic skills that served him so well in his most famous role as Col. Potter in M*A*S*H.
In Dragnet Gannon would eventually become the one complaining about something. Even though Gannon would grip he was still the consummate office always backing up his partner. Gannon was usually the one taking those accurate notes that would be used for clues.
There was a certain comfort afforded to the audience by the strict formula of Dragnet 1967: Season 1. From the opening where Webb would give the date, the weather and which division he was working to the closing hands (actually Webb’s) hammering the Mark VII logo, you knew what to expect. Every aspect of the opening is now famous right down to the advisory that the names have been changed to protect the innocent. In a way this showed that while the start of every police shift may be routine he never knew what the shift would bring.
Universal Studios has done it again, bringing a well loved television series to DVD. They have been combing their vaults for the shows that most of us loved in our youth and made them available not only to us fans but to a new generation of viewers.
Even though color television was around for years by the time 1967 came around Dragnet 1967: Season 1 was one of the showcase shows for NBC. Many viewers stilled remembered the black and white series in the fifties and where thrilled to see Dragnet 1967: Season 1 presented in Technicolor. Webb, as the producer and director of Dragnet 1967: Season 1 made full use of this with many sweeping views of Los Angeles scenery.
The video here is great considering the age of the material. It seems that Universal takes care of their masters. There where a few specks now and again but nothing major.
The mono sound track is presented in a fairly rich Dolby single channel mono, also typical of these Universal season sets.
The extra provided was an unexpected joy. There is a CD a recording of the original radio episodes of Dragnet.
‘Just the facts’ Dragnet 1967: Season 1 is a great addition to any collection, something the whole family can enjoy together.
by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com
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