Dragnet (1954)

Dragnet (1954)

“Why does the law always work for the guilty?”

Sergeant Joe Friday (Jack Webb), Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander), and undercover Officer Grace Downey (Ann Robinson) of the LAPD investigate the brutal murder of a bookie (Dub Taylor), committed by a known criminal (Stacy Harris) who others in his syndicate are trying to protect.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jack Webb Films
  • Police

The primary reason to check out this earnest police procedural — notable as the first feature film to be based on a television series — is to get a sense of what the enormously popular show (produced, directed by, and starring Jack Webb) is all about. Unfortunately, while competently filmed, Dragnet hasn’t held up well as entertainment: it’s overly didactic, relies far too heavily on fast-paced dialogue (its original roots as a radio series are evident), and will seem simplistic to modern audiences who already have an insider’s view of police investigations from numerous other shows and movies. Since this is essentially a colorized, extended version of the T.V. show — interspersed with occasionally creative but mostly awkward scenes meant for 3-D that never materialized — I recommend checking out an episode of the show first (on YouTube) to see if this is your cup of tea.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some creative direction

Must See?
No, unless you’re a “Dragnet” fan. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Dragnet (1954)

  1. First viewing. Snooze City. I actually took a number of breaks while watching this – which gives you an idea of the deadly pacing of this 90-minute film that seems twice the length.

    I had seen some episodes of the tv show when I was a kid but I don’t believe I was a fan. Watching this screen version, however, put me quickly in mind of the ‘Police Squad’ series – starring Leslie Nielsen – which, of course, went on to become the popular ‘Naked Gun’ series. One can see how easily ‘Dragnet’ gave way to parody.

    Totally free of anything constituting a cinematic experience, this murky police procedural has a unique distinction: almost from start to finish, it’s likely you won’t care who did what – where, when, how or why.

    The movie also boasts an unintentionally funny music soundtrack, heavy on a horn section which PUNCTUATES every single IMPORTANT lead in the case.

    I did like one moment which isn’t half-bad: there is one witness who is understandably hesitant about testifying because…well, because he could end up killed as a result. It’s not a bad scene…in an otherwise-dreary flick.

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