The story you about to see is true.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The character of Sgt. Joe Friday is surely the most famous and influential fictional law enforcement officer in an entertainment history filled with such characters. One look at the 1948 film He Walked by Night
with 28-year-old Jack Webb as police lab technician Lee Whitey, let's the audience in on the inspiration for Dragnet
. Technical advisor Sgt. Marty Wynn, L.A.P.D. encouraged Webb's interest in creating a radio program focusing on a realistic look at police work and paved the way for use of real case files in the recreations.
"Jack Webb supervised every aspect of the show, from its writing to its sound effects to its hiring of actors. He insisted on a naturalistic by-play in both the dialogue and the acting, striving for something sounded "as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee."
- Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.
Program Guide to Radio Spirits CD release, Dragnet, Crime to Punishment
became a phenomenon on the radio from 1949-1957, and on television from 1951-1959, with a 1967-1970 reboot. It inspired homages, spoofs, knock-offs, novelizations, and merchandise.
Such was the popularity of the program that Warner Brothers produced a feature film version, the first for a television show, in 1954. Would an audience spend money on something they can watch or listen to for free at home? Dragnet
on the big screen? All those familiar faces and voices from the unofficial Webb Stock Company in WarnerColor? There was indeed an audience.
Richard Boone, Dennis Weaver
Captain Hamilton of Intelligence and Captain Lohrman of Homicide
The murder of a low-level mob collector, Miller Starkie played by Dub Taylor brings five members of the local syndicate under suspicion. Max Troy played by Stacy Harris and Chester Davitt played by Willard Sage top the list. The combined departments of Intelligence, which investigates organized crime, and Homicide are brought to bear on the case. Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner Officer Frank Smith are just some of the officers assigned to the investigation.
Ray Pinker, Forensics
The gathering of evidence begins with the Forensics team's extensive search of the crime scene. The technicians are able to provide solid information in the way of ballistics, footprints, etc. It will take many more man hours and legwork to build a case sufficient for the District Attorney played by Vic Perrin to take to a Grand Jury.
Stacy Harris, Ben Alexander, Jack Webb
Max Troy, Officer Frank Smith, Sergeant Joe Friday
The suspects are brought in quickly and separately for questioning. In this instance, the entire floor of a hotel is rented with multiple interrogations occurring at the same time. It is a long and arduous process for both sides of the law. In this pre-Miranda era, no lawyers are present but are used by the crooks as a constant threat.
Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Dick Cathcart
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Frank Smith, Roy Cleaver, first trumpet
Acquaintances and family members of those involved in the crime are interviewed. Many are reluctant to talk to the cops. Some will change their mind. You have to listen to a lot of people say a lot of things in the hopes that something useful will slip. Virginia Gregg plays Starkie's widow. Her help in the form of written records leads circuitously to the motive for the murder. Informants are contacted in the off chance that gossip or happenstance may lead to a break in the case. Friday's informant is a trumpet player played by trumpeter Dick Cathcart. Cue the musical interlude.
: I am aware that not all cops are jazz fans, but appreciate that cops played by Jack Webb are tuned that way.
Jack Webb, Ann Robinson, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Grace Downey, Officer Frank Smith
A restaurant/club partly owned by the main suspect is where the police hope they will find definitive information. It is a place where the syndicate boys can let their hair down and talk freely. A policewoman is wired for sound and sent undercover. The ploy leads to a solid lead and a brief but tense standoff between the cops and the crooks. I like Joe's early version of the Hill Street Blues
admonishment to "Be careful out there."
to Officer Grace Downey played by Ann Robinson, "I just want to see you make sergeant."
William Boyett as the Grand Jury bailiff
Future Sgt. MacDonald, Adam 12
A strong circumstantial and evidence-based case has been built against the mob and ready to go to the Grand Jury. There is even an "eyeball witness" who can testify as to the time and whereabouts of a key figure. This witness played by James Griffith is frightened by the publicity the mobsters have received and decides to revoke his good citizenship honours.
Jesse Quinn: "...Besides, I don't see what all the fuss is. The papers all say the fella was a criminal. It don't seem worth the trouble."
Joe Friday: "Yeah. Well, I'm sorry you'd like a dead archbishop. We don't have one. We got a smalltime hoodlum."
Under the circumstances, the Grand Jury doesn't feel they can bring the case to trial. Captain Hamilton of Intelligence is angered by the result, and by the tactic of the mob relying on the Fifth Amendment while under oath, and orders his staff to go after them.
James Hamilton: "All right. Bumper to bumper tail. Put 'em to bed at night and get 'em up in the morning."
Jack Webb, Stacy Harris, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Max Troy, Officer Frank Smith
Perhaps I should be shocked and outraged as Joe and Frank follow and harass Max Troy. I'm not. We know Troy is guilty and it is not as if the cops are doing anything more than making a nuisance of themselves. One big, pain-in-the-neck nuisance, to be sure, but it rather tickles the snarky side of my personality.
: I like to watch Stacy Harris keeping his temper bottled up.
Jack Webb, Ben Alexander
Sergeant Joe Friday, Officer Frank Smith
Joe and Frank let off a little steam by indulging in a bit of fisticuffs with some card playing thugs. Director Jack Webb had fun with this scene. A fist comes right for the camera and the WarnerColor blood is splashed about judiciously. Joe sports a dandy bruise for the rest of the picture. The punch-up made our boys happy. What's a chewing out from the Captain worth?
: Don't ask Joe what anything is worth. He's liable to tell you.
The murder and the investigation take its toll as the mob starts to turn on itself. A second out-of-state murder cracks the case. It leads to an irate widow played by Georgia Ellis giving the cops just the evidence needed. It is time for Friday and Smith to arrest Max Troy.
: Every case comes to an end, one way or another.