A no-nonsense police procedural with so many deadpan facts and voice over narrations that I lost track of what was going on and who was guilty and why, Dragnet is like a dime pulp novel or an extended episode of the TV show it’s spun from, which makes it somewhat inconsequential and forgettable.
A chilling murder sends intrepid detective Joe Friday on a twisty investigation through Los Angeles.
A low level hood is murdered with a shotgun in broad daylight in a field by two associates, and it lands on Detective Joe Friday’s beat. Friday (Jack Webb reprising his famous TV series role) and his fellow detectives on the LAPD drag out the usual suspects and associates of the deceased and begin grilling wives, girlfriends, waiters, and anyone who might cough up a fact or a clue. They settle on a guy who has stomach cancer as the triggerman, but the suspect is smart enough not to give an inch, which is enough to get on Joe’s nerves. Friday and Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) tail the guy for days, pull him over, have him empty his pockets ten times a day, hoping that it’ll get exasperating enough to shake him loose of a few facts. When they get an “eyeball” witness to the crime, they have enough to go to court, but the case falls apart over some technicalities, and so Joe and his team have to go the extra mile to get their man.
A no-nonsense police procedural with so many deadpan facts and voice over narrations that I lost track of what was going on and who was guilty and why, Dragnet is like a dime pulp novel or an extended episode of the TV show it’s spun from, which makes it somewhat inconsequential and forgettable. It’s a shame because Webb (who also directed it) is so committed to the role that it feels like another layer of skin for him. It moves briskly, has a few laugh-out-loud tough guy moments, and should please even today’s jaded audience. It’s violent (the opening scene probably raised a few eyebrows in 1954), colorful, and keeps your attention, but it ends on a very anticlimactic note.
Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray of Dragnet comes in a brand new 2K master, and looks and sounds sharp, includes a new audio commentary by a film historian, and has both the 1:75:1 widescreen version, and the 1:37:1 full frame version, as well as the trailer.