Cast & Crew
In Los Angeles, on Saturday, April 9th, around four o'clock, gangster Max Troy and one of his "employees," Miller Starkie, walk through a field of flowers. Another of Troy's men, Chester Davitt, approaches and fires four times at Starkie with a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun. At 7:29 p.m., in the old city jail, Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner, Officer Frank Smith, meet with Capt. Hamilton and fellow members of the Intelligence Division to discuss the case of ex-convict Starkie's murder. The only clues to what appears to be a gangland slaying are four empty shells, impressions of a footprint and an airplane ticket with the phone number of a hoodlum hangout, the Red Spot Grill, written on the back. After teaming with the Homicide Division, the policemen round up suspects based on criminal records and mob connections, including Troy and several men connected to him, and bring them to a hotel room for questioning. Davitt, who is a prime suspect, cannot be found, so his wife Belle is questioned, but she is hostile and uninformative. For three hours, Smith and Friday interrogate the ulcer-suffering Troy, who claims to have been at the Red Spot at the time of the murder, then release him for further questioning to the assistant district attorney, Adolph "Alex" Alexander. Friday and Smith then interview a witness, Jesse Quinn, who saw Davitt leave the field at approximately 4:00 p.m. carrying a pipe-like item, possibly a gun. On Sunday, April 10th at 11:30 a.m., Friday and Smith question the staff of the Red Spot. Although the policemen learn little from the visit, they suspect that more can be discovered through surreptitious observation and send policewoman Grace Downey, who is equipped with a purse-sized recording device, to pose as a customer. Meanwhile, a team of policemen searches the murder site for evidence using a metal detector, but find only a toy space gun. By Tuesday, the efforts of the police have not yielded results and Alex is forced to release Troy and the other suspects for lack of evidence. Friday and Smith learn from a friendly jazz musician that Starkie appeared to have been beaten severely approximately one month before his death, so they visit Starkie's one-legged, alcoholic widow, who insists that Troy killed her husband. She hands over a book containing names and addresses used by Starkie to collect gambling debts for Troy. At first the names seem not to provide useful information for the police. However, one name on the list is theatrical agent Fabian Gerard, who claims that he paid Starkie for a gambling debt owed Troy, but later, he was nearly killed by a different man sent by Troy. By showing a bank slip, Fabian says, he convinced the thug that he had already paid Starkie. This information suggests to Friday and Smith that Starkie was killed for keeping for himself the money he collected. Grace reports in, and turns over recordings of conversations made at the grill, including an order from Troy to the bartender to throw away a package from the glove compartment of his car. When Davitt is found, he is taken into custody and booked on suspicion of violating penal code 187, the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Although Davitt claims innocence, his shoes are found to match the plaster imprints of the footprints at the scene of the crime. Believing they have enough evidence for conviction, the police move forward with the case, but then Quinn refuses to identify Davitt before the grand jury, and Troy's subpoenaed men plead the Fifth Amendment. Unable to get an indictment, Hamilton assigns his men to follow Troy's gang, and Friday and Smith are assigned to hound Troy relentlessly day and night. They detain and frisk him at frequent intervals, making him aware that his every move is watched. When they follow Troy to a poker game, a disrespectful participant starts a brawl with them that is soon joined by others, and Friday and Smith fight back, beating them unconscious. Meanwhile, Hamilton plants a recording device in the back room of the Red Spot, and through it learns that Troy and his men are suspicious of Grace. With the assistance of two other officers, Friday and Smith rescue her, and outside she shows them the alley garbage can, where the bartender disposed of the package from Troy's glove compartment. The package is retrieved, and inside it the police find shells matching those that killed Starkie. For the next four days, policemen take turns staking out the Red Grill from a room across the alley, listening to back room conversations picked up by the "bug." Finally, Friday and Smith hear the bartender say that Davitt was killed in Cleveland, and take the recording to Davitt's wife. Upon hearing it, she hands over the shotgun Davitt used to kill Starkie and promises to testify in court against Troy. After looking over the new evidence, Alex says they have enough to indict Troy, so Friday and Smith proceed to the hospital, where Troy is being treated for stomach problems. When they arrive at the hospital, they learn from Troy's doctor that he has died on the operating table, of gastric cancer, and the case is closed.
Michael Ann Barrett
Pete Kelly's Blues Radio Orchestra
Richard L. Breen
James E. Hamilton
Leslie G. Hewitt
Hontis B. Jones
William L. Kuehl
Robert M. Leeds
Lewis Masch Meyer
Richard L. Wilson
It's all part of the vernacular humor and cultural reference now, even for those who were born long after the heyday of the television series on which this film is based-the musical punctuation to emphasize lines; the flat, staccato speech pattern of Sgt. Joe Friday; his unconcealed distaste for lawbreakers and, in a later incarnation of the series, hippies and liberals; the ever-present hat and cigarette; and the words of the opening disclaimer: "The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent." These were essential elements of the style created by Jack Webb, a former radio actor and minor film player who built an image and career for himself on the mix of drama and semi-documentary style borrowed from He Walked by Night (1948), the crime thriller in which he appeared as a forensics expert.
The Dragnet series, using stories from actual Los Angeles Police Department files, began on radio and moved to television in 1951, where it ran on and off for the next eight years. It reappeared again, with Webb and Harry Morgan taking on the sidekick role made famous by Ben Alexander, from 1967 to 1970. Webb died in 1982, but two more versions of the series were created with new actors in the following years, and a 1987 feature film spoof with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks made full use of the familiar iconography.
Dragnet was the first film to spin off from the series - in fact, the first big screen version of any TV show - and it sticks to the small-screen formula of emphasizing police procedure over mystery, as Friday and Smith seek to uncover the murderer (revealed at the beginning of the picture) of a two-bit gangster. What the film version adds to the mix is violence deemed unsuitable for television, noted by one reviewer as equaling or surpassing "others of its kind in the modern trend toward detailed brutality."
Also new to the mix is Richard Boone as the officers' superior, Captain Hamilton. The craggy-faced, deep-voiced Boone was already familiar to cinema audiences from his roles as mostly heavies, including a stint as biblical "bad guy" Pontius Pilate in The Robe (1953). Boone went on to a busy and varied film and TV career (until his death in 1981), and from 1957 to 1963 starred in the popular Western series Have Gun, Will Travel as professional gunfighter Paladin. He also hosted and frequently appeared in the short-lived but critically acclaimed anthology series The Richard Boone Show in 1963-64.
Webb's career wasn't confined to Sgt. Friday. He was also a highly successful producer and director, responsible for such films as Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), featuring jazz singers Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, and the military drama The D.I. (1957). Webb starred in both. He also created the very popular TV series Adam-12 and Emergency!.
And just for the record: that famous "dum-da-dum-dum" was not entirely original to Dragnet but was taken from the "Danger Ahead" theme written by noted film composer Miklos Rozsa for the thriller The Killers (1946).
Director: Jack Webb
Producer: Stanley D. Meyer
Screenplay: Richard L. Breen
Cinematography: Edward Colman
Editing: Robert M. Leeds
Art Direction: Feild M. Gray
Original Music: Walter Schumann, Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday), Ben Alexander (Officer Frank Smith), Richard Boone (Capt. James Hamilton), Ann Robinson (Officer Grace Downey), Stacy Harris (Max Troy).
by Rob Nixon
Soundtracks - Jack Webb: Just the Tracks, Ma'am
Fans of singing celebrities have plenty to discover. Tucked away in musical corners are records by Tallulah Bankhead, Joey Bishop, Telly Savalas, Bruce Willis, William Shatner, the list is almost endless. But now you can pick up one of the more fascinating examples on CD: Jack Webb's Just the Tracks, Ma'am: The Warner Brothers Recordings (available only over the Web from http://www.rhinohandmade.com). Yep, it's Mr. Dragnet inviting you for a soothing evening.
The disc actually contains two albums. The first is You're My Girl: Romantic Reflections By Jack Webb from 1958. Webb doesn't actually sing so much as recite the lyrics of several standards ("But Beautiful," "Try a Little Tenderness") over a thick orchestral base provided by the legendary Billy May. While this might sound suspiciously cheesy, the album's pull-out-all-the-stops approach actually makes for a fascinating listening experience. The second album is more of an odd duck. Released less than a month after the previous album, Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down was titled in reference to Webb's character from the film Pete Kelly's Blues though this isn't a soundtrack. Kelly is supposed to be a trumpet player and this album consists of 13 instrumentals, all supposedly related to a color ("Magenta," "Turquoise," "Periwinkle"). What if anything Webb contributed to the music is open to question since the band consists of several top-rate studio musicians like Matty Matlock, George Van Epps and others. This too could have been a disaster but instead turns out to be pleasant, mildly intriguing mood music.
For more information, visit visit Rhino Records.
By Lang Thompson
Now Back in Print - Miklos Rozsa's Score for KING OF KINGS
For serious collectors of movie soundtracks, Rhino Records has come to the rescue again. They have just re-issued the film soundtrack to King of Kings, the 1961 biblical epic about the life of Jesus Christ. It was directed by Nicolas Ray, starred Jeffrey Hunter in the title role (most critics were unkind about his performance, prompting one reviewer to remark that the film should have been called "I Was a Teenage Jesus"), and featured a magnificent score by Miklos Rozsa.
M-G-M's 1959 epic remake of Ben-Hur was a tough act to follow, not only for the studio, but also for Oscar-winning composer Miklos Rozsa. But the studio and composer once again rose to the occasion in 1961 with King of Kings. The movie has since become a holiday TV staple and a best-selling home video release.
George Feltenstein, who produced the Rhino release of King of Kings states in the accompanying CD booklet, that "the M-G-M score album went out of print in the late 1960s, and the recording became a highly prized item among collectors. In the early 1990s a CD containing music from the actual film soundtrack performances was released. That version featured more music than had originally been released on the 1961 M-G-M LP, but still represented only about half of the film's music. This long-awaited Turner Classic Movies/Rhino Movie Music album represents the premiere release of Rozsa's entire King of Kings score, exactly as it was recorded for the film on M-G-M's Scoring Stage in Culver City, California. In addition to all the music cues found in the final release prints of the film, this new album contains many extended versions of cues, longer than those used in the film. This release has been mastered directly from the original 6-track magnetic stereo session masters."
For more information, visit visit Rhino Records.
THE MUSIC OF BUGS AND DAFFY - THAT'S ALL FOLKS!
One of the most interesting developments of the past several years has been a new interest in cartoon soundtracks, specifically the work of Warner Brothers musical director Carl Stalling. It's easy to understand why this is the music we grew up with while watching Saturday morning cartoons. The scores also happen to be inventive, tightly focused compositions frequently studded with fragments of other songs in a way that's familiar to our collage-and-sample minds today.
There have been two superb CDs of The Carl Stalling Project but now we get the wonderful overview That's All Folks: Cartoon Songs from Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes (Warner Brothers/Kid Rhino). Produced by historian and musicologist Daniel Goldmark, the two-disc set is quite entertaining for both big and small kids but thanks to a small book with detailed background it's an ear-opener as well. That's All Folks includes the complete soundtrack to the immortal What's Opera, Doc? (remember Elmer's Wagnerian "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"?) plus Book Revue, Back Alley Oproar, Katnip Kollege and Three Little Bops featuring music from West Coast jazz genius Shorty Rogers. Some assorted songs and medleys like "Bugs Bunny's Greatest Hits" round out the package. The only real flaws are that the book generally avoids giving dates and fails to identify the pops concert favorite "Light Cavalry Overture" as a Von Suppe composition.
With book in hand you can appreciate the sweep of, say, Book Revue. Among a few Stalling compositions you can hear the folk song "La Cucaracha," Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," turn-of-the-century classic "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," a bit of Donizetti's opera Lucia, several Gus Kahn pop songs and more. Accompanying the frenetic cartoon such a mix didn't seem bizarre and it's a testament to Stalling's arrangement that the music still strikes an appropriate balance with the visuals. You can easily hear why avant-gardists like John Zorn are big Stalling fans and wonder how much influence this might have had on the similar approach of hip-hop artists.
That's All Folks is one of those nice packages that's not only a lot of fun but of real historical interest as well. For more information, visit visit Rhino Records
By Lang Thompson
Soundtracks - Jack Webb: Just the Tracks, Ma'am
I still need that ash tray.- Max Troy
You've got the Cadillac - drive over here and get it!- Sgt. Joe Friday
Unless you're growin, sit down!- Sgt. Joe Friday
What about the victim, you think Starkey was in trouble?- Captain R.A. Lohrman, Homicide
He was at 4 o'clock this afternoon.- Sgt. Joe Friday
This gonna take long?- Max Troy
You've got the time.- Sgt. Joe Friday
Mine's worth money, yours isn't!- Max Troy
Send in a bill.- Sgt. Joe Friday
I asked you a question!- Max Troy
You're here to answer 'em, not ask 'em!- Sgt. Joe Friday
He won't cop out.- Captain James E. Hamilton, Intelligence
He can smell the gas.- Sgt. Joe Friday
Shotgun, extreme close range, double-O. Starkey was hit four times, first two cut him in half.- Captain James E. Hamilton, Intelligence
The second two turned him into a crowd.- Sgt. Joe Friday
The first theatrical film based on a television show.
Over a blank screen, an offscreen narrator opens the film with the now famous words: "Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." The scene of Starkie's killing then precedes the opening titles. The credits above the title read: "Warner Bros. presents Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday in the Screen Play by Richard L. Breen." Voice-over narration by Webb continues intermittently throughout the film, providing clarification and exact dates and times for each event, as in a police report.
The combination of drama and semi-documentary style used in the film version of Dragnet was already familiar to audiences of 1954, as that had been the format of the popular radio and television series of the same name. Both were developed by Webb. Before Dragnet, Webb had been a radio actor (see note for Danger Ahead above) and appeared as a forensics expert in a documentary-style police drama, the 1948 Eagle-Lion Films production of He Walked by Night, directed by Alfred Werker (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Webb then developed and starred in the Dragnet radio show, which began in 1949, and which was similar in style to He Walked by Night. After a special preview of Dragnet was telecast on the Chesterfield Sound Off Time program in December 1951, the television shows aired intermittently on the NBC network from January 3, 1952 through September 1959.
A January 1954 Los Angeles Times news item, written around the time that the one hundredth episode of the television show had been completed, announced that a Dragnet film, which would be produced in color by Jack L. Warner, director Webb and Stanley Meyer of Mark VII, Ltd., would start production within ninety days. According to the news item, Mark VII, which produced the television series, had already produced the first major color production to appear on television networks, The Dragnet Christmas Story. Modern sources state that Warner Bros. paid Webb $800,000 to make the film version and gave him complete creative control.
Like its radio and television predecessors, the film was based on an actual Los Angeles police case and maintained the same format, progressing in a linear fashion through "Joe Friday's" workday. The Motion Picture Herald review described the film as a "documentary recital of every-day police work." Friday's characteristic terse comments, which were described in the New York Times review as his "fetish for conciseness," and the abrupt musical stingers that often punctuated them in the television series, were retained in the film version. Many of the actors who appeared in the television episodes were also featured in the film. However, as Webb explained in an April 1954 Los Angeles Times article, the film broke with its own tradition by identifying the killers for the audience before the police solved the case. There is more graphic violence in the film than in the broadcast versions, as the particular story chosen for the film was too violent to be shown on television. The Motion Picture Herald review notes that the film, in particular the murder scene and the fistfight at the poker game, "equals or surpasses others of its kind in the modern trend toward detailed brutality."
The characteristic prologue stating a final accounting of justice for each character is missing in the film version. The famous four-note musical signature ["dum-de-dum-dum"], which a modern source described as "possibly the most famous four-note introduction since Beethoven's Fifth Symphony," was usually heard at the beginning of each television story, but was saved for the end of the film. The theme was inspired by a phrase from Miklos Rozsa's "Danger Ahead" theme, which appears in the 1946 Universal production, The Killers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Although Rozsa is not credited for his contribution to the Dragnet film, he is given onscreen credit in a later incarnation of Dragnet, a 2003 television series.
According to a September 1954 Hollywood Reporter article, the vacant lot used in the first scene was rented by Webb in early spring, so that flower seeds could be sown and bloom in time for May production. One sequence in the film was shot at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Although their appearance has not been confirmed, May and July 1943 Hollywood Reporter news items add the following performers to the cast: D. H. Depatie, E. Hollingsworth, Harold Fisher, Stanley Martin, Bert Stevens and the Herm Saunders Trio. The Pete Kelly's Blues Radio Orchestra, the jazz combo featured in the film, also appeared in the 1955 Warner Bros. production, Pete Kelly's Blues, which was produced and directed by Webb (for additional information, ). Eddie King, who plays himself in Dragnet, was an NBC staff announcer.
After the original television series, which, like the film, also co-starred Ben Alexander, a revival series, Dragnet `67, ran from January 1967 through September 1970, again starring Webb, but co-starring Harry Morgan as his partner. Webb died in 1982, but another Dragnet series aired during the 1989-90 television season, starring Jeff Osterhage and Bernard White. However, the new version was overshadowed by the popularity of the new kind of realism in other police shows, such as Cops and America's Most Wanted, and was short-lived. In February 2003, a new Dragnet series debuted on the ABC television network, starring Ed O'Neill and Ethan Embry. The series was written and produced by Dick Wolf. In a subplot of the 1997 Warner Bros. police drama, L. A. Confidential, actor Kevin Spacey's character, who is a Los Angeles policeman during the 1950s, serves as technical advisor for a television show that is intentionally reminiscent of Dragnet. The catchphrase, "just the facts," is spoken several times in the film.
Dragnet's distinctive style has inspired many parodies in skits, film, jokes, and everyday life, including the 1953 hit comedy record by Stan Freberg, "St. George and the Dragonet." The idiosyncracies of the Dragnet opus-the four-note musical theme, the musical stingers to emphasize a character's line, Friday's catchphrases, the staccato dialogue police jargon and dramatic irony-continue to be part of vernacular humor.
Released in United States Fall September 1954
Film version of the popular TV series.
Released in United States Fall September 1954