Dragnet 1954


Post Title: Dragnet (Movie) 1954

Opening Statement: Dragnet, directed by Jack Webb, written by Richard L. Breen, and starring Jack Webb as Detective Joe Friday. The film is both a police procedural and of the hard-boiled detective genres.

Brief Synopsis: The film begins with the murder of mobster, Miller Starkie. The killers are known to the viewers, so there’s no mystery about who did it. The plot revolves around the detectives getting enough evidence to bring the suspects, known mob associates of Starkie, to trial. The main suspects are Max Troy, the mob’s second in command, and Chester Davitt. Friday, frustrated that he’s unable to get sufficient evidence to book Troy, decides to follow and harass him. Eventually, the two have a fist fight in a card room. Ultimately, using a state-of-the-art mini-recorder secreted in the suspects’ favorite nightclub, Friday gets incriminating information sufficient to make an arrest.

Spoiler Alert: Unfortunately for Friday, the viewers, and the suspects, both suspects die before they can be arrested. Davitt was killed in Cleveland, and Max Troy dies of stomach cancer.

Overall Impression: The film is an excellent example of the emerging police procedural genre in several ways. Forensic and non-forensic technology is a part of this film. The film shows us an early version of a crime lab. Footprint molds are taken in the field where the murder occurred, and ballistic tests reveal the type of ammunition used to commit the murder. Then, a state of the art mini-recorder is used by an undercover policewoman to secretly record conversations in a known mob hangout, a nightclub called the Hot Spot.

One of my favorite things about this movie was viewing it as a time capsule. The formal way people dressed in the fifties (suits and ties and hats) stands in contrast to today’s informal styles. And, the police procedures were far different from todays’. There was no Miranda act in 1954, so suspects were not read their rights. The detectives detained the suspects for several days in hotel rooms and kept them from their lawyers.

One of my least favorite things was the ending. After so much pursuit of Chester Davitt and Max Troy, neither of them was brought to justice—at least not by the court system. So, the ending was stillborn in my view and I would change it.

I think anyone interested in cinematic history and both hard-boiled detective and police procedurals would enjoy watching this movie.

Favorite Quote: (Friday is interrogating Max Troy in a hotel room. Troy flippantly insults Friday by suggesting Friday doesn’t make much money. “What do they pay you to carry that badge around? About forty cents an hour.” Friday, in his intense, staccato manner: “That badge pays $464.00 a month. That’s what the job is worth. I knew that when I hired on. After deductions, that’s a buck eighty-two an hour. So, mister, just settle back in that chair because I’m gonna blow about twenty bucks of it right now.”


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