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Dragnet 1954 logo
Jack Webb turned Dragnet into a feature film in 1954. This page features more detail about that film.

(We also have a page dedicated to the 1966 TV movie.)

Choose from:
Film Credits / Plot
Personal reminiscence by Cliff Steele
New York Times film review



Directed by Jack Webb
Screenplay by Richard L. Breen
Produced by Stanley Meyer for Warner Bros.

Cast:

Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday
Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith
Richard Boone as Capt. James Hamilton
Ann Robinson as Officer Grace Downey
Stacy Harris as Max Troy
Virginia Gregg as Ethel "Marie" Starkie
Victor Perrin as Deputy D. A. Adolph Alexander
Georgia Ellis as Belle Davitt
James Griffith as Jesse Quinn
Dick Cathcart as Roy Cleaver
Malcolm Atterbury as Lee Reinhard
Willard Sage as Chester Davitt
Olan Soulé as Ray Pinker
Dennis Weaver as Captain Lohrman
James Anderson as Fred Kemp
Monte Masters as Fabian Gerard
Herb Vigran as Mr. Archer, Grand Juror
Virginia Christine as Mrs. Caldwell, Grand Juror
Guy Hamilton as Walker Scott
Ramsey Williams as Wesley Cannon
Harry Bartell as Lt. "Tex" Stevens
Herb Ellis as booking sergeant
Harlan Ward as hospital intern
Cliff Arquette as Charley Weaver [?]
(Bulk of cast list from The Motion Picture Guide, by Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross; Cinebooks Inc. 1985)

Summary:
The movie opens with two men, named Max Troy and Miller Starkie, walking through a field. Suddenly a third man named Chester Davitt appears. Starkie turns to run but Troy stops him--and Davitt shoots him twice with a double-barreled shotgun. Davitt and Troy walk off. (Opening credits follow).

The scene changes to the LAPD crime lab, where Friday, Smith, Pinker, Hamilton and Lohrman meet. They examine the physical evidence and the suspects' rap sheets (the phrase "no known legitimate occupation" is repeated).

The suspects, Troy, Cannon, Reinhard, Davitt, and Scott, are arrested and taken for questioning to a large downtown hotel. Friday and Smith interrogate Max Troy, who is surly and uncooperative throughout. D.A. Alexander refuses Friday's offer of a light for his cigar; Mrs. Davitt meets with Troy and snaps at Friday about Troy living on baby food (Joe smirks, "Don't worry, Belle--most babies do!") Troy mouths off to Friday, who gives as good as he gets ("That badge pays $4.20 an hour. Sit back because I'm gonna blow about twenty bucks of it right now!") Friday shows Troy a fight ticket they'd found on Starkie's body, with a phone number on the back. The number is for a bar called the Red Spot Grill; Joe tells Troy Fred Kemp is the licensee but "You've got half the play!" Joe contrasts Troy's small tax payments with the late-model Cadillac he drives. Troy wants an ash tray--he's been flicking ashes into his palm--but now demands the real ash tray. Joe snaps, "You got the Cadillac--drive over and get it!" They hand Troy over to other cops for more questioning; Joe listens in on other suspects' interrogations.

They find an eyeball witness named Jesse Quinn, a museum custodian. He makes a positive ID of Davitt, as the gunman in the field, from a mug shot.

At the Red Spot, none of the crew knows anything about Starkie. The detectives plan to bug the bar, with the help of Policewoman Grace Downey, who can listen in to Troy and others unnoticed, and cover while the bug is planted. She uses a wire recorder [remember those?] in her purse. They brief her and Frank makes an awkward suggestion about how she should look--a rather gaudy outfit. She claims she'll be late because she'll need a Marcel now!

Davitt is missing. With a rare shot of an L.A. streetcar in the foreground, Friday and Smith go to question Mrs. Davitt; she snarls, "Go sit in a hole!"

In the field where Starkie was shot the crew uses metal detectors looking for a murder weapon. Lt. "Tex" Stevens shows what he's found ("How about a 1934 license plate?"); the best they can find is a toy space gun.

Alexander orders Friday and Smith to release the suspects although, as he says "I've dealt with this bunch before--I can give you chapter and verse!" Joe mutters, "Why does the law always work for the guilty?" Alex answers, "Because the innocent don't need it."

Joe and Frank now visit a musician they know named Roy Cleaver (who holds a cigarette between his fingers as he plays a trumpet); his combo plays a lively jazz tune [possibly the "Foggy Night in San Francisco" mentioned in the opening credits]. He says he saw Starkie heavily bandaged. Joe and Frank check at hospitals and find out where Starkie had been treated.

They visit Starkie's widow Ethel. She lies on her couch, half drunk, in her mostly-bare apartment. And she has one leg. She rambles, criticizing the police and almost cursing Max Troy; but she gives them a small parcel she had "mailed to herself" so the police search wouldn't find it. It's Starkie's "work book"--names and addresses of gambling debtors he collected from. One of these is a theatrical agent named Fabian Gerard; from what he tells Joe and Frank, Starkie was not reporting his collections to his superiors.

Now Friday and Smith gather phone-call information on the suspects and find out Davitt was in San Diego, and he checked out in enough time to meet Troy in the field at the time Starkie was killed.

Officer Downey makers her first report; the recording has Troy mentioning a box in Kemp's car. As she leaves, Joe expresses professional concern for her safety--and we sense he is personally concerned as well.

Later, Frank gently chides Joe for eating fish with ice cream; Joe counters with Frank's menu--tamales and sauerkraut!

Hamilton now tells Joe and Frank they've found Davitt. He comes out of a house after dark, holding a coat, with about a dozen police cars shining spotlights on the door. Friday and Hamilton wait with guns drawn. Friday pats Davitt down; the suspect spits on Friday's coat! Friday sneers, wipes the spit onto Davitt's coat and flings it in his face! Davitt is booked but won't cop out.

Now Friday and Smith go to the museum to get Quinn to appear at a showup. He gets cold feet. He whines, "Mr. Friday, if you was me would you do it?" Joe answers, "Can I wait awhile--before I'm you?"

At the Grand Jury session, Joe, Quinn, and four suspects, including Troy and Davitt, wait outside hearing room. Pinker leaves with a shrug. Then Joe is sworn in and testifies about the phone calls Troy made to Starkie and Davitt as a "probable pattern of murder." The suspects are called, and each one spends only five minutes in the hearing room; as they leave they toss a wad of paper onto the floor in the hall. Joe picks them up: the suspects all pled the Fifth Amendment. Quinn is also called to testify. Joe is recalled; the jurors are skeptical about the evidence. Friday mentions wiretapping (perhaps what we would now call a "black bag job"). Grand Juror Archer warns, "Choke off their phones and they'd be plotting murder on every street corner!" "That's all right," answers Joe, "There'd be a cop on it." This gets a smile from the jurors.

In the hall, Hamilton and Friday hear that they didn't get 12 votes; no indictment. Hamilton looks at the slips of paper and orders bumper-to-bumper tails on the suspects.

Friday and Smith, of course, shadow Troy closely and drive him bats--typical Dragnet-style comedy! Time after time they stop him, order him to empty his pockets, and pat him down. About his keys, change, cigarette lighter, etc., he asks at the end of the pat-down the first time: "Now what?" Joe smirks, "Put it back!" They do this in front of his home, at a fight arena, and at a lunch counter; finally, he's parked his car at home and sees the detectives approaching. Troy empties his pockets onto the hood and stands in the pat-down position. Friday puts the spotlight on Troy as they pass and says sweetly, "Goodnight, Max!" They follow Troy to a club where he plays gin rummy. One friend of Troy's, at the card table, is annoyed by Joe and Frank's presence; he picks a fight with them, and Joe and Frank beat the three friends up (Joe says wearily to the wincing Troy, "You and your stomach can sit this one out!") The club manager, attracted by the ruckus, appears--he looks like an aged Mickey Daniels from Our Gang!--and grins foolishly when he scatters cards himself.

Now the bug has been planted in the Red Spot. Davitt has left town. Downey calls Hamilton--has she been burned?--and Friday and Smith hurry there to her aid. She found the package in Kemp's car--a box of shotgun shells with four missing. One suspect starts to leave the bar, but Joe growls, "Unless you're growing, sit down!" [He used this same line in the half-hour episode "Robbery DR-15," which aired in November 1968.] Joe, Frank, and Grace go to the alley and retrieve the box, now in a trash can.

Joe and Frank take up surveillance in the listening post they've set up across the alley. Frank complains about wasted "used Kleenex." They find Troy went to the hospital that day. Now there's a phone call, answered by Kemp and Reinhard: Davitt was sent to Cleveland to be killed.

Joe and Frank now go to Mrs. Davitt and play the recording: "Just as he [Davitt] went down he said 'Jesus, Mary, and Joseph'-that's what he said." Now in anguish, Mrs. Davitt tells them where a toolbox, containing a shotgun barrel Troy and Davitt had sawed off, is hidden. Her face heavily stained with tears, she offers to give the police a statement "on my hands and knees!"

Joe and the other detectives meet with Hamilton and Alexander and show him the evidence they now have. He inspects it carefully and announces, "You got 'em!" It starts to rain outside; Joe insistently gives Alex a light for his cigar.

Joe and Frank go to All Saints Hospital. But an intern tells them Troy "died on the table" from gastric cancer. As they leave Joe drops the wad of paper Troy had had in the Grand Jury room--and the rain washes his signature off it--aptly signifying his death. Case closed.
(Summary by Doug Montgomery.)


Cliff Steele is a Dragnet fan who saw the Dragnet movie as an adolescent. He sent us the following recollection to post on the page. (Thanks, Cliff!)

I remember very clearly the premiere showing of the Dragnet movie. I was about 13 and rode the bus and subway to the Chicago Theater for the opening of the movie. (It may have been the Oriental, but both were a block apart.)

The stage shows back then were spectacular: a roll-out stage with a large orchestra! There were multi-colored drapes, and spotlights flooded the stage. The houselights dimmed and out walked Jack Webb! The theater was packed, and he talked about filming the movie.

The houselights came up a bit and about six pretty young ladies came out, all wearing a police uniform, with a police hat, very short blue skirt, a blue blouse, and high-heeled shoes. Each one wore a silver badge displaying number 714, the number of Joe Friday's badge. They were sent out into the audience with large flat wicker basket, similar to a flower basket. In each basket was strips of out-takes from the film. All were passed out to the eager audience. I had one, but I lost it sometime back.

The houselights dimmed as Jack told the crowd: "I present to you... Dragnet!"

It was the first scene in the movie that I remember most clearly. A car drives up, a man is dragged away to a field, and then two blasts from a sawed-off shotgun do the guy in. The dum-de-dum music of the Dragnet theme starts and the word "Dragnet" fills the large screen.

It was a real thrill to be there !I was only 13, but I still remember those first seconds !!



From the New York Times, August 21, 1954:

By Bosley Crowther

Everything comes to him who waits. Those moviegoers who have placidly assumed that anything notable on TV will eventually get to the screen may count themselves singularly perceptive—at least, so far as the program called "Dragnet" is concerned. A motion picture cash-in on that serial opened yesterday at the Victoria.

Complete with the familiar musical "intro" and the dead-panned Jack Webb in the role of super-man cop, Joe Friday, who knows all and sees everything, a typical run-down of a criminal as it might occur on -TV Is put forth with more pith than moment in this hour-and-a-half color film.

Just what it is this one crime thriller has that has caused it to be the darling of television chair-sleuths comes through but faintly on the wide screen. Joe Friday, in color and in a large dose, seems a pretty insufferable Joe. He is ostentatious and egotistic in his elaborately hard-boiled attitude. And for a fellow who makes a fetish of conciseness, he sure has a powerful lot to say. Mr. Friday is the sort of commentator who gives you the facts in some 10,000 words.

To be sure, the job of work cut out for him by Screenwriter Richard L. Breen is not one of major criminal interest or even moderate mysetery. A second-rate hoodlum has been bumped off. Three or four muzzlers are suspected of the crime. Mr. Friday does little more to solve it than browbeat the three most likely thugs and throw a few sharp insinuations at a couple of balky witnesses.

This is the character of the fellow. He is a pretty brutal and roughless sort. And if that's what the TV audience worships, it's a frightening and unfortunate thing. Indeed, a bit of laughter by the audience at the Victoria yesterday when Friday teasingly bullies a suspect had a cruel and ominous sound. It is also significant that Friday makes a pitch in this film for tapping wires and shows an obvious distaste for the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, behind which he feels his criminals hide.


That's Joe Friday as we see him. And since he and Mr. Webb are virtually one — Mr. Webb being player and director — that is substantially Mr. Webb. There's a style and a tempo to his picture that gives it bite and pace, and some of the minor characters are entertainingly played. Ben Alexander as Friday's side-kick and Virginia Gregg as the widow of the murdered man work up a little interest. The atmosphere is harsh and real.

But Mr. Friday is not a nice policeman to anticipate as a regular hero on the screen.


Well, what does the New York Times know, anyway? The Leonard Maltin Movie & Video Guide gives it three starts out of a possible four, saying it "evokes its era better than almost anything. Highly recommended on a nonesthetic level."
For more information on the movie, check out the Internet Movie Database.
Please e-mail me with questions, suggestions or corrections: jackwebb1920@gmail.com


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