Saturday, September 15, 2007


I've been watching a lot of early TV shows lately, ones that date back to before I was even born like Sgt. Bilko and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, but the biggest surprise has been Dragnet. I knew the show far better from all its parodies and the campy 60's version with Harry Morgan as Jack Webb's sidekick but watching the original from 1953 is a bit of a surprise. The ping-ponging dialogue, deadpan Webb narration and comedy relief patter is still there but some of these shows were really grim, like one about a man who molested two little girls and confessed at the end that he would have killed them if he hadn't left his pocket knife behind. Then there was a another show about dirty pictures being distributed among teenagers (the same stuff celebrated in books and on websites today). It turned out that the man peddling the porm was an old slient film producer fallen on hard times and that led to a very strange extended sequence where the producer led Friday and Smith on a tour of an old abandoned movie studio ending up on a Western town set where the producer reenacted directing a climatic shootout. It was powerful but odd, as though Webb or his people had stumbled on this old movie set, come up with the idea of the old-timer doing the shootout and worked backwards to the porn peddler plot to give it an excuse for being.
Then there are the hindsight pleasures of seeing later famous actors in small roles. Leonard Nimoy showed up as one of a gang of young hoods and Martin "Adam-12" Milner was one of the schoolkids peddling porn. The big surprise for me though has been seeing Carolyn Jones turn up in three straight episodes. She is billed as "Caroline" Jones but there is no mistaking that voice or those big, luminous eyes. It was amusing to see her play a robbery suspect and a barroom floozie in consecutive episodes, then without so much as a change of makeup, have her being an innocent teenager. Jack Webb was supposed to have an eye for the ladies, I understand, so it's no surprise he'd use her so much.

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