The review you are about to read is slightly biased.
Often imitated and never duplicated, Jack Webb's Dragnet has enjoyed long-lasting success in more than one medium. First appearing as a popular radio drama (airing from 1949-57 on NBC), Dragnet introduced Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, an honest cop who wasn't afraid to speak his mind. In more ways than one, Webb was the heart and soul of this police drama: as creator, director, star and (often times) writer, his constant presence helped the show maintain an atmosphere of authenticity. Produced in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department, Dragnet often pulled its stories straight from real-life cases...often only "changing the names to protect the innocent". Eventually, the success of the radio show led to a popular television series (1952-59), a series of books, a feature film (1954) and---for the first time in history, a revival of the television series (1967-70). Take that, Family Guy!
During this memorable second run (commonly known as Dragnet 1967), the show shifted gears slightly without straying from the strengths of previous versions. Friday's earlier partners---including Sergeants Ben Romero, Ed Jacobs and the long-running Frank Smith (1952-59)---proved that Webb needed company, so Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H*) was brought on board as Officer Bill Gannon. While the radio show and original series often focused on smaller crimes, this run dealt with issues like drug abuse, terrorist bombings and the internal investigation of the LAPD. Jack Webb was a known opponent of 1960s counter-culture (sex, drugs, etc.), quickly making his opinions known in the infamous series premiere, "The Big LSD". While Dragnet didn't always maintain this level of hard-boiled law enforcement throughout its four-year run, it certainly started the series off with a bang. All 17 episodes of the first season are presented---in their original broadcast order---in this 3-disc boxed set from Universal; from "Blue Boy" to "The Bullet", here's a list of the usual suspects:
(17 episodes on 2 double-sided discs)
Sure, it's not as action-packed and briskly paced as the recent glut of police dramas like CSI or Law & Order, but Dragnet really broke a lot of ground with each successful incarnation (less successful attempts include the awkward 1987 film with Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, and Harry Morgan as Captain Bill Gannon, as well as the recent "Al Bundy" version). Even with these major modern missteps, the original runs of the radio and television shows have remained popular favorites and cultural icons in their own right. The earliest incarnations of Dragnet have often been dubbed "the grandaddy of the modern police drama", and for good reason: the show's strong framework, documentary-style presentation and well-rounded acting performances (especially by Webb himself) made for an entertaining viewing experience back then...and it still does today. I remember enjoying this 1967-70 run of the show as a young pup, at least back when it was syndicated on Nick at Nite and eventually TV Land; along with Get Smart, it was one of the only classic TV shows that captured by attention on a regular basis. Even though America's social climate has changed sharply since these episodes of Dragnet were originally broadcast---enough to lessen some of the impact, having been exposed to such hard-hitting programming as The Shield and, well, the evening news---strong writing, direction, and overall structure help Dragnet hold up surprisingly well by today's standards.
Although a low-budget assortment of public domain discs have been floating around for some time now, it's a real mystery why it's taken so long for Dragnet 1967 to make its way to DVD as proper season collections. Universal's release of this first season isn't without fault, but classic crime fans will enjoy every episode found in this 3-disc boxed set. While an almost complete lack of bonus features and a slightly-less-than-perfect technical presentation hold this release back a bit, it's always good news when a great series finally comes home to DVD. Though long-time fans of Dragnet 1967 probably already have this on pre-order, this is one release that deserves more investigation.
You can only expect so much from a 40-year old television broadcast, but the visual presentation of Dragnet 1967 shows a passable effort from Universal with a few notable problems. It's a mixed bag in most areas: colors and dirt levels vary from scene to scene, with location shots and stock footage looking the least impressive. Black levels are only a bit murky in the darkest of scenes, but the straightforward visual style of the show works to its advantage here. There's also a few instances of noise, mostly seen during outdoor sequences in very bright light (this was especially noticeable during Episode #3), though the nature of the problem looks to be a source material issue. While there's virtually no edge enhancement to speak of, the only digital problem spotted was a moderate amount of ghosting and/or interlacing during every fourth and fifth frame; it's not the first time a Universal disc has displayed this problem (Monty Python's The Meaning of Life comes to mind), but Dragnet's slower pace doesn't make the error nearly as noticeable. If you need harder evidence, two different screen captures displaying this problem can be viewed here and here. You're welcome.
The audio mix doesn't exhibit any notable defects, as the show's original 2.0 Mono presentation is only limited to its original source material. Dragnet is certainly a dialogue-driven show, so it's good to know that every word (and musical cue) comes through clearly. It's certainly not as enveloping as modern 2.0 Surround and 5.1 mixes, but classic TV purists wouldn't have it any other way. English captions are included for the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as Spanish and French subtitles.
There are several good and bad points here, but the overall presentation seemed a bit on the cheap side. The disc's fullscreen menus (seen above) aren't a problem, as they're simply designed and easy to navigate. Each 25-minute episode has been divided into four chapters, with the episode format eliminating a need for layer changes. Each of the three discs is housed in an attractive slim keepcase, which all fit snugly into a well-designed outer slipcase. The only problems lie with the DVDs themselves, as this season's 17 episodes are haphazardly spread across the first two discs. The first is double-sided with seven episodes on each side; annoying, but hardly a major concern. The second is exactly the same format, though it only contains three episodes on one side...and nothing on the other. The third disc---a 30-minute audio CD, covered in more detail during the next section---sits by itself in its own slim keepcase. Why Universal went this route is extremely confusing, as it makes the overall presentation seem very sloppy and disorganized. Double-sided discs are bad enough, but the second disc's 70 minutes of content (as opposed to the first disc's 6 hours) is a real head-scratcher. It may have been a slightly tighter squeeze, but the total amount of episode content could've easily fit on two single-sided, dual-layered discs without suffering any notable compression problems.
The lone extra here is a Bonus CD containing a classic Dragnet radio broadcast from September 14, 1954. Entitled "The Big Cut", this vintage 30-minute episode is slighter closer in tone to the 1950s-era run of the TV show---but fans of the series will be glad to have it on board anyway. Classic commercial buffs will also find the advertisements for Chesterfield Cigarettes (one of Dragnet's main sponsors) quite interesting. Still, it's a shame Universal didn't put more effort into this package; along with the sloppy disc presentation, it makes for a disappointing end to an otherwise solid release.
The technical presentation isn't bad, but Universal's lack of consistent effort towards the highly influential Dragnet 1967: Season 1 doesn't make it much stronger than your average public domain disc. It's great to have the initial 17 episodes in their original broadcast order---and the relatively low retail price is always a plus---but the series' most ardent fans might still walk away a bit disappointed. In any case, the strength of Dragnet shouldn't keep any interested parties from passing on this one: even without the nostalgia factor, "the grandaddy of modern police dramas" is still as entertaining as always. Universal gets a few nights in the slammer, but this release still comes Recomended.
Randy Miller III is a law-abiding art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.