When I watch older movies, I typically look for one of two things: First, is the movie’s narrative immersive? And second, does its language, decor, style or general vibe teach me something about the period it covers? I received a Blu-ray DVD of a 2K remaster of the 1954 crime thriller, “Dragnet,” and was eager to engage with this classic. But with a hollow plot and a shoddy visual upgrade, “Dragnet” failed to meet the mark.
“Dragnet,” which aired from 1951 to 1959, is one of the most famous police TV series of all time, and it was later adapted into a full-length feature film. The movie follows Sergeant Friday (Jack Webb) and his Los Angeles Police Department colleagues as they solve crimes. In 1954, Sergeant Friday hit the big screens by solving his biggest crime yet, a mysterious gang related murder in a flower field. About 15 minutes into the film, however, I noticed a glaring flaw: a total lack of diversity. Nearly every character in this movie is an older white man, with the exception of “dashing” female police officer Grace Downey (Ann Robinson), who secretly records suspects by hiding a microphone in her purse.
The movie appears to be run of the mill for its time. The dialogue is quick, sharp and, at times, unsurprisingly dated. Every once in a while, I lost myself in the charming romance of 1950s Los Angeles. The plot moves along swiftly, with Sergeant Friday narrating exactly what, when and where events occurred. This style was amusing at first, but soon grew gimmicky, robotic and repetitive. By the end, I felt like I was watching an unrealistic and over-dramatic documentary.
Though “Dragnet” is branded as a crime mystery, there is practically no mystery at all. At the movie’s outset, the police reveal they know who committed the murder, but don’t yet have the right evidence to actually arrest them. Rather than trying to figure out who’s behind a mysterious killing, most of the movie involves the LAPD collecting evidence. The plot ominously reflects the dubious atmosphere surrounding the LAPD as a systemically racist and problematic institution.
Despite the 2K remaster, “Dragnet”’s visual quality was inconsistent. While there were colorful scenes, others were noticeably blurred and grainy. This was a huge missed opportunity — there were numerous sequences when the advantages of real analog film were apparent — some pictures were crisp and realistic. While the vibrant colors of beautiful 1950s automobiles and flower fields popped, sometimes these scenes were far too saturated, giving off a synthetic feel.
Before watching, I thought “Dragnet” would be a cult classic, and I was excited to watch a lesser-known flick. Unfortunately, even the remastered “Dragnet” failed to excite or entertain. If you consider yourself a fan of police movies, this film might be worth checking out just for its 50s LA aesthetic. If you’re just looking for an exciting cult classic film, however, you might want to divert your attention elsewhere.