1951 / 26 minutes each
In the 1950s fans of Dragnet could not only watch it on TV, but listen to it on the radio, and even buy tickets to watch it in theaters. In every one of these iterations, it followed Los Angeles police detective Joe Friday and his partners as they put in the hard work to catch and convict the bad guys. Roughly half the episodes in the 1951-59 TV version of the series are in the public domain, making it possible to share some of the best of them here.
I’ll be up front that this is not a series that’ll appeal to most tastes – the pacing is slower than what we’re used to today, and the action briefer. But the appeal is the decency of the main characters. These are good cops trying to do their best – old fashioned heroes, winning the battle by putting in the effort and hours.
The standard warnings about sex, violence, and language don’t really apply here – there’s nothing offensive on display. But even as it isn’t gory, the topic matter can be. Friday and his partners investigate murders, suicides, kidnappings, and drug rings, so while Dragnet is incredibly tame by today’s standards, that doesn’t make it all-ages family viewing. Every kid is different, but I won’t be showing this to my own girls until they are at least 12.
Eight episodes from the 1951 season are now copyright-free, but four of them were quite slow so I haven’t included them (though if you’d like to give them a try anyway the links are: Ep. 4: The Big Mother, Ep. 5: The Big Cast, Ep. 11: The Big September Man, and Ep. 12: The Big Phone Call). The season’s four best episodes can be found below.
Episode 1: The Human Bomb
Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero have to stop a man threatening to blow up city hall if the police don’t let his brother go.
Episode 2 – The Big Actor
Sergeants Joe Friday and Ben Romero thing a television actor may be running a drug ring.
Episode 13 – The Big Casing
Sergeants Joe Friday and Ed Jacobs have to determine if it is murder or suicide.
Episode 14 – The Big Lamp
Sergeants Joe Friday and Ed Jacobs get a second chance to convict a burglar.