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Dan Aykroyd's Dragnet DVD comedy

Tuesday, 23 February 2016 00:00 Written by 

Dragnet - the 1987 movie out now on DVD“Dragnet”, an August 1987 comedy spoof movie adaption of the original long-running television series, is back on DVD. Dan Aykroyd plays rule-bound, straight-laced and stiff Joe Friday, nephew of the original series character of the same name. Double Oscar winner Tom Hanks is the more streetwise and relaxed Pep Streebeck, and the pair learn a trick or two from each other as they save the City of Angels from street wars, porn barons and secret societies. Add in a television evangelist and a Police Commissioner working to her own rules, and the stage is set for hilarity! 

Very much paving the way for Leslie Nielsen’s “The Naked Gun” series of movies in 1988, 1991 and 1994 (itself based on a TV series, 1982’s Police Squad!), it might well have been that the success of “Dragnet” led to Nielsen’s Frank Drebin character getting the ‘big screen’ treatment. Certainly, a failed six-edition half-hour television comedy doesn’t normally become a sure-fire choice for a major long-form adaption, even if the people behind it had been those who engineered the runaway success which was “Airplane!”

I recall seeing “Dragnet” at the movies on its original release. The humour was a breath of fresh air at the time, and despite it being a mickey-take on what had been a serious detective procedural TV series, it worked and still felt like a playful homage to its source material. Certainly the initial friction between the two lead characters, which turned into mutual appreciation by the film’s end, was a masterstroke. It is said that Aykroyd originally wanted his “The Blues Brothers” co-star Jim Belushi to play opposite him as Streebeck, but was unavailable. And so, the up-and-coming Tom Hanks was cast instead, and it’s difficult to imagine the film ever having a better co-lead than him.

Tom Hanks had made his television debut in a 1980 episode of The Love Boat, the Season 4 premiere “Sergeant Bull/Friends and Lovers/Miss Mother”. He played Rick Martin, a frat brother whose advances on cruise director Julie McCoy (Lauren Tewes) were not welcomed. Meanwhile, Tom still knows the “City of Crime” rap song from “Dragnet” off by heart, which he recorded with Dan Aykroyd to promote the film as is available on the soundtrack album (which also features work by ZTT’s The Art of Noise). It was played constantly on MTV throughout the summer of 1987 and Hanks broke in to part of the rap on the BBC’s The Graham Norton Show back in November 2015.

As an aside, Streebeck’s ‘TV watch’, a gadget which befuddles Joe Friday, was real. Seiko invented it in 1983, and it had a black-and-white display with a separate battery pack/tuner about the size of what was then known as a Sony Walkman.

Dragnet was something of a television institution, with Jack Webb playing the original Joe Friday throughout two decades of screen time. Aside from the original eight seasons between 1951 and 1958, it was revived for four more years between 1967 and 1970. Harry Morgan, who would go on to play Colonel Sherman T Potter" in M*A*S*H, reprised Bill Gannon, his role from the series in this 1987 movie, but he’s now a Captain and the new Friday’s boss. Morgan appeared in just the one edition of the original run of episodes in 1954, “The Big Ham”. The later 1960s run saw him alongside Friday in all those 98 segments.

The object of Joe Friday’s affections, the ‘virgin Connie Swail” is played by Alexandra Paul, who would go on to major fame in Baywatch, playing Stephanie Holden for 92 episodes (1992-1997) – all of which were part of the Pamela Anderson era of the show.

The iconic Christopher Plummer plays the Reverend Jonathan Whirley with a combination of false sincerity and genuine menace. Dabney Coleman (Merle Jeeter in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and recently seen in Boardwalk Empire as Commodore Louis Kaestner) is the under-attack porn baron Jerry Caesar (about as Hefner as you can get without suffering an injunction).

Elizabeth Ashley plays Police Commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick. A regular TV series guest star, seen in episodes of Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man and Miami Vice, she is best known for playing Freida Evans alongside Burt Reynolds and Marilu Henner in Evening Shade (1990-1994), and was recently Aunt Mimi in Treme.

“Dragnet” is directed by Tom Mankiewicz, famed for the screenplays for the James Bond movies “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Live and Let Die”, and “The Man with the Golden Gun”. He was the Creative Consultant for all five seasons of Hart to Hart between 1979 and 1984, writing two episodes and directing 13. His only other big screen directorial assignment was the 1991 comedy “Delirious” with John Candy.

“Dragnet” was written by Dan Aykroyd and Alan Zweibel, who cut his teeth on 109 episodes of Saturday Night Live from 1976 onwards, and is perhaps best-known for producing It’s Gary Shandling’s Show (1986-1990). He has shared wins at the Emmys for Saturday Night Live (1976 and 1977) and The Paul Simon Special (1978).

The film was a solid hit, grossing more than $66 million in the USA, and ranked 14th at the 1987 box office. Considering this, if the film had been released today with those sorts of takings, you would have expected a sequel to go into production. Regrettably, none such has ever been forthcoming.

The DVD Extras on this disc are text screens under the headings of Production Notes, Cast and Filmmaker Biographies. A shame, as it would have been great to find out what the stars think of the movie today.

All in all, this is something of a lost treasure, despite its initial success. The laughs permeate the entire production, and it’s a ‘feel-good’ film which will lift your day. I might just have to go and watch it again at the weekend, and there haven’t been many films recently which have made me want to do that.

“Dragnet” is out now from Fabulous Films Ltd/Fremantle Media Enterprises. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 114 minutes approx, and a RRP of £14.99 – or get it for less at

You had an opportunity to win one of three copies of the “Dragnet” to put on to your mantelpiece, in our prize competition. All you have to do was tell us the answer to the following question: Which star of Dragnet made his television debut in The Love Boat? The answer was Tom Hanks, and the winners were Cara-Jane Hunter of Wyton, Victoria Prince of Taunton, and Susan Tuke of Bolton. Well done all, and thanks to everyone who entered.


Last modified on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 10:04