Thus begins the spiritual lovechild of Dragnet. In 1987, Dan Ackroyd and Tom Hanks ‘updated’ the legendary tone of the television show that ran from 1951-59 and 1967-70, formed around the story which Jack Webb created, produced, and starred in for so many years. Ackroyd plays the singular, rule-obsessed Joe Friday, the nephew of Webb’s original, partnered here with the crazy Pep Streebek in the Robbery Homicide Division. They’re on the case of P.A.G.A.N. (People against Good and Normal), entangled with a young woman, Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul), who they save from a cult ritual… while fighting off an anaconda.
See, while the original Dragnet was humorless and dour, the remake is tongue-in-cheek and often hilarious. Friday is frustrated by the rule-less Streebek, who skirts the boundaries of good taste and common sense, while also chasing after every woman that crosses the pair’s attention, from Hugh Hefner-inspired Jerry Caesar’s (Dabney Coleman) calendar girls or policewomen he finds attractive. But more frustrating is their pursuit of the leader of the P.A.G.A.N. cult, who the audience already knows is actually Reverend Whirley (the creepiest of Christopher Plummer’s roles). Orchestrating from the shadows, Whirley often has his evil henchman, Emil Muzz (Jack O’Halloran), physically intimidating the police and others.
O’Halloran connects Dragnet to the Superman films of the 1970s and 80s. This is not shocking because the director of this funny send-up, Tom Mankiewicz, was also creative consultant on Richard Donner’s first two Superman films (as well as Ladyhawke). My only quibble with the Shout Factory special features is that there’s no featurette on O’Halloran – but he’s deceased so it’s not their fault! He would have obviously weighed in on the ways that culture impacted the media he made and vice versa, with an eye on the James Bond canon, Superman by Richard Donner, and Hart to Hart.
The strongest connection between the old show and the 1987 film is Harry Morgan, who played Officer Bill Gannon in the late ’60s, and was then Captain Bill Gannon in the 1987 version. The connection brings its own sense of humor.
For fans of the original series and the notable talents of Ackroyd and Hanks, Dragnet is a funny, exciting send-up that somehow serves as an echo of older days. Our two detectives are a reminder of the old and new, how some things change but some things don’t… or at least shouldn’t. We should be able to adapt, but we shouldn’t forget who we are or what we’re called to pursue: truth and justice for all.
Special features include audio commentary by Russell Dyball, an expert on pop culture, and “A Quiet Evening in the Company of Connie Swail” (Paul). But fans of the film will want to check out Aykroyd and Hanks in “Just the Facts!”, a promotional look at the film.