DRAGNET “The Big Lift.” NBC, 22 September 1955 (Season 5 Episode 4). Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday), Ben Alexander (Officer Frank Smith), Dan Barton, Marian Richman, Kurt Martell, Alan Harris. Opening narration: George Fenneman; closing narration: Hal Gibney. Screenplay: John Robinson. Producer-director: Jack Webb.

   All of the famous hallmarks of the series were well-established by the time this episode was televised, early in the fourth season: the opening theme (!), the voiceover narration introducing the program (“The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”), the terse almost clipped dialogue throughout the story itself, and the closing remarks (“In a moment, the results of that trial.”). All of these elements were probably there from the very first episode, back on December 14, 1951, since the series had been transferred lock stock and barrel from a highly successful radio series: Dragnet on the radio had begun earlier in 1949, running to 1955, with reruns broadcast for two more years.

   I’ve not watched many of the early episodes since the the first series was on the air, so I’m not sure how common one aspect of this one was: Comic interludes! Examples: Friday and Smith are working out of Burglary and are extremely frustrated in coming up any kind of clues for a series of 17 recent break-ins. Joe Friday and his partner are sitting in a diner trying to order breakfast while being ragged by the guy on the other side of the counter (not knowing they are cops) about how the burglar is running circles around the entire police force.

   The wife of a recently robbed couple, when asked if she’d seen anyone suspicious hanging around before the theft, goes into a quiet mini-rant about how housewives are far too busy to take notice of such things. When another good citizen reports seeing a strange car cruising back and forth in front of his house, he also provides Friday and Smith with a license plate number. Turns out the car was a police car.

   One thing I missed in this episode is seeing the faces of actors I knew only from their voices I’d heard on the radio. The cast in this one is very good, but I recognized neither their names nor their faces.

   One last thought. Not only the cast was good, but also the direction and the overall production. I wonder how much time was spent in rehearsal to get everything running so smoothly and the dialogue in sync.