Dragnet: The Big Hands
Friday and Smith are assigned to investigate the strangulation of an unidentified woman in a hotel room. With no leads and no clues, and no idea of who she is, they must start from scratch to find her killer.
“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
That’s the familiar opening line to Law & Order, and you probably wouldn’t have heard it or some variant of it were it not for the iconic opening line that preceded it by five decades: “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
That, of course, is the signature opening line from Dragnet, which established the ground rules for all the police procedural dramas that would follow. In it, we follow Sgt. Joe Friday, who opens by narrating a just-the-facts-ma’am details of a crime, the date, the division of the department to which he was assigned that day, who the boss was and who his partner was. In Law & Order, place and time are superimposed graphically on the screen, but in Dragnet, we rely on Friday’s narration to keep us apprised on the who, what, where and when.
It’s painstakingly logical, methodical and precise — an exercise in legwork that was credited with improving the image of law enforcement nationwide. It doesn’t depend on shoot-’em-up displays of force, but a calm, reasoned walking down and interpreting of the clues that, once Friday and his partner shrug off the distractions and comic-relief MacGuffins, lead straight to the suspect.
The 1952 black-and-white episode in question here, “The Big Hands,” is unscathed by elements that would turn off a Dove audience, but also a bit unsatisfying. A woman is strangled and nobody knows why. The clues add up and uncover the truth, but the lies, motivation, resistance and acquiescence of the suspect don’t. Evil doesn’t require a reason, just an opportunity to express itself. The good thing is that there’s a Joe Friday to bring us a bit of no-nonsense law and order. Dove-approved for All Ages.
The Dove Take
The names may have been changed to protect the innocent, but the format remains the same: Through gritty determination, the undaunted good guys plod to victory.