I did a post on “Dragnet” on January 27, earlier this year, focusing on one particular episode, “The Big Producer,” about a onetime silent film producer who heads a ring selling obscene literature to high school kids and, in the course of the investigation, takes Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner, Frank Smith, on a tour of a rundown movie studio, taking on a SUNSET BOULEVARD aura. I’ve since watched all 22 episodes found in the “Dragnet” box set I own, all shown from 1952-1955, and can safely say that “Dragnet” is easily the most intense and dramatic TV series from the 1950s I’ve yet seen. It’s all based on actual cases and the crimes covered in the show include some subjects, such as child molestation and drug abuse, that were off limits to movies of the period because of the Production Code. I’m not sure how they got away with them on television. There are mostly stories of violent crime, such as murder, hit-and-run, and armed robbery and assault, but also episodes devoted to burglary, swindling, and check forgery, as well as suicide and accidental death. The emphasis was chiefly on the investigation, including long scenes of questioning of witnesses, and, ultimately, the grilling of the suspect.
Today, November 2, 2013, is the centennial of Burt Lancaster’s birth. When I was growing up, Burt Lancaster was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He was capable of making highly entertaining genre pieces, but was also considered a serious actor with Oscar nominations in his resume and one Oscar for Best Actor (ELMER GANTRY). He had his own production company and gave boosts to the careers of certain directors he’d worked with (e.g. Robert Aldrich, John Frankenheimer) and he’d also directed on his own (THE KENTUCKIAN). He co-starred in five films with Kirk Douglas and, indeed, the first film I saw Lancaster in was his fourth co-starring turn with Douglas, John Frankenheimer’s political thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. Lancaster was an imposing presence who played larger-than-life roles—his Wyatt Earp in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL is a mythical presence on a par with the heroes of ancient Greek tales—and had an athletic background that informed even his non-action roles. As he got older in the 1970s and 1980s, he turned to less showy, more character-oriented roles, with more than a touch of introspection and weariness, such as his grizzled army scout, McIntosh, in Aldrich’s cavalry western, ULZANA’S RAID (1972), and the Mexican-American sheriff, Valdez, who embarks on a quest for justice against a powerful rancher in VALDEZ IS COMING (1972), based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. I was lucky to see a lot of Lancaster movies on the big screen when I was growing up and then a lot of his older movies on television. He’s always been one of my favorite movie stars (second only to Robert Mitchum) and I’d like to recall some of my favorite movies of his.