Those of us who grew up with and loved the 1960s version of Dragnet are in for a pleasant surprise. The 1950s version is grittier, more true-to-life, and even more "no-nonsense" than the later series. The black-and-white photography makes everything look downbeat and harder, and truly portrays the underside of society, rather than sunny Los Angeles. It's detectives in hats, records in pen and ink, milk in bottles, and cigarettes everywhere. High-tech means sending out a "radiogram." You don't get Friday lecturing hippies, but the 1950s series is, in my opinion, better.
I have many original Dragnet episodes on VHS, but this DVD set is quite a buy. Although some of the episodes have incorrect titles, you cannot beat the price. Fans of the 1960s series will enjoy seeing a rather young Virginia Gregg, a very young Peggy Webber, as well as Art Gilmore, Harry Bartell, a very young Bill Boyett (Sgt. MacDonald on Adam-12), Natalie Masters and assorted other actors who formed Jack Webb's unofficial company of players. There are some classic episodes here.
I noticed that one reviewer posted the list of episodes that you get in this set, but here is a brief explanation of each of them:
Disk 1, Side A
1. The Big September -- A woman is murdered by a religious fanatic.
2. The Big Seventeen -- Episode starts with the destruction of a movie theatre by kids on drugs. The 17-year old in question ruins his life by taking heroin. (Note: this boy would have been born in 1935 -- long before the hippie generation. Webb tackled drug use long before it was commonplace.)
3. The Big Show (should really be the "Big Secret") -- a young Virginia Gregg plays the wife of an army officer. While taking an interstate bus trip, a young woman handed the officer's wife a baby, and said she would be back. When the young mother did not arrive, Friday and Smith investigate. This is one of the best episodes on this DVD set. A must watch!
4. The Big Break -- A guy arrested for robbery breaks out of county jail and then an army jail. Lots of action in this episode.
5. The Big Hands -- A woman's body is found in a hotel room. Friday and Smith have to find out who she is, who killed her, and why. A young Olan Soule is a lab technician, a role that he would reprise in the 1960s Dragnets.
Disc 1, Side B
1. The Big Betty -- Thieves scan the obituary columns, then sell relatives of the deceased worthless merchandise. The last crook is nabbed at a New Year's Eve party. Classic lines: Crook: Evey year, New Year's Eve, I cry. Never had any reason for it. Friday: You're going to have one this year, lady.
2. The Big Thief -- A couple of crooks were robbing doctors at hotels. This is the most personal episode, as it shows Friday's reaction to killing a suspect, and his girlfriend comforts him. One of the best episodes in the DVD set!
3. The Big Little Jesus -- Those who have seen the 1960s series will recognize this one, as the 1960s version was just redone in color. A baby Jesus is missing from the oldest downtown church. Harry Bartell plays the priest.
4. The Big Trunk (really, the Big Bird)-- a burglar breaks into homes in new developments in the San Fernando Valley (which you can buy for $500 down!) and kills any pet birds he finds. Classic lines: Crook: I don't feel sorry for something just 'cause it's locked up. Friday (snapping on the handcuffs): You might.
5. The Big Boys -- Four boys, including a very young Leonard Nimoy, go on a robbery spree.
Disc 2, Side A
1. The Big Shoplift -- The detectives investigate a series of shoplifts of department stores. A young Peggy Webber plays a doctor's wife.
2. The Big Hit-Run Killer -- An elderly woman and her grandson are killed by a hit-and-run driver. With few clues, Friday must track down who it is.
3. The Big Girls -- Motorists are being robbed by different large, attractive women. Friday and Smith get the case.
4. The Big Frame -- Friday and Smith track down the killer of a man who apparently had died in a hit-and-run -- or was there another cause of the death? And who had killed him? The victim's girlfriend is played by a very young Carolyn Jones.
5. The Big Producer -- A very young Martin Milner (Malloy on Adam-12) peddles pornographic photos to his high school friends; Friday then has to find and arrest the producer of pornographic movies. I'm surprised this was shown on TV in 1952.
Disc 2, Side B
1. The Big Crime -- This was indeed a big crime. Two four-year-old twin girls were kidnapped and sexually molested. Again, it is amazing that this was shown on TV in the early 1950s.
2. The Big Pair (should be "The Big Housekeeping") -- A couple completely strip homes of their furnishings while the owners are on vacation.
3. The Big Bar -- A killer keeps murdering bar owners. He has the unusual habit of playing one song over and over on the juke box.
4. The Big War -- Friday tries to prevent a juvenile gang war. The episode features Natalie Masters as a doting mother who refuses to believe her darling son could be up to any trouble. This is a role she would repeat in the 1960s Dragnet series.
5. The Big Oskar -- A man comes into the police station claiming that he knows where stolen goods are and who stole them.
This is a great deal. I only wish they would bring out all the black and white episodes on DVD, season by season.