Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ivanlandia is the flame, Jack Webb is the fuse, Dragnet ’68 is the bomb!

I'm not going to preach to the choir;
we all know that Jack Webb's late-1960s version of Dragnet is pure Nixonian madness-genius,
the highest entertainment possible.

But how could I explain this to someone who didn't grow up with Webb's
absurdist-conformist law & order melodrama as a childhood friend?
Here goes:
Imagine a man so square
that he has become hallucinatory,
with a rapid-fire delivery that can hypnotize you
better than a cobra,
who then, as producer-writer-director,
presents tableaus of losers in generic homes doing stupid, pathetic crimes
and being severely punished way out of proportion for them.
A sure-fire winner. I love this show.

THIS is a personal, artistic vision of what one man thinks the US should be, and how it should act.
The brilliant audacity!
(And to think that young John Landis had the temerity—or cojones!—
to ask Webb to play Dean Wormer in National Lampoon’s Animal House! Wow!)

Any episode about LSD or weed is a must-see, but “The Big Prophet” (often known as “Brother William”) is absolutely ESSENTIAL.
This is the episode where Sgt. Friday growls the now-infamous, “LSD is the bomb” speech:
"Marijuana is the flame, heroin is the fuse, LSD is the bomb.
So don't you try to equate liquor to marijuana, mister, not with me.
You may be able to sell that jazz to another pothead, but not to somebody who holds some sick kid's head while he vomits and wretches on a curbstone at four o’clock in the morning.
And when his legs get enough starch into them so he can stand up and empty his pockets, you can bet he'll have a stick or two of marijuana.

And you can double your money he'll turn up a sugar cube or a cap or two.
So don't you con me with your mind expansion slop.
I deal with kids every day.
I try to clean up the mess that people like you make out of 'em.
I'm the expert here, you're not."

And that’s fucking GENIUS! Yes!


  1. Absolutely brilliant. I've never seen Dragnet in quite this light before (usually I just sort of watch it in a slack-minded "cool, Harry Morgan in something other than M*A*S*H" mode). I particularly dig the "hot hippy stag films" poster.

  2. JB, don't get me started on Adam-12, which I watched religiously as a lad--it's not as "philosophical" as the 1960s Dragnet but more relentless, throwing these two cop fantasy paragons of "White Man's America" (to borrow a phrase from James Ellroy) into all manner of urban loserdom and crime (they even join SWAT for an episode!).
    But they always withhold judgement (in more ambiguous cases). Reed and Malloy always say, "It's up to the judge to decide," but then show more compassion to the perp (esp. if they were a "confused kid") than Joe Friday ever could.
    (It was mindblowing for me to see young Webb in Sunset Blvd, full of life and smiling all the time, after being used to him as the dour cop.)
    BTW, Jack Webb used telepromters (!) instead of cue cards to make sure everyone's delivery was at high speed. Gotta love it!

    Oh jeez, I got started on Adam-12, which also has one of my fave opening themes: it's so intense!"Four-15 fight group...with chains and knives."