I’m sure I won’t make this review a series. Here’s an episode of Adam-12, to give Millennials a peek at what they missed.
It’s really all about producer, director, actor Jack Webb:
John Randolph “Jack” Webb (April 2, 1920 – December 23, 1982), also known by the pen name John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer,director, and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sgt. Joe Friday in the Dragnet franchise (which he also created). He was also the founder of his own production company, Mark VII Limited.
I became familiar with Jack Webb before we had television. He had a radio program centered on police drama. The first thing to come out of the box was, “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” The show moved to television, and we got to see Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday.
Dragnet ran on TV from 1951 to 1959 and returned in 1967 for four seasons. Webb introduced Adam-12 in 1968, and it ran for seven seasons. Webb tended to load his productions with people he was accustomed to working with, and he brought in character actor turned TV star Martin Milner to portray Officer Pete Malloy. Co-star was Kent McCord as Pete’s partner, Jim Reed. Adam-12 is their police cruiser and also their radio call sign.
The show opens in what appears to be a police dispatch room. Millennials are going to get a kick out of this. Everything is done using paper. These were the days before 911, and if you wanted the police you called them on the telephone, and the officer who took the call would write the details on a piece of paper and drop it onto a conveyor. As the opening announcement, always the same (“… One Adam-12, fight group, with chains and knives.”) drones on, a dispatcher picks up the slip and puts the assignment out on the police frequency.
I picked this episode to review, because it has abundant police action (many do not), and it illustrates a point of critique. Screen shots are from Hulu.
Gary Crosby plays Rambo cop Ed Wells, notorious around the station for telling and retelling accounts of his heroic exploits. Pete looks at Wells and sees a cop out of control. Jim, inexperienced and overly impressionable, sees a cop who gets things done. We get to see how this plays out.
Adam-12 gets the call about a man with a gun. They roll on it, and Wells and his partner arrive smartly to back them up. The kid tells the cops his mother’s boyfriend is in the apartment with a gun. It’s a pistol the previous husband brought back from the war.
While Pete sets out to handle the matter in a professional way, Ed barges in, takes charge, breaks down the door, and cuffs the man. During the commotion a bullet has lodged in the door jam above Ed’s head. Pete does not approve. Jim is again impressed.
Also not impressed is watch commander Sergeant McDonald (William Boyett). He chews Pete out for not staying on top and handling the arrest. Pete does not unload about Ed’s cowboy tactics. A woman and a young boy were in the apartment, and a weapon was discharged, which did not need to happen. Ed could have been hit, also the boy or his mother.
Pete continues to have concerns regarding Jim’s infatuation with Ed’s tactics. Since Adam-12, as with all of Jack Webb’s productions, draws on moralization, there has to be a moral. There has to be comeuppance. Here it comes.
There’s another call. It involves a man with a gun. Sound familiar? Ed and his partner are assigned the call. Pete and Jim arrive as backup. Ed does not wait for hell or high water. He goes charging at the front door of the house, pistol drawn. A shotgun blast from the window puts him on the lawn.
Oops! The chickens have come home to roost. With Ed on the grass, Pete takes charge of the operation. Multiple police units arrive. Pete directs officers to block traffic on the street and to cover back exits. Pete and Jim use their police cruiser as a shield and rescue Ed from the lawn, seeing him into an ambulance. Then the man with the shotgun is coaxed into throwing out his weapon and surrendering peaceably. It’s a demonstration of how good police work gets done. It’s another Jack Webb moral conclusion.
The problem with this one is the problem with most of Jack Webb’s work. Nothing is already so apparent it can’t be overemphasized. Ed is a Rambo. We can see that, but it is way overdone. The only thing left to stretch this character additionally would be to have Ed come swinging in on a vine.
Then there’s Pete’s reaction. A cop with a whiff of maturity would have dropped the hammer on Ed forthwith. His actions in the first episode put lives in danger. He should not be strutting around with a gun on his hip. He should be sent back to the police academy or off the force. And it was Pete’s job to see that was done. Pete risked additional lives by not taking care of the matter when it counted. This plot has a significant absence of reality.
In the end we see Ed recovering in the hospital ward but unreformed. Yes, that is also something that should not be happening. At this point in the game it must be apparent to the police command structure that there was a problem that needs fixing. None of this comes out in Season 1, Episode 22.
It is jarring to watch this and compare police work from 50 years ago. A few years ago I took a ride on patrol with a San Antonio police officer. Adam-12 it is not. The cop car of today is likely an SUV, and it has a place to mount a laptop computer. Details don’t just come over the radio, 911 calls go to the computer screen, and everything is there. And the cop wears everything possible to automate police work. These days we may be just a few sessions in surgery away from Robocop.
And that’s the rundown on Adam-12. The action mostly takes place in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, North Hollywood and thereabouts. Shooting took place on location. This is a more convenient place to film than in most other parts of Los Angeles. Additionally the facilities of Universal Studios were close by. I became familiar with the area a few years back when I was there on a contract job along with another engineer from Texas. We got to know the area, and I can recognize some of the locations, still around after 50 years.
I first saw Martin Milner in the movies before I knew who he was. He was one of the Day children standing on the stairs in Life with Father. That came out in 1947. I do not recall his part in Sands of Iwo Jima (Pvt. Mike McHugh), but I recently posted on his role in Halls of Montezuma. I first remember him from his hit TV show Route 66, which ran from 1960 to 1964. He died last September at 83.
Adam-12 may have been the peak of Kent McCord’s on-screen career. He was later elected to the National Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild.
There’s no finishing without touching on the production company’s trademark sign-off. With variations through the years, it shows working-class hands holding a stamping die and a massive hammer and pounding the Mark VII Limited logo into a steel plate. It’s what I would expect from Jack Webb.
I have the complete first season of Dragnet 1967 on DVD and will review one or more of those episodes for the edification of the Millennial crowd.