Friday, January 1, 2016

TV Time Bonus: Extra material I cut from my new ClassicFlix New Year's column

My latest TV Time piece at ClassicFlix explores how to party like it's 1959--that is, tips for celebrating the New Year's holiday, suggestions gleaned from classic TV episodes. I wanted to write about the 1950s "Dragnet's" "The Big New Year," but I the article was long enough without my yakking about something ClassicFlix doesn't even carry (through no fault of its own), and so I'm going to talk about it here.

Have fun, but don't get “goofed up”: Can someone make a New Year's resolution to release the 1950s "Dragnet" TV episodes on DVD?  In “The Big New Year,” detectives Joe Friday and Frank Smith are working night shift for homicide on December 31. All available officers are on duty and/or planning to attend colleague Lloyd Hopper's (not to be confused with Copper Clappers) party, but the guys don't envision being able to get off early on one of their busiest nights of the year.

Smith laments that just once he'd like to see people celebrate the holiday without tearing up half the town, and sure enough, the festive day turns sour when Hopper is found murdered by a “hophead” who just felt like killing a cop. During the course of their investigation, the guys interview a cab driver played by a future Fred Flintstone, Henry Corden, but the standout scene takes them to a cheap hotel to interview reformed drug pusher Bigs Donaldson, played by Aaron Spelling, of all people.

Spelling gives a mannered, memorable performance, humming along with the “real nice music” coming from "the Mission" nearby. He has a sort of early hipster look, with spectacles, hat, bowtie, and mustache. To add atmosphere, he takes a little snuff during the conversation, though he asks permission to do so. It's one of those sequences where to a modern, jaded eye, you think that Bigs is putting them on the whole time with his over-the-top humble, polite manner--sort of like if Eddie Haskell grew up and became a pusher.

Who knows, maybe that IS the intent of the episode, but after seeing it several times and watching the cops' reaction to Donaldson's talk of being reformed and how he wishes he could give the suspect a brand-new soul," I think it's all genuine and that the character is sincere. Spelling, of course, would go on to push something arguably more sinister than any narcotic to the unsuspecting American populace: "The Love Boat."

The references to the cop killer's drug use and his being “goofed up” are meant to provide a strong anti-drug message, but to me the episode is just unsettling. SPOILER ALERT: The random killing of a policeman with no real motive is bad enough, but while the good guys do catch the culprit, the patented Dragnet epilogue makes me even more uneasy. Murderer Harry Talmadge, a repeated drug offender and thief who even threatens to kill Smith when they track him down, gets 10 years for manslaughter? What kind of plea bargain mechanism does the district attorney have out in L.A.?


No comments: