The beauty of 1987’s Dragnet is that you can tell that Dan Aykroyd is having the time of his life. “I’ve had a fascination with Joe Friday since I was a kid. Next to Clouseau, he’s the most famous cop in the world. I’ve studied his speech inflections, his mannerisms, his walk. During filming, I’d listen to tapes of the old shows. I even started dreaming in character. If there was ever a character I’d always wanted to play, it was this. I’m a huge fan of Jack Webb’s. I basically just love everything he did. Dragnet was something I’d always wanted to do, but I never thought the opportunity would come up, because I didn’t know who owned the rights to the idea. When Universal called and said they were interested in doing it, I think I made a deal to write the script the next week.”
A lifelong fan of cops, Aykroyd is a former reserve commander for the Harahan, Louisiana police department. He currently serves as a Reserve Deputy of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department in Hinds County, Mississippi, who he supports with charitable endeavors.
In the film, he’s playing Joe Friday, the nephew of the original series character played by Jack Webb. Harry Morgan reprises his role from the television series as Bill Gannon, but now he’s the captain. And Friday’s new partner is Pep Streebek, played by Tom Hanks, and there’s no way they can get along.
It turns out some strange things have been stolen — the entire print run of the latest issue of Bait Magazine, published by Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman) as well as several animals and the mane of a lion.
Friday and Streebek discover that P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness and Normalcy) is behind it all and Caesar’s limo driver Emil Muzz (Jack O’Halloran, Non from the Superman films) is a member. They follow him to a ritual where a masked leader is about to sacrifice the virgin Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul from TV’s Baywatch), who Friday saves and falls in love with.
However, Police Commissioner Jane Kirkpatrick is taken to the scene of the crime which is completely cleaned up. Our heroes are on thin ice already with a dinner at the Brown Derby leads to Connie accusing Reverend Jonathan Whirley of being the P.A.G.A.N. leader, which gets Joe kicked off the force.
Will Joe get back on the job? Can he save the virgin Connie? Will he and Pep ever get along? All of these questions will be answered with just the facts, ma’am.
The script was written by Dan Aykroyd and Alan Zweibel, who had worked together on Saturday Night Live. Tom Mankiewicz was brought in to direct. He’d previously written movies like Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, Superman and Ladyhawke, but this was the first movie he’d ever directed (his only other movie effort was 1991’s Delirious). He was also well known as script doctor and had been credited with saving several films. He was also the creative consultant for TV’s Hart to Hart!
Aykroyd is fabulous in this, with critic Gene Siskel saying that he deserved an Academy Award nomination for his acting. Hanks is, as always, really good. I love the part where he mentioned that Connie’s house looked like it was TV’s Leave It to Beaver, yet it’s his house from The ‘Burbs.
This movie has some ridiculous attention to detail, like Henry Morgan’s desk having the same photo of his wife from TV’s M*A*S*H* and Friday smoking Chesterfield cigarettes, who sponsored the Dragnet radio show. It’s also a total blast.