Re: RARA-AVIS: Police procedurals

Date: 01 Jan 2003


Re your post below:

> One addition to your list that I believe is widely
> overlooked but was very
> influencial. That is Mark Hellinger's final movie
> "The Naked City" in 1948.
> It followed the police point of view, featured NYC
> location filming (rare in
> those days), and had to have been a big influence on
> Jack Webb. It was in
> this movie that the "Dum-De-Dum-Dum music theme had
> its birth.

I meant to mention the screenplay to THE NAKED CITY. An article about the writing of this script can be found in THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR. Thanks for recalling it for me.

One correction. The "dum-de-dum-dum" music was alleged to have been cribbed not from THE NAKED CITY, but from another Hellinger-produced crime film, THE KILLERS. Walter Schumann, the composer of the DRAGNET theme, was working at Universal at the time THE KILLERS was being shot, and it was alleged in a lawsuit that, Schumann, perhaps unconsciously, had copied that memorable four-note intro from THE KILLER's musical theme, "Danger Ahead." From that point on singles of the DRAGNET theme were sold under the title of "Danger Ahead," and the composers of THE KILLERS music got a cut.

THE NAKED CITY probably had some influence on Webb, but the greatest influence was another
"semi-documentary" cop film, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, which was set in LA, based on an actual case, and actually used the words, "The story is true . . . the names have been changed to protect the innocent." A young radio actor named Jack Webb was featured in his first major film role, playing a crime lab honcho named
"Lee," a character modeled on Lt. Lee Jones, the commander of LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division.

The technical advisor for HE WALKED BY NIGHT, an LAPD Robbery Sergeant named Marty Wynn, upbraided Webb
(then playing the cop-hatingest PI on radio, Pat Novak) for the way cops were portrayed on radio dramas, and mentioned that he might be able to open up LAPD's files if Webb thought there was the possiblity that a radio show about real police work might have possiblities.

At first Webb poohed-poohed the idea, but after the success of HE WALKED BY NIGHT (and, presumably other post-war cop films like THE NAKED CITY, T-MEN, TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH, etc.) showed that there was a market for realistic cop dramas, decided to take him up on it.

The result was DRAGNET.


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