RARA-AVIS: Re: Two Very Different Joes

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 05 Jul 2008

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    I know it's taken me a long time to get back to this but, re your comments below:

    "Oh please. I meant a normal, sexually active, fully developed alpha male with emotions and everything (Everyone knows what Joe and Peggy did during commercials, right?) Square-peg-in- a-square- world Joe Friday seemed more like an emotional (and possibly sexual) eunuch to me. How he ever managed to have such a hot daughter as Max Collins' Ms. Tree is beyond me..."

    Leaving aside the fact that Al Collins had no problem imagining Joe as the father of Michael Tree (nee Friday), which should be argument enough against your characterization of Joe Friday as a "sexual eunuch," there was all sorts of evidence, on the original '50's series, in the '60's-'70's revival, and even in the Dick Wolf remake, that Joe Friday enjoyed the company of the opposite sex quite frequently. If you insist, I can quote chapter and verse, but it would make me seem pedantic (and Lord knows, I've never looked pedantic on this list), so I'll limit myself to four examples.

    First, in the earliest examples of the radio show, Joe dated a number of different women, at least one of whom he thought seriously enough about to bring home and introduce to his mother. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but hardly either a sexual or an emotional eunuch.

    Second and third, in the course of the '50's TV series, Joe had two regular girl friends at different points in the show.

    Fouth, in the two-hour pilot for the '60's revival, held back from broadcast until the 3rd season, Joe is called back from vacation to work a serial murder case. This, we are told, puts the kibosh on the romantic weekend he was planning to spend with his current squeeze. "Hope a phone call'll square it," he mutters bitterly.

    As for the more serious charge that he's an emotional eunuch there's no evidence of this whatsoever. Whatever else Friday is, he's passionate and compassionate. This is demonstrated over and over again in the course of the series. If this isn't obvious to you, you haven't been paying attention.

    "Friday often came across more like a stern, slightly ticked-off priest to me than a cop, less interested in living in the world right as in hiding behind the rules."

    Friday was stern and ticked-off, but your analogy of Friday to a priest is more apt than you realize. Hasn't Michael Connelly referred to the profession of law enforcement as a "blue religion?" Friday, like most cops, is someone enacting a series of rituals in the hopes that it will pay off in something resempbling justice.

    "But maybe DRAGNET's another show I should re-investigate. It's been years, and the remakes, I'm sure, do the original no favours. I don't know what was worse -- 45-year old bit players in wigs playing 'hippies' or the MARRIED WITH CHILDREN guy trying to solve murders by grimacing a lot."

    Ed O'Neill was no Jack Webb, but he didn't embarass himself. I thought, at least in its first season, that Wolf's remake was quite good. Webb's own color revival from the '60's and '70's dates badly in many episodes (particularly the narc ones), and was clearly done on a tight budget, but there are more good episodes than bad ones. Oddly, the B&W '50's episodes seem much less dated, probably because the whole noir-ish atmosphere Webb imbues the show with gives it a timeless quality that the washed-out, yet garish Universal Studios version of the '60's does not have.

    But if you're going to judge DRAGNET, judge it at its best.

    As for the central question of whether Friday's more alpha than Mannix, then look at any scene with Webb playing Friday and see who dominates. Webb was a more charismatic actor than he was ever given credit for. That's why he's able to stand up to such powerful actors as Marlon Brando in THE MEN or Alan Ladd in APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER.

    As for John HOcking's assertion that Lt. Frank Ballinger, as played by Lee Marvin, is the true champ in the alpha male competition, below:

    "Lee Marvin's Lt. Frank Ballinger of 'M Squad' out-Alphas everybody mentioned thus far put together."

    Think so? Check out an early DRAGNET episode called "The Big Cast" in which Marvin guest stars as a serial killer suspect Joe is interrogating.

    It's a great episode, largely consisting (after a violent arrest near the beginning) of the Q&A between Friday and his suspect. Marvin actually has most of the dialog.

    This performance was the one that got him noticed in the industry. Within a year, he was getting small but noticeable supporting parts in big movies like THE CAINE MUTINY, and major parts in smaller films like THE BIG HEAT. Within a few years he had his own show, and a few years later, an Oscar for Best Actor. It all started with this episode.

    Yet, as impressive as Marvin's performance is, what is striking is how much Webb dominates, even in scenes in which he has very little dialog.

    Marvin's casual evil is chilling, but Webb's righteous anger is a sufficiently heavy counterweight to keep the show in balance, and when Friday gets the last word, you know it IS the last word.

    Moreover, Marvin's Ballinger, as Marvin himself admitted IIRC, to say nothing of Robert Stack's Eliot Ness, Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett, Mike Conners's Nick from TIGHTROPE, Broderick Crawford's Dan Mathews from HIGHWAY PATROL, and just about every other TV cop since DRAGNET debuted, carries more than a bit of Joe Friday's DNA.

    And if the spreading of DNA isn't proof of alpha male-ness, what is?



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