Thursday 31 October 2013

Dragnet (1987) and Ghostbusters (1984)

Friday, with a chill dog, Streebek with salad
For four months now, it's been established that as soon as we had some hot-dogs in the house there would be an evening of hot-dogs and 'Dragnet', a reasonably enjoyable comedy based on a very sober old-time radio police-procedural of which I'm tolerant, even fond.

The great novelty of the original is that tries to present a realism, with characters umming and ahhing and making irrelevant or domestic conversation, just like in the real lives of police officers.  Time is taken while people walk from one side of the office to the other.  Joe Friday, the cop at the series' heart is not flamboyantly adventurous or heroic, he's a serious-minded public official doing his job.  It was the first radio series to be so dry, earnest and factually-based, so its main appeal in recent years (if I may call 1987 a recent year) is as an object to be parodied.

Friday and Streebek undercover as typical criminals
In this movie, Dan Akroyd plays Joe Friday, the nephew of the radio original, but very much the same in character.  He's obsessively precise and disciplined, and takes no time for fun, so his world is shaken up when he's partnered with the wise-cracking Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks), who is, by his standards excessively liberal.  I'm inclined to think Hanks overplays his role, making Streebek rather more manic than is needed: the concept for the film seems, originally, to have been pairing a ridiculous character with the intensely serious Friday, but Akroyd is too warm, and Friday too fun, to be a straight-man to Hanks's Streebek.  Indeed, Friday is so odd that he would have better been paired with somebody a little less hysterical.  Too often Hanks seems to be trying to steal the scene, where he could more profitably have shared it.  Akroyd is too good and too subtle to let his scenes be stolen.

In no time the two find themselves embroiled in a web of crime, a vast network of villainy known as P.A.G.A.N., criminals who engage in orgiastic dancing while wearing majestic goat-leggings and chanting 'kill the good', who impersonate police officers and seem to be linked in some way to the charismatic clergyman Jonathan Whirley, a fine performance by Christopher Plummer, who happens to be one of the actors I most like to watch.  It's a wonderfully clear-cut world of good and evil, and it knows it.

Oh, and a couple of weeks later we watched:

Ghostbusters (1984)

...which it seems only reasonable to mention at the same time, it being another fine eighties comedy with Dan Akroyd in a leading role.  If you haven't seen it, I shall explain in brief: there are some ghosts and some people who bust the ghosts and you should certainly watch it today as it is an embarrassing hole in your education that will be enjoyable to fill.

But of course you've seen 'Ghostbusters', and isn't it excellent?  I really haven't a word to say against it.  It was just the thing to test out the new television (the old one having perished of old age), and I could watch it again tomorrow, if this Penciltonian project wasn't pressing me toward less familiar years.

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