Highway Dragnet

Highway Dragnet is a 1954 film noir B film crime film directed by Nathan Juran from a story by U.S. Anderson and Roger Corman. The film stars Richard Conte, Joan Bennett and Wanda Hendrix.[1]

Highway Dragnet
Directed byNathan Juran
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Herb Meadow
  • Jerome Odlum
  • Additional dialogue:
  • Fred Eggers
  • Tom Hubbard
Story by
Music byEdward J. Kay
CinematographyJohn J. Martin
Edited byAce Herman
William F. Broidy Productions
Distributed byAllied Artists Pictures
Release date
  • January 27, 1954 (1954-01-27) (United States)
Running time
71 minutes
CountryUnited States


Jim Henry, former Korean War-era Marine sergeant recently discharged, is in Las Vegas to visit Paul (Frank Jenks), an old buddy from the war. While in a casino, Jim is in an altercation with former fashion model Terry Smith (Mary Beth Hughes) but they end up embracing. The next morning, while hitching a ride, Las Vegas police pick up Jim and take him to an apartment where Lt. Joe White Eagle (Reed Hadley) reveals Flynn's dead body, strangled.

The Lt. thinks Jim is a murderer but he claims his friend Paul, whose true identity is as a secret army agent, can back up his alibi. Panicking, Jim grabs the police man's service revolver, holds the police at bay and escapes in one of their patrol cars, shooting out the tires on another. Driving down Highway 91, Jim turns off the road, abandons the police car, changes his clothes and walks back to where he has spotted top magazine photographer Mrs. H. G. Cummings (Joan Bennett) and her model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix), trying to start their broken down car.

After Jim fixes their car, the ladies offer him a ride, however, before they can continue, Mrs. Cummings' small dog runs into the road and is killed by a passing car. When they reach the Apple Valley Inn for a photographic assignment, Mrs. Cummings and Susan invite Jim to stay with them. After their abandoned patrol car is found, the police set up roadblocks to catch Jim.

At the inn, when she finds a newspaper with a report of the murder including Jim's photo, Susan wants to call the police, but Mrs. Cummings stops her. She tells Susan that Terry Smith was the woman with whom her husband had an affair. He killed himself and Cummings is sure the police will suspect her of the woman's murder. Jim is later recognized, knowing the police have been alerted, he takes Mrs. Cummings and Susan hostage, steals a car and crashes through a roadblock.

With Lt. White Eagle and other units in pursuit, Jim drives across the desert but the car becomes stuck in sand, Mrs. Cummings grabs his gun and is about to shoot Jim when Susan wrestles the weapon away from her. Susan now believes he may be innocent. Later, after reaching his partially flooded house at the Salton Sea, Jim tells Susan that he has to reach Paul who can confirm his alibi. The next morning Jim tells Mrs. Cummings and Susan to leave, but Susan decides to stay as she has fallen in love with him.

In his house, Jim finds a note from Paul who had to leave on another secret assignment. Suddenly, Lt. White Eagle appears, trying to arrest Jim. Mrs. Cummings grabbing Jim's gun, shoots the lieutenant, and to cover her guilt, is about to shoot Jim and Susan when the gun malfunctions. Cummings runs away but falls, being sucked into a pit she thinks is quicksand. She begs Jim to rescue her, but he makes her confess how she strangled her husband's girlfriend with her dog's leash. The other police officers overheard her confession and a wounded Lt. White Eagle says that all charges against Jim will be dropped. Jim and Susan walk off together, arm in arm.



While working at the Dick Hyland Agency, Roger Corman sold his first screen story called The House in the Sea to Allied Artists for $3,500. Allied Artists changed the title to the more commercial exploitative title, Highway Dragnet, after the success of the television series Dragnet.[2]

Quitting his job, and joining the production as an unpaid worker, Corman ended up getting credits as a screenwriter and associate producer.[3] Portions of the film were shot in the Coachella Valley, California.[4]

The film was shot over ten days.[5]


The New York Times called the film a "second rate 'whodunnit'".[6] Recalling that Highway Dragnet "did all right", its success encouraged Corman to devote his career to work in cinema.[3]


  1. Highway Dragnet at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. Ray 1991, p. 23.
  3. Corman and Jerome 1990, p. 18.
  4. "Coachella Valley feature film production 1920–2011." Filming in Palm Springs (archived). Retrieved: September 25, 2017.
  5. Swires, Steve (April 1989). "Nathan Juran: The Fantasy Voyages of Jerry the Giant Killer Part One". Starlog Magazine. No. 141. p. 60.
  6. O. A. G. "Palace shows 'Highway Dragnet'." The New York Times, February 10, 1954, p. 8.


  • Corman, Roger and Jim Jerome. How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never lost a Dime. London: Lars Müller Publishers, 1990. ISBN 978-0-3945-6974-1.
  • Ray, Fred Olen. The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8995-0628-9.
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