The pilot episode of Highway Patrol introduces Dan Mathews as the gruff, fast-talking, no-nonsense Chief of the Highway Patrol unit of an unidentified state. Up against Ralph Neal, a ruthless criminal who killed a guard to escape from prison, and leaves behind him a trail of scared and injured victims, time is of the essence as capture would become almost impossible once Neal reaches the big city.
In its very first episode it is already clear as day what has made Highway Patrol such a favourite among young audiences of the day. With its fast-paced dialogue and cuts, high-speed chases filmed from airborne cameras, and action-packed shoot-outs, it is much more hard-hitting than most other crime thrillers of the era. This is in a nice contrast with the desert plains in the background, which don't have the effect of giving the pictures an empty feel, but rather create a sense of total freedom. Anything can happen anywhere, and it seems almost impossible for a handful of Highway Patrol Officers to capture one escaped criminal amidst the endless roads and fields he hides out in.
A few of the cuts in the middle of dialogues feel very unnatural to contemporary eyes and ears-they just don't fit, as characters sometimes change position and tone several times during a conversation. But that's really all that would betray this program's age. The cars might be a bit faster today, the criminal jargon changed. But the raw facts and events that it ultimately all comes down to are still just as current.
As a viewer who was born some 30 years after this episode first aired, I could instantly see the charm and suspense that have made this show such a success in the 1950s, and I am very much looking forward to watching further episodes.