Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Case of the Screaming Woman


I didn’t have the chance to see Perry Thursday night, so I decided to watch the uncut version on my DVDs. I was rather disappointed to discover that the episode aired was not The Substitute Face, but The Screaming Woman. I mixed up their placements. It’s been ages since I’ve seen the uncut Substitute Face, a favorite season 1 episode, but it’s also been ages since I’ve seen The Screaming Woman in any form, so I adapted to that and watched it.

Usually I seem to either deliberately avoid that episode or circumstances strangely crop up and prevent the watching of it. Mary K. Davis, the murder victim, is one of those who really makes me rage inside. This viewing, however, I wasn’t as bothered as in the past and it certainly made for easier viewing.

The title is one of those that makes very little sense to me. I wonder if it makes more sense in the book? Who’s screaming? The only person I saw screaming in the episode was the murderer in the climax. Perhaps that’s what it refers to, although that seems a bit odd. Usually the title refers to some occasionally obscure but always important thing that happens in the case long before the climax.

I was completely surprised by the murderer’s identity; it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I had entirely forgotten. She seemed such a sweet girl, it’s hard to imagine her being the guilty party. I wonder what happened to her. Hamilton decided to go for second-degree murder instead of first, since there was a fight. But I wonder if murder was ever intended at all and if Mary K. Davis could have instigated the fight. I wouldn’t put it past her. I wonder if the killer could end up getting off with self-defense. I kind of hope so, mostly because I felt so sorry for her boyfriend.

And this episode is certainly an eyebrow-raiser for legal-bending and even breaking. Perry and even Della do quite a bit here that is blatantly illegal, albeit they try as always to use little loopholes to get out of it, such as Della never actually saying she’s Mary K. Davis when she answers the door to accept the package.

Della’s little adventure, by the way, is certainly one of the most intense scenes involving a main character in the series. The door opening and the intruder’s silhouette on the wall, holding a gun, makes it clear that Della is in danger. Even knowing she gets out of that okay, I still tense up every time I watch that scene.

I have mixed feelings on the destruction of the record book. On the one hand, it’s good that a lot of other people won’t have to be dragged into the mess, hurting the children involved. But the book is evidence in the trial and it’s still appalling that Perry encourages the doctor to throw it in the fire, even though he doesn’t outright tell him in words to do so.

I also have mixed feelings on what the doctor was doing. I agree that there are a lot of wonderful people who should be able to raise kids, perhaps even if they don’t quite meet all the requirements that the adoption agencies set up. But getting a kid illegally doesn’t seem a very good start for parentage. At least it wasn’t done with “baby brokers” and other alarming black market criminals, but still.

I was rather glad that Perry was appalled and didn’t seem to agree with what they were doing. And I found it an intriguing element when Perry and the doctor discussed the ethics of killing Mary K. Davis. The doctor seemed to feel that it needed to be done, but that he should have done it and not his nurse, while of course Perry drew the line at any such thing being done by either one of them. “I do understand, Doctor; I just don’t agree” is one of my favorite Perry lines, especially from season 1.

And the infamous fake Dictaphone cylinder. What to say? That was one more blatantly illegal move, whether it was done just to draw a confession or not. Wouldn’t it have worked just as well for them to play the partially unbroken cylinder? Or did Perry worry that the confession wouldn’t come before it was revealed that none of the incriminating evidence had survived on the broken cylinder? Actually, there was the same gamble with the fake one they fixed up, since it only had a sentence or two more than the real one.

I wondered if there was any significance in the cylinder sticking while trying to play it, but there didn’t seem to be; it was just a slightly amusing bit of reality thrown into the scene. Alternately, I wonder if it wasn’t in the script and it really did stick, but William Talman ad-libbed and they kept it in!

It was kind of surprising to see Della so gung-ho about all of the illegal actions, although it was good that she and Perry both fretted over her having to bring the book back to the office. I was amused by Paul’s horror over their subsequent decision to write on the envelope, but at the same time I rather agreed with him. Sometimes Paul is apparently the only one in the office against doing legal-bending activities.

On reflection, I suppose even in later episodes Della is quite all for doing whatever has to be done, no matter whether it’s quite legal or not. The Weary Watchdog, and Della’s involvement in her friend’s problems, comes to mind. Even though Della wasn’t told that someone had been hurt and might be dead, she surely knew that what her friend was asking her to do in driving the car could result in a sticky problem. Her snarky, fake-innocent exchanges with the police certainly show she knew what she was doing. She got in the wrong car by mistake, ignoring the luggage, and somehow got the car started with the right key? Oh yes, how very logical. Not. I liked that Perry was so upset about her doing that, and about the friend deliberately involving Della in the disaster.

I’ve curiously wondered now and then how Perry (and now Della) would get along with Simon Templar, a.k.a The Saint. Naturally they wouldn’t agree with some of the extremes that book-Simon goes to, but as far as the basic idea of doing some rather law-bending things to achieve justice, I’m not sure they would entirely discount the ideas, especially considering some of the shenanigans they do in season 1 (and in the books). After the review of The Screaming Woman, and thinking on Della’s behavior in The Weary Watchdog, I’m especially curious as to how Della would react to Simon.

It’s very obvious throughout the series how much Della admires and looks up to Perry and yes, even loves him (although what kind of love is up to the fans to guess). In season 1, I’ve been noting how she seems to support Perry and believe that whatever he does is justified, due to his motivations. To that end, she reminds me a bit of book-Simon’s girlfriend Patricia Holm (albeit Patricia is more extreme in her views and feelings than even book-Simon, which is certainly a difference between her and Della). But it’s interesting that Della behaves that way, instead of trying to steer Perry away from law-bending activities. That is apparently Paul’s role and is something he generally has very little luck with.

The Screaming Woman has a lot of intense courtroom scenes, and while on the one hand it was a bit amusing for Perry to keep finding technical ways to object to Hamilton’s examination of Della, it was also exasperating. I really felt for Hamilton and his frustration. I love the scene after court when Perry says that he’s sure the next day Hamilton will do things right.

As always, season 1 proves interesting for seeing what the characters were up to in their younger years. And the storytelling is always so twisty and suspenseful and tight, the product of Mr. Gardner’s books in a way none of the other seasons are. I was thinking while watching the episode that it is something I miss in later seasons. But I still love how the characters mature later, so I always look forward to that when starting over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Books that never had episode counterparts


MeTV has released some teaser trailers for their Fall schedule. I am absolutely ecstatic over some of them; among other things, we’re getting CHiPs, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Baa Baa Black Sheep! Oh my goodness. So much wonderful Simon Oakland! Plus, Mission: Impossible is returning at long last. It totally belongs on MeTV; I wish they had never tried removing it.

As of right now, I have no knowledge of how the new schedule will affect Perry, if at all. My guess is that the morning episode will not be returned, but I don’t know. I also guess that Ironside will not yet be returning. I really wish they’d bring Ironside back, especially because I’m nuts about Joseph Campanella and really want to see and record his four guest appearances.

And speaking of actors, I was definitely stunned and saddened by James Garner’s passing this past weekend. I can’t think of any connections he had with the main Perry actors, albeit he did have repeated interaction with some of the marvelous Perry guest-stars. He certainly had a talent for humor and making people laugh. I’ve heard he was also an excellent dramatic actor, but I don’t think I’ve seen any of his more serious roles recently enough to really assess them. (Unless Marlowe counts, but his interpretation of that character was a lot like Jim Rockford.) It would have been interesting to have pitted one of his characters against the Perry or even the Ironside cast. The closest we can ever come to that is the fact that I feature Steve Drumm and Sergeant Brice in my Rockford Files fanfiction story and Jim Rockford has some level of interaction with them. James Garner was definitely one of the remaining greats from a bygone era of movies and television. He will be missed.

Also, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to look through a list of the Perry books and make a tally of how many were not made into episodes, using Storrer’s fabulous site. Out of 82 books (two published posthumously), 16 were not made into episodes. The first of those sixteen, The Golddigger’s Purse, didn’t even appear until the third set of ten, published in the 1940s. The second, The Crying Swallow (hmm, intriguing title) is from the fourth set of ten, and the third, The Irate Witness, from the fifth set. Then there isn’t another episode-less book until the seventh set, with The Stepdaughter’s Secret. All of the subsequent twelve books were never made into episodes. For the record, their titles are as follows:

The Amorous Aunt
The Daring Divorcee
The Phantom Fortune
The Horrified Heirs
The Troubled Trustee
The Beautiful Beggar
The Worried Waitress
The Queenly Contestant
The Careless Cupid
The Fabulous Fake
The Fenced-In Woman 
The Postponed Murder

Some sound intriguing, while others downright amuse me. Careless Cupid?

I wonder why several of the older books were left untouched by the series and all of the later ones? The eighth set of ten were written partially while the series was still ongoing; did they not want to adapt novels written that recently? When the series first started, they were okay with adapting some of the ones written right around that time, including The Daring Decoy, The Screaming Woman, and The Long-Legged Models, all first season episodes based on books published within months of the episodes’ release dates.

Perhaps later on, they were coming up with so many ideas of their own that they weren’t as keen on adapting many more of the original novels. In 1963, they were finishing up season 6 and going on to season 7, two seasons that definitely didn’t have many book-based episodes. Season 8 continued the practice by only having minimal book involvement, and then by season 9 they decided the thing to do was to remake some of the book-based episodes they had already done, instead of adapting some of the remaining books that hadn’t been used. I can’t fully complain, as I definitely adore at least one of those remakes (The Sausalito Sunrise from The Moth-Eaten Mink), but I do wonder why they were so interested in remakes when there was still fresh source material they could have used!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book: The Caretaker's Cat


So I’ve had a certain curiosity over The Saint books, since they’re all being reprinted, and I decided that it would be a good time to take a closer look at some of the Perry books. I don’t like reading books online, but last year I found what seems to be a Russian site with several out-of-print Perry books available to read (in English): http://www.e-reading.ws/bookbyauthor.php?author=21005 I posted the link then, but didn’t actually look at much of anything (save for a bit of The Singing Skirt).

Last week I decided to try The Caretaker’s Cat. I didn’t read the whole thing, but I read enough to get quite an interesting picture of it! I then skimmed through the rest, the information about it on Storrer’s site, and watched the episode on my DVD set.

The episode is one of my favorites, so the book was quite a shock by comparison. It reminds me of when I talked about how some of the old Nancy Drew books were changed so completely in revisions that they became entirely different stories. I kept that in mind while going through The Caretaker’s Cat book and was able to enjoy it on its own merits.

As to trying to describe how the two differ, though, oh wow, where to begin? One pretty much has to throw out the entire storyline of the episode; the book is another story altogether. Even the characters’ names are different; the only one whose name remains the same is the nurse.

One weird change is that the main family name is Laxter. It’s Baxter in the episode. Why such a minor change? Did they think someone would make silly, crude cracks about the name Laxter sounding like laxative? Heh, that’s something that might happen today, but I’d be surprised if anyone was concerned about that in 1958, since such remarks just did not happen on television back then.

The book opens with the grouchy old caretaker (certainly nothing like the nice Asian-American man in the episode, but an amusing and colorful fellow) coming to Perry because following his boss’s death, one of the heirs is trying to force the caretaker to get rid of his cat or the poor thing will be poisoned (ugh!). Perry decides to take the case and there are several quips about him defending a cat. Coming to think of it, that reminds me just a bit of The Golden Oranges and the dog Hardtack.

I don’t recall anything about a plan to test the heirs by faking a death, something that was so key to the episode. And while of course that whole plan was bizarre, it made for quite a unique and fun episode. In the book, however, there was a different intended test, to show Winifred how the men in her life would behave if she were disinherited. And the faking of the death element came about because Peter Laxter realized there was going to be an attempt on his life, so he planned to bring in an already-dead body to burn in the house.

There are two more deaths in the book. The poor caretaker ends up being killed. Later, Edith DeVoe the nurse is killed. I was skimming the rest of the book by that point, but I believe Winifred’s fiancĂ© was the defendant. Interesting indeed, since he didn’t have a very big part in the episode.

The caretaker was killed by one of the heirs and Edith DeVoe having a plot, similar to the episode. But then Edith was killed by the supposedly dead boss Peter Laxter in self-defense, when he tried to investigate his caretaker’s death and realized she was involved. Peter finally confesses to that and comes out of hiding; Perry says he’ll defend the man if prosecution happens.

The best thing about the book is that the cat is absolutely vital to the case and the solving of the murders, whereas in the episode he is barely present and the only real connection he has with the case is the fact that he was removed from the house before the fire. I’ve often complained about the cat’s lack of screentime in the episode. In the book, the cat is walking around the courtroom, meows at Perry and others, and jumps in Winifred’s lap! Aww. The cat’s breed is also different; Erle Stanley Gardner seemed to be partial to Persians and both this cat and The Careless Kitten, book version, are Persians.

I love how Mr. Gardner writes the cat’s actions. He seems to have a fondness for cats in general and enjoys writing about this one. Clinker, as he is called here instead of Monsoon, is sweet and friendly and purring. Although it’s said that there aren’t many people he likes, he seems to like the main people he interacts with in the book, including Della.

I imagine Perry/Della fans are absolutely enamored of this volume, since for some reason they’re pretending to be newlyweds on a honeymoon! It seems to be at least partially in order to question a priest, but I’m not sure why they persist in the ruse after that.

One thing that’s both amusing and exasperating is that many times, the author will use the full name of the character (Perry Mason, Della Street, etc.) in a sentence when it really isn’t necessary. It doesn’t happen every time, as I was once told, but it does happen fairly often. I was also told that the reason might have been because Mr. Gardner was paid for each word, so he tried to get as much money out of each book as he could. Ha!

One thing that I did not like one bit is that there was quite a bit of swearing just in the few chapters I read all the way through. Nothing really harsh, but even more mild words irritate me when overused.

When he doesn’t swear, I am highly amused by Perry Mason actually saying “Gosh.” That is not a euphemism I can easily picture television Perry saying!

I am confused and happily surprised over Hamilton being present in the book. I thought I was told that he didn’t appear until around book 12, but this one is book 6 or so and he was also in the one before it!

I actually liked him in the scene I was reading, to my surprise. He tells Perry that he’s a good lawyer, but then adds that Perry is a better detective than a lawyer. And he doesn’t want to do anything that would make it look like Perry is making a cat’s paw out of him. But he listens to what Perry wants and decides to exhume the body burned in the house. He seems fairly amiable and mentions that he has a horror of prosecuting an innocent person. He doesn’t sound at all like the sort who would “pass up three murder convictions” to get Perry arrested on a charge of littering! Hopefully book-Tragg was just exaggerating when he said that strange thing.

Overall my experience with the book was pleasant and it definitely makes me more eager to read more of it as well as other books in the series. I doubt I’ll ever prefer them to the television series, but I do love having more than one medium to enjoy a franchise on, so if I can enjoy the books alongside the television series, all the better.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Memoriam: Ray Collins


I have just become aware that the many novels in The Saint series are being republished. About half are out now, with the other half due at the end of the month. With so many, it was definitely a good move to publish in chunks instead of just one or two at a time.

Armed with this intriguing news, I started wondering if there might possibly be some activity on the Perry Mason book front as well. So I went to look. It seems some of the books are now available as Kindle editions to be downloaded? If anyone likes the idea of E-books and has a Kindle, it would be worth looking into. Me, I still prefer traditional books.

Some of them appear to be available in hardback editions in addition to E-books, and they seem to be shiny and new, as they are offered by Amazon proper and not just in the Marketplace. The paperback versions, unfortunately, do not seem to be getting republished. Hardbacks are lovely, but so expensive! I did see at least one paperback that appears to be available new, The Horrified Heirs. It’s an edition from 1995. The title amuses me more than it probably should.

I believe I heard that The Saint television series adapted every one of the original novels in some way. That information might be incorrect, but in any case I’ve been curious more than once over why Perry didn’t do the same thing. The Horrified Heirs is one that was never a television episode, as are quite a few others.

Not that I’m complaining, really; I greatly enjoy most of the screenplays that were not books first. But I just wonder why they didn’t want to adapt all of the Perry books.

With the 11th as the anniversary of Ray Collins’ death, I have been planning a Tragg post. It’s been a great deal of fun re-watching his scenes in season 1. He is one of the best things about the early episodes: snarky and cynical, always with a hilarious quip or two for Perry. But, being a very three-dimensional character, he also shows a very gentle and compassionate side when needed. The Fugitive Nurse is one of my favorite examples of that, as is season 4’s The Loquacious Liar. He speaks so kindly to the widows of the murder victims, showing definite awareness of their feelings and their fragile states.

I find it interesting how often Perry turns to Tragg when he needs help from the prosecuting side. At this point in time, he apparently knows or at least feels that he cannot go to Hamilton for such help. Perhaps he honestly doesn’t want to, either, as I recall him saying in one season 1 episode that he deliberately left Hamilton guessing about the identity of the murderer because he wasn’t about to admit that Hamilton had been right about something. I think it might be the footprints episode? That one should be coming up soon, but I can’t remember its name.

Anyway, it shows an interesting bit of apparent pride on Perry’s part. He’s not just a squeaky-clean victim of Hamilton’s wild accusations. Sometimes the accusations are at least partially deserved, and sometimes, it would seem, Perry can be a bit petty and just doesn’t want to do anything that nice towards Hamilton (although I suppose it could be argued that Perry’s reasoning is that he thinks if he admits Hamilton was right on something, Hamilton will become all the more overconfident). But the problems between them are on both sides.

Tragg is right in the middle of it all. On the one hand, he works closely with Hamilton on putting the cases together. He’s on the prosecuting side and to that end, is Perry’s adversary. On the other hand, even when Hamilton isn’t that willing to associate with Perry any more than he has to, Tragg will sometimes just drop in for a little visit during or after a case. He respects Perry and is intrigued by how his mind works, whereas Hamilton is endlessly frustrated by such—albeit even in some early episodes he shows a certain interest for how Perry solves some of the cases.

Perry reciprocates by trusting Tragg at multiple times and sometimes taking him into a confidence. A large part of The Silent Partner involves Perry and Tragg working together on the puzzling case. Of course, there’s also the epic climax of The Moth-Eaten Mink, with Perry telling Tragg of his suspicions off-camera and bringing Tragg back to the office to wait for the confrontation with the murderer. And there are several other occasions in the early episodes where Perry drops in at Tragg’s office or calls him for assistance on a particular matter or to present a theory to him.

One of my favorite elements of the series has always been Perry and Hamilton’s friendship. But Perry and Tragg really have a great one too, and one that shines quite some time before we see Perry and Hamilton’s really begin to grow.

It’s true—Tragg’s quiet disappearance from the series left quite a lonely gap. The episodes are definitely missing something without him there. Perry doesn’t match wits and barbs with the other police like he does with Tragg. I love the others dearly, but naturally they can’t fully replace such a unique and wonderful character. I’m still very glad the writers didn’t even attempt such a thing and took a different path for the others. Really, there can only be one Tragg for this version of Perry Mason. Ray Collins just took on the role so beautifully and immortalized the character.

Dane Clark did very well when he tried playing Tragg in the 1970’s remake, making the character his own. Luckily, he didn’t struggle to emulate Ray Collins. That would have been a disaster. Ray Collins was one of a kind, a true individual. And when Perry fans think of our beloved Lieutenant Tragg, it is almost always Ray Collins’ interpretation in our minds.

Ray Collins left us on July 11th, 1965, but the characters he brought into existence live on.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Returning to The Moth-Eaten Mink


About a year and a half ago I wrote up a comparison post between The Moth-Eaten Mink and The Sausalito Sunrise. I have to admit, my feelings from that post still stand. But I watched Mink again last night and came away with some additional thoughts.

Of course, one thought that always persists is that Tragg is awesome in this episode. It’s famously the first one filmed, and he’s right in top form, making classic quips (Perry: “Will you do me a favor?” Tragg: “Probably not, but ask anyway.” Ha!), not letting himself be made a fool of, and getting to rescue Perry in the climax. It reminds me of how involved Tragg is with several of the early episodes, including The Silent Partner. I do miss that level of involvement in subsequent episodes and seasons!

(And I really wish making Tragg sound like an idiot on the witness stand hadn’t started happening with increasing frequency as the show went on. In these early episodes, he really is sharp as a whip. At least on many occasions; I’m still cringing at the end of episode 3, even though Tragg is adorable in it.)

He isn’t quite as intense as Steve in Sunrise, as he’s able to wound the bad guy in the arm instead of killing him. Perhaps Tragg had a different trajectory or perhaps the writers thought it would be better for the guy to live so he could be tried and executed. Or perhaps they didn’t want to open the series with the murderer dying in a shootout, since that wouldn’t be standard fare and they wouldn’t want to give the impression it would be. Curiously enough, the character does die in the book.

I wonder if they knew from the start that Mink would not air first despite being filmed first. If the first eight episodes in a season are always supposed to be the top sellers, I think they definitely should have included Mink as at least one of those eight, if not the first. It’s always been one of the standout episodes to me, and judging from what I’ve seen from other fans, many feel the same way.

Tragg and Steve have different perspectives on the truth of a policeman being behind the murders and other crimes. Tragg’s repulsion and disgust is probably among the most memorable scenes of the series, and his reply to Perry going to call an ambulance: “Yeah, call an ambulance. But don’t, uh, hurry.” It’s not a life-threatening injury, apparently, and Tragg wants the guy to suffer a bit after all the suffering he brought to others.

By contrast, Steve is stunned and sobered, saying it almost seems unbelievable. He’s a young lieutenant, definitely not having been on the job as long as Tragg has, and this may very well be the first time he has encountered corruption on the police force. Tragg, underneath all the amusing barbs and jokes, is actually quite cynical and all too familiar with things like police corruption.

Somehow it strikes me as slightly unbelievable for the crooked Sergeant Jaffrey to own the hotel that plays such a large part in the events of Mink. I imagine it really isn’t, since I would assume the idea is that he bought it with some of his ill-gotten gains. But still, imagining a current police officer actually owning a hotel strikes me as seriously amusing in its preposterousness. It seems that he surely would have been recognized sometimes, by people other than the poor young officer he killed. I suppose he was generally in the shadows and didn’t often come out. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that Sunrise handled the matter of the police officer’s crooked ventures a bit more believably.

Overall, while Mink and Sunrise have a few strikingly similar plot elements, they’re really quite different episodes, so much so that I think they can definitely be enjoyed independent of each other. It’s certainly nothing like the lack of creativity that happens when a script is adapted for a remake almost word for word and scene for scene, such as The Bionic Woman’s reworking of The Six Million Dollar Man episode Survival of the Fittest or Mannix redoing its season 1 episode Skid Marks on a Dry Run almost exactly in season 6. Almost all of the Perry remake episodes have a lot of unique elements going for them. The writers have to be given points for figuring out how to weave the existing plot elements into a largely new story.

I somewhat feel that the different approaches between Mink and Sunrise have a lot to do with the times in which they were produced. Mink, in season 1, is when the series was fresh and new and they were just trying to find their footing. Shows of the time didn’t often have characters that branched out beyond being the archetypes they were created to be. Hence, Perry isn’t generally an exception and season 1 is much less likely than later seasons to heavily involve the characters in the plots so that their personal feelings come out. Generally it’s the guest stars who carry those parts of the plot, while the main Perry characters serve their purpose as archetypes of the legal drama. They’re fun and enjoyable to watch, but we don’t really know a lot about their personal lives or feelings, which is how Erle Stanley Gardner wanted it and how in large part it remained for a lot of the series.

Of course, there are exceptions in every season. I think The Sun-Bather’s Diary may have been the first Perry episode to seriously involve the main characters in the goings-on, although there it’s by having Perry get into serious trouble as has been threatened on him from episode 1. Season 3, when everyone is a lot more comfortable with the characters and the show, is when they first really start to branch out and try stories where the main characters carry a large portion of the action, such as Paul Drake’s Dilemma, where a main character other than Perry is in trouble, and The Prudent Prosecutor, where a main character other than Perry has a friend who’s in trouble.

I always like it best when a show delves deeply into character interaction and relations and feelings, instead of just leaving them more as unreachable archetypes. Season 1 feels, in many ways, detached, although there are interesting jaunts such as The Sun-Bather’s Diary and Perry’s extreme distrust of his client in The Fan-Dancer’s Horse being an important plot point. But I definitely think that by the mid-1960s, it was much more common for shows to depict more about characters’ feelings rather than often keeping them as archetypes and Perry followed suit. The characters opening up and being more accessible happened with increasing frequency as the show went on, which is probably another reason why I’ve come to love the later seasons so much. The characters develop and mature and are admittedly more serious later on (although they really haven’t forgotten how to laugh), and the number of episodes involving them as focal points of the action increase.

One thing that must be remembered, however, is that while season 1 may not have had episodes with the main characters other than Perry being central to the main conflict in ways like The Prudent Prosecutor or The Hateful Hero do, season 1 is glorious for giving equal screentime to all of the Core Five and there are some wonderful scenes of interaction between Hamilton and Tragg and Hamilton and Perry especially. Also, there are scenes of Perry taking Della investigating, which doesn’t happen as much in later seasons. So there are things about every season and era of the show that I highly enjoy.

It is interesting, how Tragg never really had an episode specifically devoted to him (Mink comes close, but it’s not expressly Tragg-centric), but by season 9 they gave the policeman character more than one episode that seemed rather centric to him. Perhaps in one way it was too soon after introducing the character to show him having a dark struggle as he is in Sunrise. That’s the sort of storyline you might expect after seeing a character for several seasons. But perhaps after all the neglect they gave to Andy, they were trying desperately to make up for it in any way they could think of. And while I imagine some people could not get attached to the character after so short a time, I’m definitely not among that number and I thoroughly love what Sunrise did.

Of course, the new character is not the only one to be strongly highlighted in Sunrise. Paul also is very involved, even getting into danger while undercover with creeps trying to run him off the road. This is another type of thing that was unlikely to happen in earlier seasons, but by season 9 they were all for it. I really like seeing more of Paul on a case and the trouble he runs into. It makes Sunrise feel very involved instead of somewhat detached.

At the same time, I appreciate Mink for what it is and love this early glimpse into an intense plot that climaxes with a main character in danger. I think it holds up very well as a great representation of the series as a whole as well as season 1 in specific.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Case of the Final Fade-Out


One of the season 9 episodes my local station keeps is The Final Fade-Out. Often I try to avoid it when it’s on either that station or MeTV, but I’ve really meant to sit down and watch it through once again. Since I was working the night MeTV had it on and I only caught the last half of it, and since the local station’s copy was going to air shortly, I decided to watch the latter airing in full.

Or as full as I could get, anyway. The blasted thing decided to run an emergency test right during one of the scenes I especially wanted to review! I don’t know why they always do that. Without fail, it happens during Perry. Why can’t they schedule it for the time in-between shows? I was happy I have the episode on my 50th Anniversary set to be able to look through later.

Anyway, after watching the cut version and filling in the blanks with the uncut just now, I’ve determined that my basic feeling is still the same. It’s not the greatest send-off for such a long-running series, but it has some fun scenes and bits.

One of my favorites is right after the murder, when Steve and Brice show up to question everyone. That’s when a lot of the real Perry crew gets to cameo, I think. This part is extended in the uncut version. It’s neat to see some of the actual crew on-screen finally. I wonder if the parts they had in the episode were the same roles they had in reality (key grip, best boy, etc.)? We even learn a little of what the crewmembers do. I was as clueless about a key grip as Steve was, but it sounds like they have a pretty important part in things.

It’s also neat that the crewmembers got to interact with Steve. More screentime for him, yay! And Brice handles some of the questioning too. It’s always good to hear him talking.

And I still love the epilogue. I had momentarily forgotten that Hamilton was unable to stammer out a real apology and had to have Steve do it, so I was thrilled that Steve had that one final bit of screentime. Season 9’s “Core Five” all have something to do in the last little scene, very fitting for the end of the series. I also love how the very last bit is Perry and company looking over the information for their next case. The show is ending, but the characters’ lives are continuing off-screen, and things in the Perry world march on just as they should.

I do find it a little sad that since Dan Tobin’s character is also a central part of season 9, and is credited as such, he does not appear in this last episode. I wonder why they couldn’t figure out how to work him into a little scene.

I also wonder a bit why Della doesn’t have more screentime. Perry, Paul, Hamilton, and Steve all have quite a lot to do, but save for one scene where Della interacts with Paul, and the epilogue, it seems that Della is mostly quiet in the background. That’s often her role, but I would have thought that she’d be given something more to do in the final episode.

And honestly, of course murder is not a solution to a problem, but sometimes some of the victims really do act like they deserve it. Barry Conrad is such a teeth-grating, obnoxious, arrogant wretch. It’s awful how he cons Jackson Sidemark and criticizes the aging movie star who gave him his break. He’s so sweet to her face and then acts so horrid behind her back, even while she continues to think he genuinely is sweet. He refuses to even work with her!

Barry is likely one of many commentaries the series did on how real actors can behave atrociously. I really couldn’t feel that sorry for him when he was shot dead on-set.

The episode is certainly unique in that there are two murders, two defendants, and two hearings—and that the defendant in the first becomes the victim in the second. Very tragic, really. He just thought he was free of the murder rap and then he solves the case and is murdered himself because of it.

Denver Pyle turns an excellent performance, as always, as Jackson Sidemark, the first defendant and second victim. I’ve really been impressed with his dramatic work on Perry, and although bumpkins like The Andy Griffith Show’s Briscoe Darling are amusing to watch, I far prefer to see the more serious characters. He certainly was talented, to be able to play both comedy and drama so flawlessly!

Also of interest is Jackie Coogan as the prop man who is even willing to perjure himself to try to clear Jackson’s name. I wonder if the two spoke and he was able to tell Jackson why he lied on the witness stand, since the way he did it made it look like he was trying to get Jackson convicted. Instead, he knew about the pictures Perry had that would show he was lying, and he hoped the case would then be bounced out of court, which is exactly what happened. I was about to say it was sad that Jackson died without knowing the real motivation, but then I remembered the guard commenting that he wondered why Jackson let the prop man on the set after the hearing and I wondered if they could have spoke then. It would have been nice for Jackson to have known that the prop man remained a true friend, albeit a misguided one.

And speaking of the incident in court with the prop man’s perjury, that brings us to what has always been my main complaint about the episode: Hamilton suddenly snapping and accusing Perry of being in on the plot.

Actually, Hamilton’s grilling of the prop man and being furious over the perjured testimony is pretty awesome. It reminds me of how he really tears into some witnesses in season 9, especially the creep in The Fatal Fortune. I love to see him become outraged over someone misusing the court.

But the scene stops being awesome when he suddenly and out of left field accuses Perry of being involved and becomes fixated on that idea. Of course, it’s something that happens often during the series. But it lessens or outright stops for a while, adding to my exasperation that it returns off and on in season 9.

In previous posts I said that my specific complaint with the outburst here wasn’t so much that Hamilton accused Perry again, but that he seemed to think Perry was deliberately trying to show him up and make him look ridiculous. Upon reviewing the episode again, I didn’t quite have that impression, but rather, was simply exasperated by the return of the wild accusations in general.

It really does seem to come out of nowhere. Of course, Perry has orchestrated many eyebrow-raising stunts, many of which Hamilton knows about or suspects, so on the one hand it makes sense for him to present the accusation. On the other hand, since aside from some season 9 episodes the accusations have largely been in the background, the sense of it all seems to get lost. Adding to the confusion of it popping up again at this point and in this way is the fact that there have been other witnesses that perjured themselves and while Hamilton was furious about them, he generally didn’t accuse Perry of being involved. So what causes him to think it this time?

There’s also the question of what causes him to calm down again, since he remains upset after court and is so upset that it makes Steve flee from his presence. That’s definitely worse than usual. But during the second trial he seems quite docile, even when objecting to things. It isn’t just following the second trial that he calms down, even though it’s only then when he tries to apologize.

Perhaps since the wild accusations are such a large part of season 1 in particular, they wanted to have the final episode include the element once more. Or perhaps, as I speculated before, it was something Erle Stanley Gardner wanted, especially since he’s in that episode.

In any case, it does make for a tense situation. When Steve says he had to get away, it’s a definite signal that Hamilton is far more upset than what generally happens. There may have been similar incidents years earlier with Tragg, but I don’t recall Tragg ever mentioning them and this is probably Steve’s first exposure to such a thing.

I do question why, with such a vicious confrontation in court, they decide to be rather anti-climatic by having Hamilton so calm the next time we see him, during the second trial. Perhaps, also as I speculated before, Hamilton doesn’t really think Perry was involved and was just extremely frustrated and upset over the unpleasant surprise in court. Once he has the chance to cool off, he gets over it and can get on with his life, just as in The Ice-Cold Hands.

Without any proof one way or another, however, this is one Perry mystery that will forever remain unsolved.

Overall, The Final Fade-Out is still not one of my favorite episodes, and probably never will be, but I do appreciate the good it has to offer and I love fun things like seeing the crew and Erle Stanley Gardner onscreen. Della should have been given a little more to do, but her screentime is enjoyable and key to the episode, especially the scene with Paul where they discuss examining the film—the thing that leads to the discovery of the true murderer.

The series started nine years prior with a bit of a different Core Five, but it persisted through two cast changes and ends with the current Core Five carrying on and on good terms with each other. That’s a nice thought to take away.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A return to The Scarlet Scandal


I need to make a better Wesley tribute post. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago, but then I got caught up with the other posts, took smidgens of my ideas for those posts, and then I couldn’t remember the rest of my ideas when it came time to write Wesley’s post. Plus, Wednesday was a busy day, I’d run out of time, and I was desperate to get something up while it was still his birthday. As it was, I didn’t manage to get the Tumblr tribute going (http://lucky-ladybugs-lovelies.tumblr.com) until the following morning. I have been thinking I might do a detailed Amory and Andy personality comparison post, if I haven’t already talked about that subject beyond a few sentences. With so many posts, I often forget exactly what I’ve talked about before!

I also want to do another Tragg tribute post. I’ll definitely be doing one in July, but I had wanted to do one sooner. Keeping it till July, however, will give me time to watch him in season 1 for a good while and hopefully gather material for a unique angle.

At six episodes in, he has been a delight, as he always is. His interaction with all the characters is gold. I would have loved if we had seen more of him interacting with Andy, and also to have seen him interact even once with Steve, the latter of which is something that sadly could never have happened.

My local station has been pledge-driving and that bumped their Perry episodes down farther. They’re still in season 9. (Or at least, still in the few season 9 episodes they still show.) And since Mom suddenly realized Mala Powers is in The Scarlet Scandal, she wanted to see it when the local station aired it. So we watched it (or I watched some of it, anyway; I was away from the TV for some of it) and I came away with a couple more musings.

Aaron Chambers, the ballistics guy for the small town, is awesome. The scene where Paul runs into him and they walk around the murder scene discussing the forensics of it is a lot of fun. Aaron’s reveal at the end of his identity is both amusing and a cringing “Ohh boy”, particularly when seeing Paul’s expression. As Paul says later, “I was only the second-best detective out there today.”

Perry often talks about the efficiency of the police, and forensics have always been an important part of the show dating all the way back to episode 1, but it really isn’t often that we get to see a character on the prosecuting side who is actively depicted as being so good at what he does that when Perry or Paul mentions him as being formidable, it’s totally believable. As much as I love Hamilton and the L.A. police and try to highlight their good points and the times when they are portrayed as efficient, with all the screw-ups they’ve been forced to make due to the formula, sometimes it’s hard to fully believe Perry when he talks about efficiency. Even as early as episode 3, Tragg comes to Perry wanting to know how he figured out a particular forensics element. Tragg’s reaction to the explanation is classic and hilarious, and endearing in how he’s ready and willing to learn something, but it doesn’t help much to make the police look competent that none of them thought of it!

Since Aaron is up on the forensics of the Scarlet Scandal case and actually does peg the correct murderer from the start, and it’s unclear if he personally ever switches to believing the girl is guilty instead, he might not run into the same trouble as the poor Perry policemen, always suspecting and arresting the wrong people. It’s both really cool to see a character like Aaron on Perry in general and to see him in a small town that might ordinarily be behind the times as far as modern forensics are concerned. It would have been great if he had turned up in another episode—as long as he wouldn’t have been alongside the L.A. police while on vacation in L.A. and made them look ridiculous with his forensics expertise. But since he was introduced in season 9, I doubt that would have happened. By season 9, they seemed to have the police as more up and doing forensics-wise, save for perhaps one incident in The Impetuous Imp when no one thinks of a bullet in the ceiling except Perry.

Later on in the episode, I was kind of irritated when Paul expresses worry about losing his license if he saws off the county property post Perry wants him to and Perry simply replies, “You’ll have to take that chance.” Paul is definitely right to be worrying about destroying county property! Good grief. I think this is perhaps one of the most eyebrow-raising stunts yet. (And one of the last, since the series ended soon after.) I appreciate that Perry is seeking justice for his client, but even if he is willing to run the risk for himself, he shouldn’t put it on someone else. It always has bothered me when he does that with Paul, especially since he knows how Paul worries about his license. I love that Paul’s response this time is to hand the saw back to Perry and say, “You’ll have to take that chance.”

Of course, since Paul’s execution of Perry’s less-than-legal plans has always been a key part of the formula, I imagine there are those who don’t like to see that element being altered in any way. But for me, I think it’s about time that Paul doesn’t just resignedly do every law-bending or –breaking thing Perry wants. I wonder if we would have seen Paul balk a little more if there had been a season 10?

Overall, I find it amusing that while I initially found The Scarlet Scandal to be quite a blah out-of-town episode, I have warmed up to it greatly. I think my next Amazon purchase should be the latter half of season 9, so I can finally see the rest of those episodes uncut. And that includes this one.

… Also, this is the 250th post. Sweet.