Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Case of the "Hostile" Witness?

The four season 6 episodes with guest lawyers are understandably not that greatly appreciated. After all, what’s Perry Mason without Perry himself around to take the reins?

Despite having seen Constant Doyle, I’ve balked at seeing the others (and those two from season 8 likewise). However, finally realizing that there was probably some good stuff I was missing (including scenes with Hamilton!), I decided to break down and try another.

And . . . well, I loved it. I felt it made much better use of the other main characters than Constant Doyle did. In that one, Constant and the other guest-stars were pretty much always the focus. The others were regulated to small roles, save for Hamilton (and he had some wonderful scenes). But in this other one, The Two-Faced Turn-A-Bout, everyone was there and had decent screentime. (Well, other than Perry, that is.) Even Tragg was back, and of course we know that in the later seasons, seeing him was quite a rare treat. He and Andy have an interesting exchange early on, as Andy complains about being assigned to a special detail on his first day off in a month. And we get to see them both on that special detail, as what happens is critical to the whole plot.

Overall, I enjoyed it so much that I looked up the other two infamous season 6 episodes to determine which one to watch next. And when I stumbled on The Surplus Suitor, an intriguing bit of dialogue on the page immediately answered that question.

Hamilton Burger: Well Miss Street, having you here just as a witness for the prosecution is a rare experience for both of us.

Della Street: I'll try not to be hostile, Mr. Burger.

Hamilton Burger: Well... That would be a rare experience too.

I think that’s probably the most interesting exchange they’ve ever had. Canonical interaction between them is so hard to come by.

And here’s where I show just how much I enjoy analyzing even the smallest thing. When I watched that part of the episode (I didn’t have time for the entire thing right then), I found that Hamilton’s response to Della’s “hostile” comment was a quiet aside. I don’t think he meant for anyone other than Della to hear it. And he sounded rather awkward and uncomfortable when he said it. Della, I assume, is just making a quip on the idea of being a possible “hostile witness.” Hamilton seems to clearly mean much more. It could be interpreted one of two ways: either Della really does treat him hostile in general, or he feels that she does, regardless of her intentions.

Which is it? Good question, perhaps one only the fans (or Barbara Hale herself) could answer. There is certainly a coolness in the air whenever Della is called as a prosecution witness. Sometimes it’s when Perry’s been up to some of his law-bending and Hamilton is trying to get confirmation from Della on what happened. Naturally she doesn’t want to get Perry in trouble and is unhappy about being called.

But on the other hand, outside of scenes in court, Della seems quite congenial towards him. Her telephone conversations, albeit only heard on her end, don’t appear to hint at hostility. She seems outright friendly at the end of The Purple Woman. Perhaps she’s a bit coy in The Reluctant Model during this exchange:

Hamilton Burger: What’s that?!

Della Street: This, Mr. Burger, is a canary.

Hamilton Burger: … Well, ask a stupid question….

But she still doesn’t seem hostile.

Hamilton could have very well gotten that vibe from her over the years, though. Things started out with him frustrated over Perry’s law-bending and Della steadfastly loyal to Perry, so naturally that would create some friction. But it all smoothed out later, making Hamilton’s aside in The Surplus Suitor all the more intriguing.

I rather suspect that Della does not feel hostile towards him and does not mean to treat him as such. But that doesn’t mean Hamilton doesn’t honestly think it.

And there’s also the possibility of off-screen interaction that could have furthered Hamilton’s thoughts. I wonder if Della could have ever got angry with Hamilton, say circa season 1, and actually bawled him out. It’s highly unlikely, especially if she knew Perry would not want her to do it, but an angry Della is a very defensive Della. To that end, there is some chance of it.

In any case, that little exchange certainly opens up a channel I want to explore in a fanfiction story.

And oh my goodness, there’s something else I just realized. Della is willing to talk to Hamilton even if she doesn’t actually have to, such as in The Purple Woman. Paul, by contrast, is routinely silent. I think he only ever talks to Hamilton when he’s called as a witness. Even when Hamilton is right in the room in The Lover’s Leap, Paul talks around him. (“Why don’t we just give him the anchor?”)

EDIT: Correction, Paul does seem to be talking to Hamilton in the epilogue of The Fickle Fortune.

Although to be fair, Paul usually seems to be smiling and fairly relaxed when they all meet under peaceful circumstances. And he doesn’t seem at all the type who would put on airs or pretend to be enjoying something if he isn’t. Whether he actually continues to feel as on the rocks towards Hamilton as he usually did in season 1 is still up for debate. It’s certainly something that continues to puzzle me.

With so little to go on where both his and Della’s feelings towards Hamilton are concerned, it really forces one to try to read between the lines of what’s available. But for me, I’m up to the challenge. Some find analysis difficult. For me, it’s part of what makes things fun.

Lesson learned—even with very little Perry, episodes can be very worth watching.


  1. First of, I love the absentee episodes. Like you, I was so skeptical about them (Constant Doyle aside because I love Bette Davis and it always thrills me to know that she became friends with Barbara Hale afterwards) but there was no need. Apart from the young lawyer, I liked all in-coming replacements. And I didn't mind them because I knew they were only temporary. Besides, Perry was in the shows Ray Burr couldn't shoot because of the scenes they prepared beforehand. Now that was great.

    I also think that the three episodes following Constant Doyle made better use of our beloved supporting cast. Being an advocate for more Della Street screen time (like in s1), I was thrilled to see more of her (and another side of her, too).
    In all honesty, they even did a great job working around Barbara Hale's month off. And I was really dreading those episodes when I first saw them some time ago. But actually I liked them, too, because they did make a better use of Gertie, mentioned Della and thus gave her absence a backstory. That I really appreciate. I just don't like when regulars are not used and it's not explained why (although it makes me happy to know the actors got a week off). And there were a couple of episodes that just didn't have any Della at all - which may be a false impression because most of those episodes were in the later seasons that have not yet been released on DVD. And we all know that they cut some scenes on the reruns and IME that often affected my darling Della.

    1. I should really watch Constant Doyle again and see if I still have the same restless reaction to some of the scenes. When neither Bette Davis nor any of the main cast were in a scene, I was sometimes bored stiff.

      I definitely love that they fit Perry into all of those season six episodes!

      I was lukewarm about the episodes in season 7 without Della, too. But I've seen them all (I think) and liked them alright. I saw The Frightened Fisherman again the other day.

      I loved that Della's absence was explained, too. It is indeed annoying when a regular disappears for no apparent reason! Like poor Tragg. I still wish they would have mentioned him, keeping his character alive even though they couldn't show him.

      I think I've seen those other episodes without Della, as well. And I think I've seen them uncut and can say she wasn't there at all.

  2. Oh, I forgot - I never perceived Della as being hostile towards Hamilton Burger. She was miffed at times when Tragg was pressing her for evidence or information, but never in a resentful way. Like you suggested, I always understood it as her deep loyalty towards Perry which then also makes me smile at her little conversation with our fave DA about not being hostile for a change (on the stand that is). :o)

    1. Indeed. I can't help thinking that Hamilton may have perceived her as being hostile (and not just on the witness stand), since he mumbled that aside and really didn't seem to want anyone else to hear it, but that wouldn't mean that was Della's intention.