Thursday, April 12, 2012

Special Request: The Case of the Nervous Neighbor

While I find the latter half of season 7 mostly average (the first half is chock-full of wonderful episodes, by comparison), it has a couple of episodes that stand out a great deal. One is #18 in the season, The Nervous Neighbor.

This episode should be familiar to anyone who appreciates Hamilton. If it isn’t, I hope they can see it right away. It’s very fascinating and unique in many aspects, with the general plot as well as with Hamilton’s actions.

We begin with a case of Paul’s, which is the first lesser-seen approach. And it’s not just any case of Paul’s, but a case that has made him very angry. He was hired to find Charles Fuller’s mother, by the worried son himself. In the process of discovering her, Paul has also discovered that she is wanted for killing her husband. He is furious at being used and refuses to become an accessory to harboring a fugitive. He agrees to take Charles to see her only if he promises to call the police after thirty minutes. Charles is not pleased, but consents.

As it turns out, his mother Alice has a complete loss of memory after being found in Nevada with a serious head injury. She can’t remember her own son, let alone that she was supposed to have killed her husband after she was pushed and hit her head during an argument. And an anonymous party has already called the police. Shortly after Paul and Charles arrive and Charles is left stunned by Alice’s state, Andy arrives to arrest her.

Charles works for the company his dead step-father and Alice had both been part of. The company’s other partner wants him to see that Alice is pled Guilty, certain that, being an amnesiac older lady, she would only get a suspended sentence. He’s concerned of all the dirty laundry that may come out if a hearing and trial get underway. Some of that dirty laundry involves Charles himself and some false accusations that he embezzled from the company. But Charles insists on having Perry plead Alice Not Guilty anyway.

During the hearing Perry wishes to put a well-known and widely respected neurosurgeon on the stand before Hamilton has finished presenting the prosecution’s case. Hamilton, knowing that medical testimony is vital to the case due to Alice’s injuries right before the murder, agrees. The doctor describes how Alice’s skull and brain were both badly damaged from her fall against the stone hearth and says that she could not have been conscious of her actions when she struck out and hit her husband with the fire poker. And her injuries were such that her loss of memory will be permanent; there is no re-growth of brain cells. The other doctors questioned in the case have said that they would defer to the neurosurgeon’s opinion. Hamilton moves for a dismissal of the charges, feeling that to continue would not advance justice any.

The accusations about Charles’ supposed embezzling does come out in the hearing. Following the dismissal, he and Alice are both bothered by a junior partner seeking to take over the entire company. This unscrupulous fellow manages to manipulate Alice into signing over everything that should be hers, so he won’t make Charles’ embezzling public. Enraged, Charles goes over to have it out with him. Alice fears what might happen and calls Paul in a panic. When he goes over, Charles is not there and the junior partner is lying dead.

Of course Charles is accused and arrested. And it’s while he’s talking with both Perry and Hamilton at the jail that the most intriguing and different scene of the episode happens.

Charles is a very impulsive, quick-tempered man. He insists over and over that he wants to testify on the witness stand. Perry doesn’t think it’s a good idea at all, particularly with Charles’ nature. He asks if Charles has ever been on the receiving end of a cross-examination before. This gives Hamilton an idea. Even though it would really be to the prosecution’s advantage to have such a short-tempered defendant on the witness stand, he doesn’t want to see Charles do something stupid. He puts Charles under a rigorous example of what his cross-examining would be like and within moments gets him to snap. “Yes, I hated him and I wanted him dead!” Charles screams. “But I didn’t kill him!” Hamilton looks him straight in the eye and asks if he stills wants to testify. “I suggest, Mr. Fuller, that instead of doing what you want to do, you should think about doing what your lawyer thinks you should do.”

The rest of the episode concerns unraveling corporate scandals and proving Charles innocent. While investigating at the elderly community where Alice is staying, Paul makes friends with one of the older ladies and promises to dance with her some time in the future. Hamilton is present again as Perry eventually picks apart the intrigue going on at the company. And the guilty party is revealed in a set-up of Perry’s, during perhaps one of the most intense and chilling confession scenes outside of court. Alice ends up nearly being killed for her bluff about knowing the truth, whereupon Perry appears and wrenches the murderer’s arm back to keep her from stabbing Alice. The murderer, I think, definitely ranks among the most frightening on the show. The complete turn-around of her personality, especially when she acts saccharine with a fake smile and a noticeable bite to her words, is chilling.

The epilogue is sweet and shows Perry, Della, and Paul attending the fund-raising event the elderly community has set up. A woman’s choice dance starts and Della opts to dance with Perry. Paul’s friend returns to have the promised dance with him.

I remember seeing the episode years ago on my local station. Last year I was reminded of it after starting a discussion in the Perry Mason Yahoo Group. Upon discovering it again I found it to be every bit as amazing as I had in the past.

Hamilton is just wonderful in it, from his compassion towards Alice and his desire to dismiss the charges due to the complex circumstances to his interrogation of Charles. He manages to show Charles, in the most effective way, just how foolish it would be for him to take the stand. I love that, as always, he’s more concerned about seeing justice done than allowing something to happen that could cause the trial to become biased and unfair (even if it would almost surely net a win for the prosecution). And it shows us a side of Hamilton we don’t often see—a sort of “tough love” part of his personality, harsh but ultimately serving the ends of kindness. I wish this had come up again in the series.

Paul also gets some good moments in this episode. An angry Paul is a rare thing, and he demonstrates here that being used is one of the things that will definitely set him off. His friendship and dance with the elderly woman is sweet, too. Paul is certainly a gentleman.

Once I’d seen this episode again for the first time in years, as well as every succeeding time since, I discovered more reasons to love Hamilton. The Nervous Neighbor is one of the most important episodes, both overall and in the later seasons.


  1. When I first came across Perry Mason on a local station, many years ago, I didn't take much notice of Hamilton. Until they showed this episode. That interrogation scene left my mouth hanging open and made quite the lasting impression on my young mind.

    Watching it now I appreciate something else about the scene. Hamilton is there to talk with Charles about possible plea bargains, going so far as to offer to consider voluntary manslaughter. Plea bargaining is a huge part of any real-life prosecutor's job but it rarely comes up on the show. I like seeing this slightly different side of Hamilton's duties; I also think it serves to further demonstrate that he's not the conviction-mad throw-the-book-at-'em hard-nose of the novels. He makes a completely reasonable offer, outlines the consequences of refusal, and proceeds based on whatever Charles decides. Doing his job, no malice involved.

    1. It is such an amazing scene!

      Hamilton interested me from the first time I saw the series. I remember thinking he made a good foil for Perry. I think I started in having a crush on him back then, too.

      Oh, you're right. Plea-bargaining comes up a few times, but not often.

      And oh dear. Hamilton is that bad in the books? I knew he was stubbornly against Perry and never really changed on that front, but I didn't realize he was a stereotypical prosecutor in those other ways too. I'm disappointed in Gardner for going that route, if so.

    2. If you're ever bored and want a laugh, read the summaries of the novels, especially the scenes where a prosecutor is present or even just discussed. Those guys are described and portrayed so outrageously by Gardner that it's hilarious.

      By the way, have you seen the Youtube videos of the Perry Mason cast on Stump the Stars? Great fun!

    3. That's terrible. And then I guess Gardner did the opposite in that short book series with a district attorney as the protagonist. It seems like he just didn't know how to portray both sides fairly at the same time! Sometimes I find it amazing that he allowed the writers to expand on Hamilton's character at all.

      I looked for the YouTube videos of that some time ago and couldn't find them then. Since, I got the 50th Anniversary DVDs and there's a segment like that on there. Do you know if the YouTube videos just have that footage or if they also have other scenes that segment didn't show? The segment on the DVD has them each acting out a charade and the others trying to guess. I burst out laughing several times while watching it.

    4. I'm guessing it's just the footage from the DVDs, but I don't have them so I can't say for sure. There's no video showing William Hopper's turn; hopefully that will get posted eventually as I'd love to see it.

    5. Hopefully it will! His turn was fun.