Happy Mother’s Day, everyone! Today, as promised, I am going to muse on Paul Drake’s Dilemma. But first, a brief follow-up on The Startled Stallion.
It’s interesting how the same scene can apparently come across differently to two separate people. I wasn’t bothered by Hamilton’s derogatory remarks (referred to as “snide” in the summary), at least not during the scene I was referencing. (Earlier on someone gave a false confession and Hamilton promptly accused Perry of setting it up. While some of the stuff Hamilton accuses him of has basis in fact, that doesn’t, so that was most unappreciated and strange.) Hamilton’s tone was quite calm and even, not really mocking or snide as it is sometimes. What he actually said was a comment on Perry’s antics seeming more suited to a country fair than a courtroom. I was kind of amused. (What Perry did there was rather shocking, although it certainly had the results he hoped for.) And the judge wasn’t reprimanding Hamilton, as I saw it. He just calmly said that the court had been informed of Perry’s plan. I was happy when Hamilton said that he was aware of that, still in a calm and mature tone.
On to Paul Drake’s Dilemma. It, along with The Prudent Prosecutor, was something I had longed to see for years, ever since learning of its existence from The Perry Mason TV Show Book. I’ll be honest in that I’ve never really been crazy about plots where someone in the main cast is accused of a crime and ends up in jail and on trial. For some reason, that’s one thing that tends to rub me the wrong way. I guess I hate seeing someone I really care about behind bars. (Although it’s not often as tense a situation on Perry as it is on more recent shows.) I made an exception for Paul Drake’s Dilemma, due to what I’d learned about how Hamilton behaves in it.
The episode concerns a hit-and-run accident, with the driver a son-in-law in a wealthy business family. Not wanting a lot of embarrassing publicity concerning the incident, the patriarch decides that they have to cover it up. And they’ll pay the widow off, secretly.
Frank Thatcher, the son-in-law, cooks up a phony story to feed Paul in order to get him to try to give the money to the widow. Paul falls for it at first, but after talking with the widow some of the puzzle pieces in Frank’s story fall out of place.
Now that he starts to realize he’s being used, Paul becomes furious. He seeks Frank out in the apartment of an old flame of his, an aspiring singer. Eventually they get into a fight, started by Frank. But the angry Paul says he’s glad Frank did that. He strikes back. Frank, however, soon clubs Paul over the head and leaves him unconscious on the floor.
Paul wakes up with a record playing over and over on the phonograph (a crucial detail later), the police pounding on the door, and Frank dead, shot twice with Paul’s gun.
Both Tragg and Hamilton are upset about the case. Tragg sadly wonders why Paul had to get mixed up in a mess like this in the first place. Hamilton tells Perry that, being a public servant, there’s not much he can do. He says this without Perry having said anything. And he is oh so clearly regretful and saddened. Perry is understanding of Hamilton’s position.
Perry and Paul have a wonderful friendship scene when Perry goes to talk with him. After Paul tells about what happened and the evidence stacked against him, including the fact that he has powder on his hands from recent shooting practice, he asks Perry if there’s anything else Perry wants to ask. The implication is that he wonders if Perry will ask if Paul killed Frank. But Perry just smiles and says the only doubts he has are what Paul will say when he sees the bill.
During the hearing Hamilton looks to Paul more than once, seeming to be absolutely agonized over having to prosecute him. Paul unfortunately remains deadpan, although at one point he looks away and then back again, possibly as though uncomfortable with Hamilton’s discomfort. Della, on the other hand, more clearly reacts to Hamilton’s feelings with her attentive expression.
The episode would have been a marvelous chance for a scene between Hamilton and Paul. They surely must have interacted; Hamilton had to talk with him before the hearing. But I’ve seen the uncut version of this episode and there is no such scene. I’m grateful for the silent exchanges between them, though. We’re left quite puzzled on Paul’s feelings, but Hamilton’s are apparent.
When he tells Perry to cross-examine one particularly damning witness, he speaks quietly and barely discernibly, just as he does many seasons later in The Positive Negative when he doesn’t want to prosecute the retired General. And while Perry cross-examines the apartment manager and scores a few points, Hamilton is in the background smiling and seeming to be enjoying it. When it concludes with the gallery laughing over the final point (concerning the shooting down of the manager’s faulty claim that he gets along well with everyone—except, it seems, his past four wives), Hamilton chuckles as well.
The episode winds to its conclusion when Perry points out the record being played in the murder room was a demo record and wonders how it ended up there. The singer’s manager finally confesses to the murder, due to Frank’s ill treatment of the girl through so many years. The girl, heartbroken, sobs on the railing of the witness stand.
One other source of disappointment to me is that Paul doesn’t have any speaking parts after the hearing starts, save for a brief conversation with Perry at the noon break. It’s Paul’s episode, and yet he doesn’t even appear in the epilogue. It almost seems as though the wealthy family is the real driving force behind the episode, as the epilogue involves Perry interacting with the patriarch.
It is a very good and rather chilling conclusion, as throughout the episode the man has been hindering the case and hiding evidence, believing that one of his children is the murderer. (He even buys the recording studio the girl is trying to sell her record to and then bribes her into refusing to help Perry and Paul as she previously said she would!) He calls Perry in the epilogue wanting to offer him a check. Perry tells him that even though Paul is “just a friend”, Perry never once doubted his innocence. (And they’re going to dinner. Paul will pay the bill and that is the fee for Perry defending him.) But this man is so far removed from reality that he believed every one of his children capable of committing murder. Perry tears the check in half and leaves.
I wonder if a subtle thing the episode tries to bring out is the good and bad of humanity. Not that every episode doesn’t do that to some extent, but it seems more prominent here, especially with that focus on it in the epilogue. We have the girl, who knows information that could help prove Paul innocent, refusing to help him because her career is suddenly at stake due to her recording studio being bought out. We have the wealthy patriarch, doing everything he can to not get his family name dragged through the mud because he doesn’t want bad publicity. And on the other hand we have Perry fully believing in Paul’s guiltlessness in the crime and Hamilton’s anguish over having to prosecute him.
(There are also shades of gray, in the murderer’s motive. His outrage over Frank Thatcher’s treatment of the girl, while not a justification for murder, still doesn’t rank him with the very worst of the Perry criminals.)
In spite of any flaws or things that could have been done different, the episode is well-written and amazing. And it’s a milestone episode in that we see how Hamilton reacts when really being faced with prosecuting one of these frustrating people he runs across time and again. It isn’t hard to believe that Paul would think Hamilton would gloat, especially after Paul’s vocal dislike of him in season 1. Instead, Hamilton’s behavior couldn’t have been further from that.
I’ve toyed off and on with the possibility of a short story involving missing scenes and unseen thoughts from that episode, particularly where Hamilton and Paul are concerned. After seeing the episode again I had enough inspiration to write it. It’s part of my current Livejournal writing project, and features Paul flashing back on the events while searching for Tragg in The Broken Ties. It will be posted there on the 21st, although I’m so pleased with it that it’s tempting to put it up today on fanfiction.net.