Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mannix, season 2 episode 12: A very Perry-inspired case

This past week I happened to be watching an episode of Mannix, entitled Fear I to Fall. It’s a very intriguing episode, especially for a Perry fan. There are many parallels with our series. That’s not too surprising, either, since it was written by veteran Perry writer and story consultant Samuel Newman!

The plot concerns Mannix being sent an urgent message from a client and a plane ticket for New Mexico. When he flies out, however, he learns that the message came from the district attorney’s office, the “client” is a man who was murdered, and he’s wanted as a prosecution witness! The sheriff (played by Dana Elcar, later of Baa Baa Black Sheep) greets him by promptly slapping a subpoena in his hand.

The case involves a man who was killed during a robbery. The defendant is a known thief that Mannix tangled with in the past.

In court, the defense attorney makes a couple of amateur mistakes and ends up deciding she isn’t fit to defend her client. The judge decides that it’s such a grave matter for her to drop out that he will grant a twenty-four hour continuance so she can think things over.

The sheriff escorts Mannix back to the airport to catch a flight back to Los Angeles, now that he’s given his testimony. Mannix, still ticked off at having been called out on a pretense, slaps the subpoena back in the sheriff’s hand and decides to stay and find out what’s going on. Some things about the case don’t seem to add up. He knows that, despite being a thief, the defendant isn’t a violent man. Also, there’s a girl he was with who should be able to back up his story, albeit they haven’t been able to find her.

Going back to the defense attorney, he presents his case and encourages her to stay on it. Her father was a very prominent attorney in town, before his death in a car accident, and she feels she can never live up to what he was. But Mannix convinces her to keep at it and they continue the investigation together.

The case becomes very convoluted and heart-breaking when it looks like the celebrated lawyer was actually a blackmailer, tormenting the man who was killed during the robbery. I actually remember the victim’s name without going to look it up. But then again, it’s hard to forget a name like Dobby Dobson!

District Attorney Bartlett comes to them that night with a letter that seems to cement the blackmail angle. If they go to court, he regretfully says, he’s going to have to bring the letter out, no matter who gets hurt by it. The defense attorney, Phyllis, is conflicted. But in the end, she herself brings it out first, knowing that it has to be that way for justice to be done for her client.

When they go back to court, there’s also a very Perry-ish scene where Mannix and Phyllis demonstrate the way that the murder weapon would have had to be held to strike Dobby where he was hit. And they also demonstrate that, due to a twisted left hand, the defendant could not have done it that way. Bartlett tries to suggest that perhaps it was held in both hands, with the right one bearing the brunt of the weight. Mannix agrees that it’s possible, but says there’s a witness who can prove that the defendant is innocent. Like Perry, he’s hoping to scare the real murderer into action.

He adds a little touch to the plan by having Phyllis pretend to be the missing witness, whom they’ve continued to look for everywhere but can’t find. She calls the sheriff on the phone and says she’s scared of coming forward, but she wants to do the right thing. The sheriff says he’ll be right out for her. He picks up and leaves without so much as calling Bartlett to let him know.

Throughout the episode, I was worried that Bartlett would be the bad guy. I didn’t want that, for more reasons than one. Prosecutors take enough snide treatment from the media as it is. And when there’s a prosecutor played by Richard Anderson, well, I’m especially biased in his favor!

As it turned out, it’s the sheriff and the sheriff alone who’s mixed up in the garbage and murdered Dobby. He also framed Phyllis’s father for the blackmail. Bartlett has been let in on Mannix’s scheme and is there waiting with him and Phyllis when the sheriff shows up and tries to kill who he thinks is the missing witness. The sheriff hits a pane of glass in front of her instead. He tries to flee, but Mannix tackles him on the hood of the car and subdues him.

Afterwards, Bartlett questions Mannix as to why he wasn’t considered a suspect himself. Mannix explains the clues that led him to realize it had to be the sheriff, particularly how the sheriff was aware of things that only the criminal should know.

There were a few things going on during the court scenes that seemed a bit odd and probably would not have been permitted on Perry, although offhand I can’t recall the specifics. (Perhaps part of it involved Mannix being allowed to arrange the demonstration in court, although I’m not sure. Especially since he was considered an expert witness. It seems like it was other, smaller things earlier on.) Since Perry was praised in general for its handling of legal matters (aside from things such as the confessions), I would assume that it is the more accurate of the two.

Overall, though, I was highly impressed with the intense, twisting script and the characters. And Samuel Newman proved once again that he is usually kind to prosecutors by allowing Bartlett to be one of the good guys. Despite his unorthodox method for getting Mannix out there in the first place (due to fear that he would not testify if he was simply told the truth), all he wants is to see justice done. When he later argues against Mannix’s theories about the box, he’s only being a good prosecutor and wanting to make sure all the possibilities have been brought to the table. He definitely reminds me of Hamilton in some ways, from his courtroom style to his genuine kindness and his regret.

And to get technical, I wondered and still wonder if Bartlett was even aware of the way Mannix was brought out there. It was the sheriff who told Mannix about it. I can’t help pondering on the possibility that Bartlett requested the sheriff to get Mannix out there and didn’t know the way the sheriff chose to do it.

Of course, aside from the Perry feel of the script and Richard Anderson’s presence, there’s another connection between Perry and Mannix. Mannix himself, Mike Connors, was one of the fill-in lawyers for season 8, in The Bullied Bowler (which was also written by Samuel Newman!). The episode is generally disliked, to my knowledge, but I thought it was fine . . . despite the silliness of trying to have a bowling alley closed for being “evil”. That’s one argument I’ve never heard against a bowling alley before. Pool halls, yes. Bowling, no.

Speaking of Samuel Newman, does anyone know what the deal is with the Perry writer billed as Sam Neuman? Are they the same person? I know that alternate spellings do not always mean it’s a different person, and it seems quite a coincidence to have two Sam New(u)mans writing for the same show. Of course, it could happen, and Sam Neuman appears to have written a few things after Samuel Newman was dead. But then again, maybe it’s the same person and he just wrote those other scripts before he died and they were filmed posthumously?

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