Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Daring Decoy

I can identify a lot of the Perry episodes by title alone, but The Daring Decoy was not one of them. Such is the case with some of the season 1 episodes. However, there are very unique witnesses and plot elements in those early episodes that I sometimes remember them by. As soon as I realized the bookworm elevator operator was there, I realized what episode it was. I’d seen it several times and liked it alright, but overall it never really stood out to me as exceptional.

The Daring Decoy is fun, intense, and quite book-inspired. It’s kind of a jolt after Perry and Hamilton had several episodes where they were on better terms, especially The Empty Tin three episodes earlier. Then this episode comes along and Hamilton makes perhaps the most jaw-dropping comment throughout the series, when he tells Perry that if he had his way, Perry would be smelling brimstone through a nail-hole. Wow.

That’s probably the closest television Hamilton came to acting like his book counterpart. Everyone surely knows by now that I’m not too pleased with some of Perry’s law-bending, but nevertheless, that’s quite a harsh comment against him. Last year I never thought I’d have a reason to count this episode among my favorites, as the ones where Perry and Hamilton are extremely at odds like that generally never are.

. . . Then I discover that it’s the first of H.M. Wynant’s Perry appearances. And that he’s the main guest star. By the time I watch it all again, I’ve decided to give it a pass in spite of that cringe-worthy remark and the other scenes where Perry and Hamilton are on bad terms.

H.M Wynant has an interesting history of Perry episodes. I was incorrect about him never being the murder victim, and also never playing a really nasty sort. Tobin Wade in The Decadent Dean is one of the worst slimeballs in the series, I think. It looks like he really was friends with the titular dean and his wife, and then his greed turned him against them, even to the point that he manipulates the poor wife into drinking again and fakes his own death, framing the dean for it. Gah. He ends up dying for real later. And H.M.’s shady private detective character in The Tell-Tale Tap also bites the dust. In addition to them, he’s the killer in The Singing Skirt (which I have yet to see again, as it’s really not a favorite at all).

But his character in The Daring Decoy is very different. Daniel Conway is a good guy, a hapless businessman and company president who walks into a cleverly crafted trap and needs legal help.

He’s also very unique among Perry defendants. The early part of the episode focuses on him alone and not really any other guest characters. I only recall this happening in a couple of other episodes.

Has anyone noticed that most Perry defendants have either family members or friends somewhere? They generally come in and are important to the episode and to the interaction surrounding the main guest star. We learn a lot about who these people are, and their backgrounds, from the way they interact with those they're close to. But Daniel seems to have neither family nor friends; by all episodic indications, he’s a loner. His only ally, aside from Perry the company attorney and probably his secretary, seems to be a stockholder from Texas who apparently has a crush on him (which is reciprocated). He’s embroiled in serious conflict with a former member of the company’s board of directors, who may or may not have been a friend at one time.

Daniel is very good-natured in spite of all this trouble. He’s a kind and friendly person and a levelheaded businessman. Some loners are aloof or even grouchy, but not Daniel. He is surprised and bewildered when the Texas stockholder wanders into his office late at night and wants to know what he’s doing to protect himself in the conflict with Warner Griffith, but he isn’t curt or rude, even before he knows who she is.

Like many defendants, he doesn’t know quite what to do when he walks into the trap and finds a murder. He takes the gun, which belongs to the company, and tries to fool the elevator operator into thinking he’s just getting on at the sixth floor instead of the seventh. With her buried in a book, he’s sure he can get away with it. But she recognizes people’s shoes, and without ever looking up, comments on him walking down a floor before getting back on the elevator.

(And musing on this is suddenly making me realize something else fairly unique about Amory Fallon’s case. So many defendants actually stumble on the murder scene. Amory never even saw it. He was in the apartment house, but not Ned Thompson’s apartment.)

The elevator operator would be a fun character to bring back in a story sometime. She’s one of my favorite unique witnesses in season 1, along with the photographic memory fellow in The Fugitive Nurse. I wish they had both appeared in other episodes.

The conflict between Daniel and the former board of directors member, Warner Griffith, is something I’d be curious to explore in a story too. Griffith really seems to hate poor Daniel. Whether or not he really believed Daniel guilty is unknown. Griffith isn’t the murder victim, which is also unique. In many episodes, he would have been.

Also, I think I’d enjoy having Daniel meet Amory and comparing and contrasting them. I have material with which I hope to write a follow-up/sequel to The Malevolent Mugging; maybe this will all be a part of that.

The Texas stockholder is determined to do something to help. She goes to Perry, lying to try to craft an alibi for Daniel, and insists she knows he couldn’t be guilty. Perry knows she’s making things up and tells her that unfortunately, the courts won’t recognize women’s intuition as evidence. Perry eventually manages to sort the whole thing out, of course.

By the end of the episode, when the murder is solved and Daniel is acquitted, he’s hanging out with Perry and Della at the counter of a restaurant and grill (Clay’s?). The Texas stockholder, Amelia Armitage, shows up to check on him, congratulate him on his victory, and assures him of his re-election as company president. Her family owns 37% of the stock. Daniel remembers her from when she wandered into his office near the beginning of the episode and seems quite taken with her. Della wants to play matchmaker and see if she can arrange a “merger”. Perry scoots her out, to allow the two to get to know each other on their own terms.

Della places Daniel’s age at around 33. Whether the age was deliberately picked or not, it does closely match H.M.’s real age at the time. Depending on when it was filmed, he would have been either 30 or 31. He was 31 by the time it aired in March 1958.

Overall, it's probably about the only episode where Perry and Hamilton are on seriously ill terms that I will now enjoy watching repeatedly. A main guest star I quite like goes a long way to make me receptive.

And I think I’ll go ahead and just put up the link to that Perry fanfiction website I’ve been working on. I have it pretty good right now, although I plan for actual paragraphs of information rather than just basic dossiers of the characters, and I still need to get up the section for the main characters. I’ve been having fun with the listings for oneshot and recurring characters first and foremost, as I want to make sure it’s clear what episodes they’re from.

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