Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Woeful Widower vs. The Fiery Fingers

The Woeful Widower from season 7 has several unusual things going for it.

(I’m also having the eerie feeling I wrote about this episode somewhere in the blog, even though I can’t find where….)

For starters, it’s one of only a handful of episodes (about nine total, I think) that’s a remake of a season 1 story. This one’s origins lie in The Fiery Fingers. I prefer this one. I like season 7 better than 1 in general, but in specific, I really like the way this one handled the plot.

The best thing about The Fiery Fingers is Perry’s interaction with the adorable but stingy old lady defendant. Perry is at his compassionate best as he accepts outrageous payments for his services without so much as uttering a protest. Of course, many kind-hearted people would probably find it difficult to protest, the way she comes on so certain of herself and the amounts she chooses. Perry ended up getting $30 in total ($5 for giving advice, $25 for defending her).

The person playing the same role in The Woeful Widower, that of the housekeeper tending to the invalid wife, is much less lovable. I thought something was a bit off with her from the beginning, the way she seemed so obsessed with her hatred of the husband and finding a way to show him up.

Perry doesn’t seem to like her, either, in contrast to his gentle fondness for the old lady in The Fiery Fingers. (In fact, the entire dysfunctional household in The Woeful Widower seems to thoroughly irritate and even anger him.) When she’s accused of robbery after having met Perry and told her wild story of believing the husband is going to murder the wife, Perry doesn’t want to defend her. Even after promising Mary Douglas, one of the only really normal people in the family, that he’ll help, Perry appears only as a friend of the court. And after he gets the case thrown out of court, he is displeased at the woman’s gleeful delight at the thought of suing the husband for malicious prosecution.

The invalid wife and her relationship with her husband is basically the same in both episodes. In both, she was hurt and blamed him for it, although the circumstances were different. And in both, she refuses to let him into her room ever after. He devises a plan to get her asleep with sleeping pills so he can sneak in and retrieve a pack of letters written to him by another girl he’s involved with on some level.

One interesting difference in the episodes is that while we see the invalid wife in The Fiery Fingers, she is only heard and not seen in The Woeful Widower.

The Woeful Widower gives us a look at a side of Perry we rarely see: when he really is wrong. Oh, in many episodes he suspects the wrong person for a while, but in The Woeful Widower he latches on to a suspect for the majority of the episode, obscuring his view of the big picture. He dislikes the husband thoroughly, certain that he really is the murderer as the housekeeper insists. Even when he doesn’t like the woman’s wild tales, he still puts stock into them, as he’s convinced there’s been a murder when he’s called for help shortly afterward. He’s very surprised to arrive and find the wife still alive and the household upset over the robbery. After the murder really does happen, Perry doggedly pursues all angles that would incriminate the husband, while meanwhile Andy says they cleared him long ago. It’s Mary Douglas who ends up accused of murder here, instead of the housekeeper again.

Perry’s determination to prove the husband guilty is never outright noted by characters in the script, but his feelings and intentions are quite obvious. It’s intriguing all on its own, but it would have added to it even more if someone, even Perry himself, had made some mention of how completely he was on the wrong path for a while.

The husband is quite a pathetic figure. He isn’t the (say, what’s the term for a male black widow? The kind of black widow that has a succession of spouses, killing each one, that is) murderer Perry is determined to prove he is. But he can’t seem to stop getting involved with women. With both wives dead under mysterious circumstances, and another girl around whom he seemed to be interested in, there’s always someone. He seems to be lonely, having ill luck with the women he chooses. And according to the third girl, Carole Moray, she just “felt sorry” for him and everyone did. She promises Paul that he will, too, eventually.

One thing both episodes have is Perry wanting to exhume the first wife’s remains to see if she could have been murdered, too. In The Fiery Fingers, Hamilton’s already seen to the exhumation by the time Perry requests it. In The Woeful Widower, it hasn’t been attended to, but the husband and Carole Moray are planning to arrange it themselves after Perry brings it up in court.

Harry Townes, the actor for Newton Bain, the husband, really did an excellent job with his character. It’s hard to think of this pitiful fellow as any kind of genuine Casanova, but I think that’s kind of the point. No one really fell all over him; like Carole said, they all felt sorry for him.

On the witness stand, it’s hard to tell whether he just feels sorry for himself or if he really does blame himself for things like his second wife’s injuries. And in the climax he finally shows a burst of anger, attacking the housekeeper in the house when he realizes she murdered both of his wives.

Perry has finally figured things out by then (apparently having done so sometime in court that day), and accuses her of the murders when he, Paul, and Andy rush in. She finally admits it. Her extreme hatred towards Bain is really because she loves him and can never get him to notice her. To him, she was just an albatross he could never get rid of. What a messed-up household.

Other players who flesh things out are the wife’s stepbrother and his wife. The brother is played by Jerry Van Dyke (sans the banjo). I can’t recall if they have counterparts in The Fiery Fingers.

I also don’t recall if there’s a counterpart for Mary Douglas, the main defendant. She’s played by Nancy Gates, and it’s a pity she doesn’t really have any interaction with Wesley Lau. They’re just wonderful when they play dysfunctional siblings on Bonanza.

The epilogue brings about Carole’s prediction. Paul comments that under the circumstances, it’s too bad the husband has to stand trial for assaulting the housekeeper. “In some ways,” he adds, “you have to feel sorry for a guy like that.” Mary looks at him in amazed and amused disbelief and exclaims, “What?!” Embarrassed, Paul takes it back.

Overall, I watch this episode semi-frequently. I enjoy its unique elements and intense plot. It’s not an absolute favorite, but it’s a fun watch. The Fiery Fingers I don’t watch as much, since overall I’m not as fond of season 1 as I am of later seasons, but I am curious to see it again now.

And I’m unsure what to do about a post next week. If I write one for Thursday, it will be right on Thanksgiving. Maybe I’ll try to write one the day before.


  1. "The best thing about The Fiery Fingers is Perry’s interaction with the adorable but stingy old lady defendant. Perry is at his compassionate best as he accepts outrageous payments for his services without so much as uttering a protest."

    Just a note that might add some fun to the next time you view "Fiery Fingers." I think the little old lady's name is Nora Mae, something I'd never remember, as I am horrible with names, if I hadn't just watched that episode last week.

    The actress who played that part was Lenore Shanewise. I don't know anything about her movie career (or if she actually had one at all), but she showed up occasionally in such roles, roles calling for interesting little old ladies, in a few tv series of the day.

    It turns out she was a very close friend of Raymond Burr, the friendship pre-dating his Perry Mason days, established back in the early days of his career when he was an aspiring young stage actor and she, a resident director of the Playhouse.

    She also appeared in a few episodes of his other hit, "Ironside."

    I suppose really good professional actors, which both of them were, don't play off one another any better or worse than they would other good actors with whom they are less well acquainted, but I might be wrong since there did seem to be a comfortable bond between Perry and Nora Mae!

    I enjoyed the episode before I knew of their friendship and enjoy it even more now that I
    know that tidbit so I thought I'd share it.

    Sorry I can't comment on the season 7 episode as it's been years since I've seen it.

    Oh, one episode in which Shanewise appears in "Ironside" is a really cute, offbeat episode in which she and her three cohorts, also little old ladies who belong to a brige club, steal the show.

  2. "It turns out she was a very close friend of Raymond Burr, the friendship pre-dating his Perry Mason days, established back in the early days of his career when he was an aspiring young stage actor and she, a resident director of the Playhouse."

    I meant to make clear she was a director at the Pasadena Playhouse and he a sometimes student, then a performer there.

    1. Thank you for your information! :) That really does add a whole new element to the episode. I really look forward to seeing it again now. And I'll have to look up those Ironside ones, too.