Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Moth-Eaten Mink vs. The Sausalito Sunrise

I was considering getting this up on Thursday, but then I wasn’t feeling well and other things happened. I think I was able to devote more and better time to it now. And I’m hoping to get the schedule back to normal now! I have every intention of keeping this blog going.

I promised a comparison post with The Moth-Eaten Mink and The Sausalito Sunrise. I’ve talked a lot about the latter, but not often the former, except to briefly comment that I liked it better.

I imagine most people do. However, after reviewing both episodes shortly after each other, I’ve been having some differences in opinion.

The initial setting is different for each. I have no problem with either setting; the restaurant and the art museum are equally interesting places, considering the events that Perry and Della encounter at each.

In both, a young woman is in trouble and ends up hit by a car. She later disappears from the hospital and ends up with the man who knows her at her place of employment and has tried to help her. They both eventually end up accused of murder—one of the only times when there’s two defendants. (Other such times that I can think of are the remake, of course, and also The Elusive Element.)

In Mink, the titular mink becomes an object of interest, due to being stolen. In Sunrise, it’s the titular painting, and I’ve never seen The Sausalito Sunrise uncut, so I hope that when I eventually get to, there will be more explanation of exactly what the painting is and what its particular importance is (as opposed to the other stolen paintings).

One amusing scene opened up by the latter setting is Perry and Della at an art exhibit. They run into some bizarre modern art and some bizarre modern artists. Kooky artists are seen so frequently on the series that they probably deserve a post all their own.

An important event in both episodes is the unsolved murder of a policeman. But some of the details are intriguingly and intensely different. In Mink, Paul suddenly pulls the story out of the blue, showing it to Perry in a newspaper. The murder has been unsolved for an entire year. And now, suddenly, they have their first real break, with the murder gun being used again in the Moth-Eaten Mink case.

Contrast that with The Sausalito Sunrise, where it opens actually showing the events leading up to the poor policeman’s murder (minus the killer’s identity, of course)! It really involves the audience in the horror and tragedy and mystery of the case. It’s hard to get so involved in it in Mink, when Paul just brings up the matter and it’s little more than a newspaper story at first.

A month passes here, which makes more sense than a year considering the identity of the vengeful policeman looking for the killer, which is different for each episode. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The finding of the murder gun is also different. In Mink, Paul just so briefly mentions it. But in Sunrise, he is heavily involved in its discovery. He goes undercover as a trucker at the company where trucks keep getting hijacked. He goes up to San Francisco, nearly getting hijacked along the way and having to deal with a stowaway reporter who’s a friend of the murdered cop. While there, he finds the bus locker where the attacked girl’s art case is kept. The murder gun is inside the case and the police pounce, brought there by a mysterious anonymous tip about the case.

And hence, we finally come to the vengeful policeman looking for the cop killer. In Mink, the man is a character the audience has never met. He’s only around for that particular episode. He was the superior officer of the murdered man.

He’s also the killer. His vengefulness is all an act.

In Sunrise, the poor officer’s superior is still the killer, but he isn’t the one specifically depicted as vengeful. That role falls to someone the audience does know well, or at least, better than a oneshot character. His vengefulness is very real.

Once again, the later episode has done something to more deeply involve the audience. The vengeful sergeant in Mink isn’t really even seen that often (unless he has more scenes in the uncut version, which I don’t remember). A oneshot character can be very involving if they’re active enough in the plot, but this one just doesn’t seem to be. Hence, he’s not someone the audience is always consciously thinking about. He’s there for a scene or two, drops back into the background, and suddenly is coming after Perry after Perry starts to put together the truth about the guy being involved in assorted rackets and being the killer because the good cop found out.

In Sunrise, where the vengeful lieutenant is very active, frequently seen, and is Perry’s friend and a regular cast member to boot, it’s impossible to forget about him. One of the key issues to the whole plot is Steve Drumm’s quest to find the killer and Perry worrying about how bitter and vengeful he’s getting.

And this brings us to the climaxes. In Mink, Tragg is aware of Perry’s plot because Perry actually converses with him and brings him back to the office to wait with him. When the sergeant tries to shoot Perry, Perry knows Tragg is right there (although the audience doesn’t, until he starts to open the door). Tragg calls out, the creep whirls, shoots, and Tragg shoots back, hitting him in the arm. Furious and repulsed, Tragg snarls about how the honest police are trying to do their jobs and then slime like this guy comes along and makes a mess of his badge. He agrees with Perry to call an ambulance, but advises not to hurry. It’s totally one of Tragg’s best scenes, both the rescue and his subsequent speech.

In Sunrise, Perry has not told Steve of his plan. Perhaps he feels he can’t, with Steve so upset and angry, but also, he’s hoping that what he said to Steve during his cross-examination on the witness stand will get through and Steve will start to put the pieces together on his own. He does, and asks Della where Perry went.

The audience, however, knows nothing of this until after the fact (unless it’s a cut scene). All we see is Perry confronting the wretched dirty cop and the guy about to shoot. It really looks like Perry is done for (even though we know of course that somehow he won’t be killed). And suddenly, two shots ring out and the crumb drops dead. Only then is Steve seen on the stairs.

I adore the subsequent conversation they share, where Steve thanks Perry and Perry expresses amazement, since Steve saved Perry’s life. Steve elaborates that he’s thankful Perry kept trying to get through to him and finally got him on the right track about who the guilty party has to be—the policeman, managing to be on the case and cover up all the evidence wherever the good police would have normally found it. Steve wonders how Perry could put so much trust in Steve to come through, considering his angry and unthinking behavior. Perry says he knew he had the best thing in the world going for him—one good, honest cop.

Well, in the end, between Mink’s lesser involvement of the unsolved murder, the brief mention of the discovery of the gun, and the lesser involvement of the vengeful policeman, going up against very active involvement of all three elements in Sunrise, I kind of have to say, my tastes have swung more towards The Sausalito Sunrise. I prefer the more active approach and having a main character be the vengeful one. It certainly is a twist, though, to have the vengeful one in Mink be the killer. I don’t remember suspecting him at all the first time I recently saw Mink.

Most people are probably aware that The Moth-Eaten Mink was the first filmed episode, even though it aired as #13. And it is a true classic! Make no mistake about that. It’s one of my favorite season 1 episodes. It has very good interaction among the characters. Perry and Della and Perry and Paul get excellent amounts of screentime, and of course, Tragg gets to be awesome! That’s always something exciting. I just wish Hamilton had been in it more. He isn’t in Sunrise too much, either, for that matter, since the focus is more on Steve. Of course, I love that Steve gets the spotlight.

A brief difference in the episodes involving Hamilton is the judge’s attitude towards the way Hamilton wants to prosecute. Oddly enough, the judge in Mink is willing to consider Hamilton’s feelings that the murder of the policeman directly ties in with the more recent murder. In Sunrise, the judge refuses to allow Hamilton to bring in evidence for both murders and insists that he only focus on the policeman’s murder. Normally, I would think that the judge of the later episode would give Hamilton more latitude than the judge of a season 1 episode, but here, it’s just the opposite. Points for Mink.

One oddball thing about Mink is the epilogue. Perry, Della, and Paul are back at the restaurant and Perry is gratefully thanked by his friend for helping him and the girl get out of their mess. He asks about desserts and Perry says he’ll take anything … except a moth-eaten mink. It’s an amusing bit, and of course the mink was originally found at the restaurant, but it still sounds a bit strange, since a moth-eaten mink coat isn’t food at all. The show really does have some groan-worthy jokes sometimes, especially in earlier seasons. But that’s part of the charm.

And tomorrow marks the anniversary of Erle Stanley Gardner’s death in 1970, just several days after William Hopper died. It’s hard to believe that in 2013, it’s the 80th year of Perry Mason existing in some form or another. I recommend watching The Case of the Velvet Claws, since that story was the first book. Or if you have the book, heck, read the book. I still plan to have a look at the books if I can track some down locally, despite my displeasure at how Hamilton is handled. Perry wouldn’t exist without the books, and even those of us who prefer the television series should always keep that in mind.

Thank you for another wonderful year of Perry, Mr. Gardner!

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