The Lost Last Act is one of those episodes I never quite know what to make of. The general consensus about it, that it’s cheesy beyond compare, is true. And yet . . . dang, it’s fun and sweet. I have this feeling that I’ve mentioned some things about it before, but I don’t know if I went very in-depth, since I can’t find a tag specific to it.
Milton Krims, the writer, seems to be capable of penning both cheese and heavy drama; he co-wrote the heartbreaking war picture One Minute to Zero (in which William Talman has a very large role).
It seems that pretty much every Perry episode involving the stage is kind of cheesy/over-dramatic/what-have-you. I guess that’s not really much of a surprise, since theatre people are often said to be such. Oddball dialogue abounds in other theatre-centric episodes such as The Ancient Romeo, The Dodging Domino, and The Simple Simon.
So in this episode we have a group of people reading an awful play. The storyline is dark and hopeless and the characters are one-dimensional and have no love or life to them. I have to admit, I’m curious to know more about them and the details of the play.
The writer is insistent that he won’t change anything about the first two acts, and is bewildered and outraged to discover that the third act is missing. But he says he’ll just write it over again. Only he isn’t given the chance; he’s murdered that night, and in an eerie scene that perfectly parallels a scene in his play.
Stacy Harris, in one of several Perry roles, is the defendant. He’s an interesting and colorful sort of fellow who comes across as a bit hoodish, but has made a completely honest living for himself. I didn’t manage to catch the scene on MeTV today, but if I remember right, he’s one of those rare ex-con characters who’s now going straight.
The press agent who appears throughout the episode is named James West, which highly amuses this Wild Wild West fan. CBS really seemed to like that name; I think there’s another Perry character who has it, too!
The court scenes are highly unique, including such bits as Hamilton ending up giving his opinion of the play via Shakespeare’s words: “It is a tale told by an idiot.” And on the more serious side of things, there’s that interesting and unique apology Hamilton makes to Perry and to the court, saying he hadn’t realized what Perry was trying to get at and that he’s willing for all matters concerning the Volponi death to be introduced, with the idea that the play is about that old murder.
The bit still leaves me scratching my head, even as I am excited over Hamilton’s apology. Perry never really makes it quite clear how the script connects with the Volponi death. He just gives some supposition, and a few scenes later, Hamilton is exclaiming pretty much the same thing. Perry retorts by reiterating the thing about the play being based on the murder and adds about the playwright’s murder paralleling a murder in the play.
I think what we have here is either really bad editing or a lack of quality control. I’d love to know if some stuff is missing that would have better explained Perry’s reasoning about the Volponi murder. And I’d like to know why Perry and Hamilton end up going in circles about that darned script and repeating nearly the same dialogue twice. Was the writer just having an off-day? Or were the editors messing around with things and attached two different versions of the scene into the finished product?
Milton Krims wrote eight Perry scripts, most of them in season 2. Then he popped up twice more, for season 4’s The Envious Editor and season 8’s The Sad Sicilian. And while I still can’t stand the very latter, I enjoy most of his other Perry ventures. I don’t even really mind the much-detested The Jaded Joker, because I love the friendship between the two main guest-stars. I rage that some of their interaction is what gets cut in syndication! (I will admit, however, that the whole bit of shoving the murdered man under the desk, and the reason for it, is just plain weird.)
Regardless, I don’t recall such confusing and repeating scenes happening in any of Milton’s other Perry stories, which makes me more inclined to believe that the fault is not the writer’s but quite possibly the editor’s.
The part where The Lost Last Act gets incredibly cheesy is, of course, where the play’s producer is on the stand. This is also where things are incredibly dated, as he’s actually managed to smuggle a gun into the courtroom (!) and tries to kill himself on the witness stand. He believes that his wife killed Volponi years ago, as she was Volponi’s girl and he didn’t want to let her go when she fell in love with the producer. And the producer also believes that she killed the playwright because the play was about that murder. But he tries to cover for her and says that he did it.
The scene is very intense in spite of the man’s over-dramatic lines about the gun’s limited vocabulary and how it has one word left to speak. Hamilton and Tragg get up in alarm when the gun is brought out, and Tragg tries to convince him to give up the weapon while the bailiff starts to move forward. Hamilton holds him back, apparently worried that any sudden move could cause the irrational man to fire.
Jim West, who has been in love with the wife for years, suddenly puts the pieces together and accuses her brother of the murders. He finally confesses, the gun is lowered, and the producer and his wife have a happy reunion. The producer thanks Perry for preventing him from becoming a “cheap and melodramatic anti-climax.” More very strange theatre talk, giving the clichéd impression that they can only think and speak in stage terms. But ignoring the odd choice of words, the scene is really sweet. I love the relationship between the producer and his wife, as depicted throughout the episode.
The tag has Tragg dropping in saying he was invited to go to the defendant’s burger place, as were Perry and company. Della mentions that there are flaming hamburgers on swords, which seems to absolutely appall Paul. Perry displays the supposed lost last act, which is blank, and Tragg says that Perry can eat the hamburger and he’ll eat the sword. Classic Tragg. I think Milton must have especially enjoyed writing Tragg’s dialogue; he’s also the one who gave Tragg the beatnik dialogue at the end of The Jaded Joker (unless someone else added it into the script later).
One very strange cut in the MeTV version is that I don’t remember the scene where Perry has the fake lost last act in court. If they really snipped that out, that is completely ridiculous! That part is really vital to the storyline, and without it, the bit in the tag makes no sense.
I’m usually simultaneously cringing at and enjoying this episode whenever I catch it or deliberately get it out to watch it. It’s definitely one of the most off-the-wall and badly edited ventures that I’ve seen, but I love it anyway.