Happy 56th anniversary to our show! I decided to post today instead of tomorrow because I did end up seeing The Defiant Daughter movie and I have things to say. (Actually, I may post tomorrow too. Who can say.)
The movie was definitely better paced than Perry Mason Returns. While the first movie kind of plodded along at parts, and seemed to spend way too much time getting to know Paul Drake Jr. and his quirks, this movie felt a lot more like an extended episode of the series (minus the majority of the original cast, of course). The action was fast and always relevant to the plot, which was tight and sharp and well-done. (In all fairness to Perry Mason Returns, however, being the first in the series, it did need to go slower to properly introduce things and set things up.) As The Defiant Daughter got going, the defendant and his daughter were introduced, the defendant got into a situation where he would definitely be the prime suspect in the eventual murder, the other suspects and the victim were introduced, the murder happened, the defendant was arrested, the daughter went to Perry for help, and the investigation commenced. Suspects were questioned, they went to court, and the investigator (in this case, Ken, who seemed more serious and less playful than Paul Jr.) kept digging for the missing witness and alibi.
The scenes where the daughter was being defiant were fairly cliché, right down to her insistence on helping investigate and ending up uncovering a clue that pretty much eliminated one of the suspects. I liked that Perry sat her down and gave her a talking to, telling her that they couldn’t focus on putting together the best defense for her father when they had to keep chasing her around and worrying about her. And I liked that the talk pretty much ended the matter. Sometimes I do get tired of the cliché of the kids who won’t listen and keep getting into things. As much as I love the cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures, for example, the defiant character Jade is often very frustrating to that effect.
Perry still seemed gruffer than on the series, but not quite like Ironside this time. And he did have a clear and genuine fondness for the girl in spite of the confusion she caused.
For the Perry/Della relationship fans (or “shippers”, as the term among the fans goes), there’s an interesting scene where Della was trying to get the secretary of the murdered man to open up and talk about the suspects. She appealed to how close the woman was with her boss and said that she’s been with hers for around 40 years. She also asserted that she knew exactly how it would feel to lose someone she’s that close to.
Me being a skeptic, however, the next scene immediately seems to dash the hopes of the shippers. Della told Perry back at the hotel suite that she wasn’t honest at all with the secretary. If Perry knew what she had said, one could assume she was teasing him with that remark, as Perry sometimes did with Della on the series. But since Perry did not know what she had said, it seems more of a straightforward comment.
Della could simply mean that she was lying about how long she had been with Perry, since of course the movies have that backstory that Perry and Della were apart for some time. Or she could mean that since she’s never actually lost Perry, she couldn’t really know how the other secretary would feel. She could even mean all of that and more, considering that she said she wasn’t honest at all.
In all fairness, she could mean that she felt she knew how horrible the secretary felt, since she cares about Perry so deeply and can’t bear the thought of losing him. But my conclusion is that the scene is too ambiguous to be terribly meaningful, especially in light of Della’s declaration of it all being untrue.
As with the first film, the policeman character was fairly generic. Since it’s an out-of-town setting, it’s a little more forgivable. But I like when the police have more of a presence than they had here.
There was a lot more time in court than in the first film, or at least it seemed that way. Some people never were interviewed on the witness stand, which made me wonder if something had been edited out or if they really weren’t questioned in court.
I can’t seem to get away from someone I like being the murderer! This time it was Kevin Tighe. I was happy, however, that it wasn’t Robert Vaughn. I was also glad that Robert wasn’t the victim (although Robert Culp, who was the victim, is someone I like as well). Wow, this movie was filled with guest-stars I’m familiar with.
The movie was also filled with little sprinkles here and there of it being a Dean Hargrove and Fred Silverman production. As with Diagnosis Murder, there were oddly humorous touches and a larger hint of the suggestive than with the original series. The most glaring was when Ken tracked a suspect to a hotel and apparently barged in on an affair. Nothing had happened yet, but she and the guy were sitting on the bed and he was in his underclothes. The guy then proceeded to punch Ken and he accidentally knocked into a cart wheeled by a maid, who indignantly reclaimed the passkey he had taken and didn’t even bother to ask if he was alright.
With the original series, I could imagine Paul maybe walking in on the people embracing or kissing (probably with both people fully clothed). But the scene Ken discovered would have been too suggestive for television in the 1960s. Since sometimes Diagnosis Murder boasted scenes far more eyebrow-raising than that, such as a segment in Flashdance with Death where Steve Sloan’s girlfriend does an extremely suggestive and vulgar dance while talking to Mark Sloan, it makes me wonder a bit what other unpleasant surprises might appear in the Perry movies.
Ken, and to a far greater extent, Paul Jr., remind me of the Diagnosis Murder character Jesse Travis. Jesse is an eager beaver, always wanting to help Mark investigate, and sometimes saying and doing some pretty crazy things to get it done. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any Jesse episodes (I’m one of the few who prefers his predecessor, Jack Stewart), and I might not be connecting a proper parallel here, but when I watched Perry Mason Returns, the scene of Paul Jr. trying to run off with the evidence to show Perry (right under the police sergeant’s nose!) made me think of Jesse and some of his strange adventures.
I really kind of prefer Perry to not feel like a Dean Hargrove and Fred Silverman production. Perry already had its own unique fingerprints and didn’t need some of the oddball quirks the movies introduced. On the other hand, since they did produce the movies, it seems only fair that they should get their personal stamp on them somehow. I just hope it won’t continue to be through suggestive scenes like what Ken ran into (especially if they’re played for laughs). One thing I love about the original series (and classic television in general) is not having to be on edge wondering if an off-color scene will pop up that I’d rather didn’t exist.
I think what excited me the most about the film was how well the basic plot and structure integrated into the Perry world, despite the early 1990s setting. It drove home all the more to me what I’ve always maintained, that Perry does not have to be set in a certain era (like the ’30’s or the ’50’s); as long as particular rules are adhered to, any modern time period works just fine. With the proper writing and cast, I think a Perry movie or series set in the 2010s would be wonderful and not lose the magic of the first series. But I highly doubt such a thing could ever be possible, since it seems that all television series in this era have to have some things in them that are highly unpleasant and offensive to encounter. Even shows that I more or less like, such as Monk and the afore-mentioned Diagnosis Murder, are that way on some level.
And of course, it’s highly possible such a venture would flop because of the cast. When characters become iconic in particular incarnations, people generally just don’t like seeing other people play them. Occasionally it can be successful, however, and I can’t fully shake my dream of a Perry Mason set in the present day. I actually like The New Perry Mason as far as plot structure went, and I even think some of the cast did a fine job. But naturally they could never replace our cast from the classic series. And of course, no matter how much I long to see what a Perry movie or television venture done right in the 2010s would be like, it could never be a proper replacement for the original.
Nor are the movies a proper replacement. They are a fairly fun addition overall, and I’m happy I enjoyed this one so much more than the first, but I’m once again anxious to immerse myself in the classic series. I think I’ll watch The Deadly Double, which I still haven’t got around to seeing uncut again.