Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Case of the Deadly Verdict?

I feel like I’m going out of my mind.

I can’t believe that I would watch an incredible episode like The Deadly Verdict and not rave about it somewhere. I’m sure I did exactly that. I remember details such as my discussing the scene where Perry wanders through the mansion thinking about the trial.

But where did I say this? I can’t find any trace of it here or at Livejournal. I somewhat doubt I would have made such a post at a social meeting place such as the Yahoo Group. That only leaves a private conversation, and I was sure it was public.

Does anyone remember my making a post about this episode? I could have tagged it in a way that now it’s hard to find (although it seems like I should still be able to find it by going through the titles of the posts).

The reason I was thinking about it was because I saw it recently on MeTV and I wanted to make a post about some of my new thoughts, but then I couldn’t find any trace of a previous post to see what my first thoughts were, in order not to repeat myself.

It definitely stands as a shining example of what the show could have been had it been able to stray from its formulaic roots more often. Oh, of course Perry still triumphs in the end, and surely we would want him to since the client is innocent, but there’s a level of urgency and intensity to get there that isn’t usually present.

It’s the only time we actually see one of Perry’s clients get convicted of murder. From the very first scene, as the jury comes in and delivers their deadly verdict, it’s obvious that this episode is going to be quite different from the standard fare. Instead of meeting the characters and getting to know them before everything goes down, we jump right in at this critical point of the story. And everywhere Perry turns to buy time for his client, doors are slammed in his face. Sentencing is pronounced. The date is set for the execution. All attempts at appeals, even before the state Supreme Court, fail.

The scene where Perry goes to the partially closed-down mansion and wanders amid the sheet-covered furniture is very poignant and powerful. Thoughts come to his mind, echoing through the dark and lonely room. He remembers Hamilton questioning Doctor Hoxie and Lieutenants Tragg and Anderson on the witness stand. As key points in the scene of the crime are discussed, such as the glass by the nightstand and the broken balcony railing, Perry goes to them and examines them. There’s something particularly chilling about the shattered balcony railing, especially with the voiceover of Hamilton talking about the defendant lifting her drugged aunt’s body and shoving her against the railing until it broke and she fell to her death.

Even though we know Perry’s client must be innocent, it certainly looks bad for her for a while, especially since she lied about her whereabouts the night of the murder and even paid a bartender to lie about the time she went in for a drink. And it does admittedly get exasperating when she continues to insist she won’t tell, even in the face of her execution date being set.

I’m never quite sure what I think of the defendant. On the one hand, it’s very noble of her not to want to ruin her sister’s marriage, when she’s so certain that what she saw was proof of an affair. On the other hand, it isn’t worth dying over! And if there really was something going on, the sister should know about it.

What Janice should have done was to go to her brother-in-law and confront him about what she saw, instead of just insisting on believing the worst. Of course, I suppose she was arrested before she could have had a chance to do that, and once she was arrested she wouldn’t want to send for him to talk to him about it, in case everything would come out that way.

She acts so bitter about being convicted when she’s innocent. That’s certainly understandable and natural. But she acts like she isn’t aware that she helped bring about that verdict by her actions. Maybe telling the truth wouldn’t have helped her case in the end, since her brother-in-law didn’t see her out the window when she saw him that night. Lying and bribing definitely didn’t help, though. And in the face of that, her bitterness always rubs me the wrong way a bit.

Julie Adams’ performance is incredible, however, no matter what I think of everything the character says and does. She delivers amazing, heartfelt performances in every one of her Perry episodes, but I think this one and her previous appearance in The Lover’s Leap are my favorites.

I’m also not sure what I think of Janice’s wheelchair-bound sister, Paulette. It bugs me when she immediately jumps to the conclusion that Janice was having an affair with Paulette’s husband, instead of simply having witnessed what she thought was proof of one. Seems like thinking the worst of people runs in their family. Or perhaps in Paulette’s case, it was a bit of bitterness coming out for Janice having driven recklessly and getting her into that wheelchair.

I do love that Paulette immediately says her husband should have come forth and admitted to the affair, as it’s Janice’s life against Paulette’s pride. And I also love that for once, there really wasn’t an affair. The poor husband was just trying to comfort his hysterical nurse, who was threatening to commit suicide due to being pregnant out of wedlock and the young, immature father refusing to marry her.

Right after those revelations, the husband admits he didn’t see Janice and neither did the nurse. But the husband is willing to commit perjury and say he saw her, if it would save her life. Perry, however, says that he can’t do that.

The entire family of suspects is an interesting lot. There’s a socialite horrified at the idea of being related to a convicted murderer, an actress who thinks it’s exciting and will give her career a boost, and an obnoxious . . . whatever Chris is. Chris’s father is off in South America and sends a telegram about the medicine for the aunt not being what he prescribed for her, prompting Perry to send Paul off looking for him.

Paul’s trek is another unique element. We see a handful of his adventures outside of the L.A. area, but I think this is the only time where he has to go so completely out in the boondocks. We see him traveling up a river with a guide, being pestered by mosquitoes, and eventually reaching the medical outpost. “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” Unfortunately, this doctor is dead. He knew he was dying before he went on this last trip and wanted to be buried among the people he had spent so much of his time helping.

But it’s that one clue that he sent in the telegram that eventually leads to the resolution of the crime. One of the major things that led to Janice’s conviction was the hateful housekeeper seeing a woman run out of the house. She determined it was Janice, at least partially because her hateful feelings were clouding her judgment. I always find it interesting that she doesn’t protest in helping Perry find another solution to the murder. She acted so gleeful when she knew Janice’s execution date was set. But she goes along with Perry’s idea and finally exposes the true murderer as Chris, who had dressed up like a woman to try to frame Janice.

The climatic scene is so eerie, with the housekeeper walking through the darkened house and using the stairlift to get to the second floor. There’s some strange sounds, but all seems peaceful until we see someone in a raincoat and high heels going up the stairlift and preparing to strangle the housekeeper. Suddenly Perry, Paul, and Andy appear and prevent it.

Janice had become accustomed to the idea that there was no way to save her from the gas chamber. In the epilogue, she’s set free and is joyous over it being ten A.M., the time the executions generally happen, and having air to breathe instead of poisonous gas.

The episode was heavily promoted as being the time Perry would lose a case. There’s a hilarious promotional picture where Perry and Hamilton are standing together and Hamilton is reading a newspaper with the headline proclaiming that Hamilton won a case.

I’m glad they used a different newspaper in the actual episode, although they still try to insert a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor by captioning a picture of Hamilton “Victorious Prosecutor.” Hamilton, thankfully, looks serious and grim and not overjoyed.

Hamilton doesn’t have a lot of screentime in this episode, which I regret, but his scenes are very good. He handles everything with the soberness and maturity it deserves.

It’s also one of Tragg’s final episodes, and I’m glad that of all the episodes that could have been among those, this milestone episode is included. He has less screentime than Hamilton, but it’s wonderful to see and hear him again, even though it is bittersweet to see him sitting down during all of his time onscreen.

Perry is always noted for overworking himself on cases, but in this episode we see it most powerfully. He even falls asleep in the office, desperately looking through a book, and is found in a disheveled state by Della and Paul the next morning.

Naturally they wouldn’t have wanted to switch up the formula too often with episodes like this, where the client is convicted and the plot involves trying to save them, but I do wish they had found other ways to distance themselves from the formula sometimes. This one is definitely in a class by itself.

I often list the episodes that stray from the standard formula as being among my most favorites. This one and The Hateful Hero are two of my favorite examples of that, while The Betrayed Bride is a much more bizarre and, I feel, unflattering attempt at a different type of episode. But that’s another story.

I may be able to return to two posts a week soon; I have another topic I’m anxious to explore.

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