Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Travelling Treasure

As I imagine you’ve noticed, blog posts lately have trickled down to one per week. I’m hoping that won’t persist indefinitely, but for the time being it will probably stay that way.

There has been a method to the madness of at least some of the unusual days whereupon the posts have been going up, however. Last week was a double birthday tribute (one half belated); this week is another one. I couldn’t let my beloved H.M. Wynant’s birthday pass by without a mention on the blog, as long as there’s something I can come up with for it! And with ten episodes and eight characters, there is still quite a lot!

Today I decided to highlight The Travelling Treasure, which is one of my favorite Perry episodes ever, and which features an H.M. character who is fairly nice compared to some of his others, even though this one is a crook.

The eponymous object is a large amount of gold stolen from the Alchemy Gold Mines (hmm, interesting name). We see the guard, Leon Ulrich, who’s mixed up in the theft. He hides the gold under his jacket in the trunk of his car as he escapes the mine. He then transfers it to the woods for safekeeping.

We follow him on his exploits to find a way to smuggle the gold out of the country. He thinks he can easily get it aboard Scott Cahill’s boat, due to an odd charter party that has it every weekend, but this particular weekend they’ve cancelled, so he sets about trying to change their minds.

We meet H.M.’s character, Max Bleaker, at this point. He’s sitting with friend Charlie Bender in a bar. Charlie is the diver for the charter party, but he thinks he won’t have to go this weekend and hence, has gotten quite drunk. He starts singing about Karl McGovern breaking his leg to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell and he and Max laugh at the silly song. Leon rushes to find McGovern’s address.

Karl McGovern is in all kinds of trouble due to a deal that didn’t go through when it was supposed to. Leon poses as another process server to scare him into taking another trip to Mexico, only at the beginning we’re led to believe that they just might be in on the theft together.

Lisa Gaye, in one of her many Perry guest-spots, plays McGovern’s frustrated wife. He’s always snapping at her and never lets her in on what’s going on. Fearing that he’s going to get a divorce in Mexico and just stay there, she keeps going on the trips even though she hates boats.

The last member of the charter party is absent-minded professor Vaughn Taylor, who wears his hat and asks where it is. The whole reason for the trips is supposedly to collect Mexican seaweed. The professor has sunk an immense chunk of money into the project, going deeply into debt by doing so, but McGovern hasn’t put in any of his half.

With Charlie Bender drunk to high heaven, they recruit Max Bleaker as their diver. He comes willingly, particularly after catching sight of Lisa Gaye.

Two scenes missing from the current televised version are right around here. First, the McGoverns argue and Mrs. McGovern tries desperately and in vain to find out what’s frightening her husband so badly. Mr. McGovern treats her like dirt, as always, and orders her to call the ambulance to take him to the pier. She tells him it’s been out there for twenty minutes already. He forgot he had called it!

Second, after everyone is on the docks, Max is loading his gear onto the boat and a policeman stops him, asking if he’s seen Leon. Max looks at the picture and says he hasn’t. He finishes loading and everyone climbs aboard. The boat then starts off. This scene is cut on television to the part where Leon watches the boat depart and salutes it, smirking.

McGovern is such a jerk, but I never fail to get a giggle out of the part where deckhand Benny is staring at Mrs. McGovern and Mr. McGovern scowls and sarcastically asks, “Would you like me to buy you one, Buster?”

Mrs. McGovern certainly is popular with the guys. Both Benny and Max admire her throughout the episode, even though nobody makes a move to do anything about it.

Captain Cahill is a friend of Perry’s. Perry and Paul were actually supposed to take the boat out with him for the weekend when the charter cancelled, but when McGovern decided they had to go after all, Cahill had to find another boat for Perry and Paul.

Perry and Paul aren’t having much luck fishing on the other boat. In the middle of their woes, the radio lights up with an urgent message from Cahill. McGovern died aboard the boat. And a bunch of stolen gold has been found and now Cahill is suspected of being involved in the robbery.

Tragg is waiting when Perry and Paul arrive. He delivers a classic line, bemoaning their arrival in addition to the police, the Coast Guard, the Treasury Department, and three presidents of a gold mine.

Cahill thinks McGovern just died from too much alcohol, but the police soon discover it’s murder. Eventually they decide that McGovern and Cahill were mixed up in the robbery together and that Cahill murdered him.

I love the part where Tragg tells Perry for the second time to go fishing, and Perry says, “Tragg, I’ll just wait until I can go with Captain Cahill.”

The scenes where everyone on the boat is questioned are fun. I especially love Paul talking to Max, of course, and the scene with the professor is also a kick.

This episode boasts so many classic lines. Another is from the latter scene, where Perry tells Paul to see if he can find Charlie Bender. Paul goes, “If he’s not on one, I’ll find him.” Ha!

Paul is off in Mexico for the hearing, eventually discovering Leon waiting for someone. This is another scene that’s cut on television, instead going directly to Perry’s subsequent telephone conversation with Paul. Perry tells Paul not to move in and that he’ll let Paul know when he’s coming. Referencing Paul Revere, Perry says to wait to see a light in the belfry—one if by land, two if by sea.

You know, the funny thing about Leon Ulrich is that he is so central to the episode, yet he remains silent for the entire time! He speaks not a single word.

One thing I don’t like is that Max’s testimony is the only one we don’t hear in court. I wanted to see more of him and hear what he said! But the episode is so enjoyable that I forgive that omission.

I usually think of this episode as a great Perry and Hamilton episode. The latter scenes show why. Perry wants a two-day recess because he thinks he knows where the gold is. The judge grants it and Hamilton and the boat’s crew accompany Perry on a Navy vessel as they search for the spot where Cahill’s boat was anchored.

Perry and Hamilton have some great exchanges as Perry picks Hamilton’s brain about how he would mark the gold if it’s under the water. Hamilton plays along, although he’s confused and increasingly so as it goes on. “Why don’t you go back in the Navy?” he says more than once. Eventually, however, Perry uncovers the location by having the ship go full-speed through a kelp bed. The marker is triggered. This isn’t an unusual idea, Perry says, for someone who once served aboard a minesweeper.

I wonder if we were supposed to hear Max’s testimony in court. Perry’s line doesn’t make much sense without having heard it, if by doing so we would have learned in court that Max served aboard a minesweeper. On the other hand, maybe Perry was just putting the pieces together and guessing and never really did know for sure about Max.

In any case, he’s right. Max served on a minesweeper and is Leon’s partner in the robbery. He was taking the gold down inside the diving tanks. But when Perry comments he thought of the tanks “you divers use”, Max immediately says that it was just him and Charlie was never in on it.

I love him for that. I can think of quite a few characters who would try to put some of the blame on poor, hapless Charlie, but Max accepts full responsibility as soon as Perry figures it out. I like to think that Charlie and Max are genuinely good friends and that Max didn’t just stumble on Charlie around the time he got his idea. Their opening scene in the bar certainly makes it look like they’re pals.

Hamilton thinks Max’s involvement means Max also committed the murder, but Max is quick to exclaim that he did not. Perry agrees, saying that someone who could create such a masterful plan certainly wouldn’t spoil it with a murder.

Once they’re back on land, Perry and Hamilton question Mrs. McGovern in her house. She insists Max must have done it, but together the lawyers finally draw the truth from her, that her husband stole her furs and deliberately burned one of their homes, all for money, and that he was planning to leave her as she feared. If he stayed in Mexico, she wouldn’t be able to get anything back. So she killed him.

Perry and Paul are fishing with Cahill in the epilogue. They discuss a few loose ends and Cahill notes that Perry isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing, as he’s just about to lose a big fish.

This is one of the few episodes in which Della doesn’t appear. Honestly, though, I have to admit that there’s so much going on that sometimes I don’t even stop to think about that fact. This is in complete contrast to the season 7 episodes where she’s missing. Her absence is very glaring in those.

Max doesn’t have as many scenes as I would like, but as he always does, H.M. takes the screentime he has and creates a character who feels real. Max laughs, plots, admires beautiful women, chews gum in court, and gets things done without violence. Stealing the gold is wrong, of course, but Max seems so harmless and good-natured that it’s hard for me to be that angry with him. H.M. is really good at playing menacing antagonists, and he certainly could have made Max into another one, but he didn’t.

I have written for Max once, briefly, in my Rockford Files story The Warehouse on Wharf 33. Now released from prison, Max is working with Mike Nelson from Sea Hunt to get a new lease on life. They dive around the site of the exploded warehouse in the story, looking for any trace of the body that was supposed to have been there.

Perhaps future Perry stories will result in Max having some type of role there, as well.

H.M. Wynant is 87 today. Here’s to many more happy birthdays for a very talented and very kind man!

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