Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Returning to The Moth-Eaten Mink

About a year and a half ago I wrote up a comparison post between The Moth-Eaten Mink and The Sausalito Sunrise. I have to admit, my feelings from that post still stand. But I watched Mink again last night and came away with some additional thoughts.

Of course, one thought that always persists is that Tragg is awesome in this episode. It’s famously the first one filmed, and he’s right in top form, making classic quips (Perry: “Will you do me a favor?” Tragg: “Probably not, but ask anyway.” Ha!), not letting himself be made a fool of, and getting to rescue Perry in the climax. It reminds me of how involved Tragg is with several of the early episodes, including The Silent Partner. I do miss that level of involvement in subsequent episodes and seasons!

(And I really wish making Tragg sound like an idiot on the witness stand hadn’t started happening with increasing frequency as the show went on. In these early episodes, he really is sharp as a whip. At least on many occasions; I’m still cringing at the end of episode 3, even though Tragg is adorable in it.)

He isn’t quite as intense as Steve in Sunrise, as he’s able to wound the bad guy in the arm instead of killing him. Perhaps Tragg had a different trajectory or perhaps the writers thought it would be better for the guy to live so he could be tried and executed. Or perhaps they didn’t want to open the series with the murderer dying in a shootout, since that wouldn’t be standard fare and they wouldn’t want to give the impression it would be. Curiously enough, the character does die in the book.

I wonder if they knew from the start that Mink would not air first despite being filmed first. If the first eight episodes in a season are always supposed to be the top sellers, I think they definitely should have included Mink as at least one of those eight, if not the first. It’s always been one of the standout episodes to me, and judging from what I’ve seen from other fans, many feel the same way.

Tragg and Steve have different perspectives on the truth of a policeman being behind the murders and other crimes. Tragg’s repulsion and disgust is probably among the most memorable scenes of the series, and his reply to Perry going to call an ambulance: “Yeah, call an ambulance. But don’t, uh, hurry.” It’s not a life-threatening injury, apparently, and Tragg wants the guy to suffer a bit after all the suffering he brought to others.

By contrast, Steve is stunned and sobered, saying it almost seems unbelievable. He’s a young lieutenant, definitely not having been on the job as long as Tragg has, and this may very well be the first time he has encountered corruption on the police force. Tragg, underneath all the amusing barbs and jokes, is actually quite cynical and all too familiar with things like police corruption.

Somehow it strikes me as slightly unbelievable for the crooked Sergeant Jaffrey to own the hotel that plays such a large part in the events of Mink. I imagine it really isn’t, since I would assume the idea is that he bought it with some of his ill-gotten gains. But still, imagining a current police officer actually owning a hotel strikes me as seriously amusing in its preposterousness. It seems that he surely would have been recognized sometimes, by people other than the poor young officer he killed. I suppose he was generally in the shadows and didn’t often come out. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that Sunrise handled the matter of the police officer’s crooked ventures a bit more believably.

Overall, while Mink and Sunrise have a few strikingly similar plot elements, they’re really quite different episodes, so much so that I think they can definitely be enjoyed independent of each other. It’s certainly nothing like the lack of creativity that happens when a script is adapted for a remake almost word for word and scene for scene, such as The Bionic Woman’s reworking of The Six Million Dollar Man episode Survival of the Fittest or Mannix redoing its season 1 episode Skid Marks on a Dry Run almost exactly in season 6. Almost all of the Perry remake episodes have a lot of unique elements going for them. The writers have to be given points for figuring out how to weave the existing plot elements into a largely new story.

I somewhat feel that the different approaches between Mink and Sunrise have a lot to do with the times in which they were produced. Mink, in season 1, is when the series was fresh and new and they were just trying to find their footing. Shows of the time didn’t often have characters that branched out beyond being the archetypes they were created to be. Hence, Perry isn’t generally an exception and season 1 is much less likely than later seasons to heavily involve the characters in the plots so that their personal feelings come out. Generally it’s the guest stars who carry those parts of the plot, while the main Perry characters serve their purpose as archetypes of the legal drama. They’re fun and enjoyable to watch, but we don’t really know a lot about their personal lives or feelings, which is how Erle Stanley Gardner wanted it and how in large part it remained for a lot of the series.

Of course, there are exceptions in every season. I think The Sun-Bather’s Diary may have been the first Perry episode to seriously involve the main characters in the goings-on, although there it’s by having Perry get into serious trouble as has been threatened on him from episode 1. Season 3, when everyone is a lot more comfortable with the characters and the show, is when they first really start to branch out and try stories where the main characters carry a large portion of the action, such as Paul Drake’s Dilemma, where a main character other than Perry is in trouble, and The Prudent Prosecutor, where a main character other than Perry has a friend who’s in trouble.

I always like it best when a show delves deeply into character interaction and relations and feelings, instead of just leaving them more as unreachable archetypes. Season 1 feels, in many ways, detached, although there are interesting jaunts such as The Sun-Bather’s Diary and Perry’s extreme distrust of his client in The Fan-Dancer’s Horse being an important plot point. But I definitely think that by the mid-1960s, it was much more common for shows to depict more about characters’ feelings rather than often keeping them as archetypes and Perry followed suit. The characters opening up and being more accessible happened with increasing frequency as the show went on, which is probably another reason why I’ve come to love the later seasons so much. The characters develop and mature and are admittedly more serious later on (although they really haven’t forgotten how to laugh), and the number of episodes involving them as focal points of the action increase.

One thing that must be remembered, however, is that while season 1 may not have had episodes with the main characters other than Perry being central to the main conflict in ways like The Prudent Prosecutor or The Hateful Hero do, season 1 is glorious for giving equal screentime to all of the Core Five and there are some wonderful scenes of interaction between Hamilton and Tragg and Hamilton and Perry especially. Also, there are scenes of Perry taking Della investigating, which doesn’t happen as much in later seasons. So there are things about every season and era of the show that I highly enjoy.

It is interesting, how Tragg never really had an episode specifically devoted to him (Mink comes close, but it’s not expressly Tragg-centric), but by season 9 they gave the policeman character more than one episode that seemed rather centric to him. Perhaps in one way it was too soon after introducing the character to show him having a dark struggle as he is in Sunrise. That’s the sort of storyline you might expect after seeing a character for several seasons. But perhaps after all the neglect they gave to Andy, they were trying desperately to make up for it in any way they could think of. And while I imagine some people could not get attached to the character after so short a time, I’m definitely not among that number and I thoroughly love what Sunrise did.

Of course, the new character is not the only one to be strongly highlighted in Sunrise. Paul also is very involved, even getting into danger while undercover with creeps trying to run him off the road. This is another type of thing that was unlikely to happen in earlier seasons, but by season 9 they were all for it. I really like seeing more of Paul on a case and the trouble he runs into. It makes Sunrise feel very involved instead of somewhat detached.

At the same time, I appreciate Mink for what it is and love this early glimpse into an intense plot that climaxes with a main character in danger. I think it holds up very well as a great representation of the series as a whole as well as season 1 in specific.


  1. I've been catching up with the early episodes, Lucky. Finally was able to buy the first half of s1 too from Wal-Mart! So now onto watching them at my own pace :). I'm hoping that Wal-Mart gets more of them in too. They were selling at around $9.96. So it was a decent deal.

    I've been noticing how the characters were acting early on, and oddly enough, I think I like them a little more as the show goes on. Don't get me wrong though, they're still pretty cool in the beginning too. And Paul is such a card and a ladies man :P.

    1. I wish Wal-Mart would get some other seasons in besides 1, but I've been thinking I should pick up the first half myself, while they have it again! It's definitely a good buy, particularly since the episodes are gloriously uncut!

      Glad to see someone else who likes them better later. ;) I like characters to be wiser and more mature, which is definitely how I see the Perry characters developing as the show goes on. But they are fun at the beginning. Paul has some classic lines.

  2. Yea it would be nice if they got more in.

    Definitely ;). Aside from TCOT Grinning Gorilla. I pretend as if that episode NEVER happened. Lobotomized/airhead Della and jerk Perry (there's another term I'd use, but I won't)... no thanks ESG, I'll pass. Only bit that was ok there was the case. The characterizations made NO sense in that one.

    Yea they are. I'm watching TCOT Fan Dancers Horse tonight on MeTv.

    1. Totally.

      I actually have no problem with The Grinning Gorilla, at least as far as Perry's concerned. I think it would only be human to be frustrated over what was happening, being thrown into a case without even knowing it was going to happen. I'm not sure I've ever seen that one uncut, though.

      Fun. :) It's definitely an interesting episode.

  3. Ah. Yea, but the way he treated Della was like crap imo. When she showed him what she found originally, he didn't even give her a second thought. Only time he did was once he found out it was related to 'his' case. That's in part where the 'jerk' came in. Frustration is one thing, but being a first class you know what is another imo. And Della's characterization, writing wise didn't make a lot of sense either... it just seemed rather out of character sometimes.

    Yea it is. It was nicely done too.

    1. I'll have to watch it again and see what I think. Have you seen it uncut, by the way, or just the MeTV copy?

      I didn't see it last night because Dad wanted to watch a movie, but I remember how intense it was and how confusing, with the two girls and Perry not knowing who to believe. It's probably one of the earliest episodes that had an actual conflict for Perry as a plot element. I like how in the epilogue he berates himself for not trusting his client.

  4. Just the MeTv one, sadly :(.

    Ah. Yea I didn't envy him there one bit. I think he kind of grew, learning that there are times when you should trust your client, even if you feel you shouldn't.

    1. Yeah, same here, I think. I found the post I wrote on it and I indicated I'd only seen the cut version then.

      Definitely. Character development is one sometimes-subtle, but always awesome thing that happened as the show went on.

  5. Ah.

    Yep. Definitely. It was nice seeing the development of all of the characters, both in the show and in the later movies.