Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Case of Constant Doyle: The first of the fill-in guest-stars

One of the strangest things about television series is when the main star has to bow out, for whatever reason, for a few episodes. A temporary replacement is needed, but whom? How? Why when and where?

I am generally not fond of such episodes. It feels too different without the main character. And their absence can cause other characters to have reduced screentime as well.

Season 6, of course, is the season where they needed four such episodes when Raymond Burr discovered he would need an operation. Interestingly, they decided to have the characters’ lives parallel real-life. Perry was hospitalized for an operation. They filmed a few scenes for the episodes where Perry called characters from his hospital room. That rare move kept the four episodes from being completely devoid of Perry.

They also decided to have a different guest-star in every one of the episodes. The most impressive to me is Bette Davis. To me she’s the absolute big-time. Her episode is the only one of the four I know I’ve seen. My local station skipped those four episodes when it was running season 6 on Saturdays. I believe they used to show at least that one, as the second courtroom scene seemed very familiar to me. What makes the entire episode familiar to me now is that I saw it a few weeks ago when I purchased the 50th Anniversary DVD set from

My feelings on the episode are mixed. Most opinions I see of it are downright negative, but I don’t feel that hostile, nor do I have many complaints. I will readily admit that the plight of the guest-stars did not always interest me; I was restless and wanted to fast-forward some parts. The kid whom Bette’s character decides to help particularly irritated me. He’s a real punk, always seeming to be blowing his stack for one reason or another and often acting ungrateful. That character type is not one that generally appeals to me.

Bette’s character, Constant Doyle (and that really is Constant—not Constance, as I’ve seen some fans report), also receives a great many of the fans’ complaints. She’s too distant, too far removed. We don’t get to know her enough to know why we should care about her.

She’s aloof, I’ll certainly give you that. But I had no problem with her character at all. I love aloof characters. Perry himself is often quite aloof, really. Not as much so as Constant, but still.

Also like Perry, Constant is very headstrong and determined. When she sets her mind to something, she does it. She becomes determined to help this punk kid, even moreso after he becomes entangled in a murder case. He doesn’t often seem that grateful for her efforts and is often instead exploding at being asked questions. But she is insistent.

She also wants to know the truth about her deceased husband. They ran a law firm together, and now after his death, skeletons are starting to fall out of his closet. It’s starting to look like he was involved in something crooked. Constant can’t believe it’s true, but she has to know for certain.

Della and Paul appear in reduced roles. Constant is a friend of Perry’s, and when she finds him hospitalized and unable to assist much with the case other than a phone call or two, she recruits Paul to help her.

The episode has a bit of an unusual feel until these characters come into it. Once they are present, and especially when Paul starts investigating, it feels more like a regular Perry episode.

The main character who appears the most is, interestingly enough, Hamilton Burger. He is going to be prosecuting the case himself, which Paul finds odd for some reason.

I wondered exactly how they would be depicting Hamilton in this episode. How would he interact with a female attorney? It is, I believe, the only time a female attorney ever appeared on the show. Would he be as antagonistic as he can sometimes be with Perry? Would he be more reserved but still argumentative? Of course, as the prosecutor, he would have to oppose Constant’s case. That goes without saying. But his mood can vary depending on the case, or sometimes the season.

In season 5, I’ve noticed, he is usually quite unfriendly. I only counted a handful of times when he showed a bit of congeniality. Della even takes issue with one admittedly cringe-worthy remark he makes in the final episode of the season, The Lonely Eloper. Since she rarely comments on what he says, it seems significant. All in all, this element of season 5 was a surprise to me, after Hamilton was very often friendly in seasons 2, 3, and 4. I’m planning an overview of season 5 to explore this in more detail, but for now I’ll tentatively say that perhaps the writers were worried that he was too friendly and decided to cut back on such scenes. I also think that, in the latter half of season 5, he was probably smarting from his defeat in The Shapely Shadow. That was without a doubt one of his worst days in court ever.

Season 6, however, as I’ve said many a time, shows a very friendly Hamilton again. Maybe the writers realized that the viewers liked it better that way? Season 6 is a treasure-trove of moments showing Hamilton’s softer side and his friendship with Perry. And just because they’re friendlier doesn’t mean they don’t clash in court. One of my favorite clashes ever, The Elusive Element, is from season 6.

The Case of Constant Doyle is not an exception to this. If I had any concerns or curious doubts about how Hamilton would be portrayed, they were immediately refuted. Hamilton is wonderful here. He is very thoughtful and kind (dare I say even sweet?), always respectful of Constant, and eventually says that the reason he is handling this case himself is because he wants to get to the bottom of the mystery concerning her husband and be able to put her fears at rest. (They eventually prove him innocent of any wrongdoing.) If there’s one element of this episode I would like to watch repeatedly, it would be the courtroom scenes.

Constant also puts on a bit of a courtroom show, as Perry is famous for doing. She dons a trenchcoat, as the victim wore, and wants Hamilton to button it and tie the belt. In confused disbelief Hamilton exclaims, “I most certainly object to this!” But he sounds more puzzled than anything else. He doesn’t seem to consider Constant a sparring partner, as he does Perry, and doesn’t sound antagonistic or challenging in the least. The judge thinks he should go along with the demonstration, so, bewildered, he does. Her purpose, if I remember correctly, was to show how a man would button the coat as opposed to a woman.

The epilogue is nice. Her client is grateful to her and ends up inviting her to dinner. I’m still trying to figure out if he has some sort of romantic interest in her despite their rather large age gap. I think he probably has a little crush on her, at least. As she gets up to turn off the lights and leave her office, she bids her departed husband goodnight.

The epilogue also includes another phone call from Perry. And within that call is the one thing I object to in the episode. Perry tells her that Hamilton has called him ten times, telling him to get better and get back in court so he’ll have someone easier to go up against.

I honestly can’t imagine Hamilton ever saying that. At least, certainly not ten times! He has too much pride. I could imagine him maybe saying it once, jokingly, but no more. Furthermore, I didn’t think Constant was harder to beat than Perry. It seemed that the writers might have just thrown that in because they wanted her to seem so absolutely amazing. I believe fans in some of my recent fandoms would call that trying to make a “Mary Sue” out of the character. A “Mary Sue” is generally defined as a supposedly flawless character written by a fan who shows up in fanfiction stories and outshines all of the characters in her level of awesomeness, even the main character. Of course, I could be wrong on the writers' intentions. But coming at it from my perspective, that is the impression I received.

My conclusion was that it was a good episode overall. Not necessarily a great episode, but one that’s satisfying, particularly for Bette Davis fans. My mom certainly enjoyed it. And as for me, well, those courtroom scenes are a paradise for an admitted Hamilton Burger fangirl. They give me even more reason to love him and praise his three-dimensional characterization on the series. And any episode that can do that is one I'll always have a soft spot for.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Case of the Hateful Hero: Andy's Finest Moments

As previously noted, Wesley Lau, being brought in to ease Ray Collins’ work load when his health started to decline, originally was given dialogue meant for Tragg. It sounded very strange and wrong to hear another character say the same things that Tragg had said in the past. I wonder if viewers during the show’s original run really noticed.

It was in the sixth season when they decided to really allow the character of Lieutenant Anderson to grow. Perhaps by then they knew that it would be impossible for Ray Collins to ever be able to work as much as he had before and that it would be ridiculous to keep giving Wesley Lau dialogue meant for him.

As early as the first aired episode in season 6, The Bogus Books, Andy seems more like his own person and less like Tragg’s shadow. We find out a bit about him: he lives in a house (as opposed to an apartment), he has to relight his heater’s pilot light once a month, and he falls asleep very quickly. But it’s The Hateful Hero, several episodes later, that is generally hailed as Andy’s breakthrough episode.

As with many Perry episodes, I saw it years ago. I remembered parts of it very well when I finally saw it again last week on my local station. I loved it back then and I love it now. It is truly a unique and amazing venture.

And it is Andy’s moment to shine. There is no question of that. It opens showing him visiting a police precinct to talk with his close friend Otto Norden. Andy’s cousin Jimmy is being promoted from a beat to a patrol car. Otto will be his partner. All looks well.

But everything swiftly goes downhill when there is an apparent robbery at the Wilson Plastics building. Tragg comes to Andy, somber, and tells him Otto has been killed. Worse, it looks bad for Jimmy, who seems to have run away. Later, the security guard at the building is also killed, and Jimmy is arrested for the murder. Andy goes to Perry for help.

Things are complicated by a growing suspicion that Otto may have been a dirty cop. Andy can’t bear to even suggest such a thing to Otto’s mother, who has become a surrogate mother to Andy. He also can’t believe Jimmy is guilty of murder. But, he tells Perry, both agonized and determined, if he finds sufficient evidence pointing in that direction, he will put Jimmy in the gas chamber himself.

The episode shows so many facets to Andy’s character. Previously he had been mostly a dogged “just the facts” cop. Occasional moments of playfulness were written with Tragg’s words. Here he shows a wide range of emotions. We see his loyalty and love for Jimmy and the Nordens, as well as his determination for justice to be done, even if that means his cousin will be executed. He does all he can to uncover the truth, longing to believe that both Jimmy and Otto are innocent. Eventually they are indeed both vindicated.

The scene where Tragg comes to tell him about Otto’s death is so heartbreaking. And, though short, it depicts their close friendship in a most poignant and revealing way.

The amazing character actress Jeanette Nolan portrays Mrs., or Mama, Norden. She is noted for her ability to perform with different accents. Here, she is a little Germanic woman, devoted to her son Otto and refusing to believe that he could be a dirty cop. She is bitter against Jimmy, believing him responsible for both murders. But when Jimmy’s name is cleared and the mystery solved, she is able to begin moving past her grief. She welcomes Jimmy then, as another surrogate family member.

Otto himself appears only briefly, despite being so important to the overall plot. He is played by the wonderful William Boyett, who is most well-known for his assortment of upright policemen characters.

There is only one area where this episode falls a bit short, and that is where Mr. Burger is concerned. Unless something else involving him was cut, he appears only in the one courtroom scene, for a short period of time. Considering that Andy is his friend, as Tragg also is, I would have thought he might be seen a bit more. I would have loved a behind-the-scenes scene depicting him talking with Andy, perhaps concerning how the hearing would be handled. Or he could have been in the climax, when they caught the real crook. The writers were so busy showing how awesome Andy is that they ended up skimping on Hamilton’s screentime.

It’s no secret that Hamilton is my favorite character. I’ll freely admit that I even have a little crush on him. Ordinarily I would complain much more about his lack of screentime. But this episode is just so amazing that I’ll let it slide this time. I know it’s difficult to spotlight every character in a story, especially if one particular one is supposed to be the star. Someone will end up not having as much screentime in favor of fitting in everything that really needs to be shown.

I wish Jimmy and Mama Norden would have turned up in other episodes, or had at least been mentioned again. I have a great love for oneshot characters, particularly ones who are very close to characters in the main cast. The reason is likely because they help to further develop the main characters and round out their personalities and who they are. I’m planning a post devoted to The Fatal Fetish and the Germaines in the future.

Otto’s friendship with Andy is going to come into play in my current Perry mystery, The Case of the Macabre Mansion. Andy is a bit haunted by the resemblance Paul’s operative Pete Kelton bears to Otto. Later on, Otto himself will play a critical role in a scene towards the end. But I won’t say more on that subject.

Overall, Andy had already moved up on my list of favorite characters. The Hateful Hero pushed him all the way to the top, so much so that I believe he may be in my top three tier, along with Hamilton and Perry. And as I write for Andy in The Macabre Mansion, The Hateful Hero has helped me with his characterization more than any other episode. He has a close friendship with Tragg. His usual seriousness can be broken by moments of mischievous levity. And he is devoted to justice and doing what he must to uncover the truth, even if it is something he does not personally want to do.

I always find it interesting how I usually am very lukewarm towards any replacement characters, but then eventually they work their way deeply into my heart. Andy is certainly not an exception. And the episode they wrote to spotlight him is nearly perfect.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Case of the Macabre Mansion

This has been a little project of mine the last couple of days: a trailer for my story The Macabre Mansion. Several fanfiction authors have made trailers for various series they write for, and I decided maybe it would be a good way to get news of my works out there more.

These days, it seems the norm is to begin Christmasing as soon as Halloween is over. Feelings on this are mixed, but personally, I love it. That gives me nearly two months to enjoy Christmas music, instead of the one month I’d have if I started at Thanksgiving time. I’m writing this post to the background music of my local station, which typically switches to its Christmas format the first weekend in November.

The one thing that makes it somewhat confusing and awkward is attempting to write a creepy story with happy, magical, and spiritual songs playing. The process becomes an odd celebration of Halloween and Christmas at the same time.

Such is the case with my third Perry mystery, The Case of the Macabre Mansion. I had wanted to write a Halloween-themed story for a while, but this one was not what I originally had in mind. I had intended to write something involving a fake psychic, but somehow I don’t think that will come into play here, unless it’s as a small element and not important overall. Instead it involves Mignon Germaine, from season 8’s The Fatal Fetish, and the strange goings-on in her godson’s family’s house. Mignon comes to Hamilton asking for his help in discovering whether someone is trying to rout them out, and if so, who and why. Hamilton agrees, and before long everyone else is involved as well. It doesn’t help that an old enemy is back and is preying on them again, alternately flirting and trying to turn them against each other.

The old enemy is Vivalene, a character I created many years ago for stories I acted out with my mom. In those escapades she was an anthropomorphic skunk, but in all the stories I’ve written online for different fandoms she’s a human. Originally I created her to be a sweet girl, but somehow that changed to a flirt and then a deadly femme fatale.

It’s the latter template that I’ve used in my stories. Her only true loves are precious gems and money, and to get both she uses people in the most devious, distasteful ways possible, then discards them when they’re of no further use. When she met the Perry Mason characters three years ago she tried to make allies of them. Failing in that, she made up lies and tried to make the men suspicious of each other. She failed there too, and is failing again upon meeting them during the current events of The Macabre Mansion and utilizing her same tricks. But her plans don’t stop there. She will play a large part in the story, particularly as the climax draws near.

Part of the story idea was inspired by season 7’s The Shifty Shoebox, another of my favorite episodes. The central focus concerns a young boy, and Perry’s interaction with him. For my mystery story, I decided I wanted to see how Hamilton would interact with a kid around that age or a bit younger. I like writing for young kid characters, especially after I had close association with kids for a couple of years teaching them music. In the past I did rather poorly writing for kids, giving them dialogue far beyond their years. I hope I’ve greatly improved on that by now, as I’ve made a conscious effort to do so.

I also realized that so far, although my mysteries try to rotate the spotlight on all of the main cast, I have been attempting to explore different character relations with Hamilton in each one. There was an emphasis on Perry’s and Tragg’s interaction with Hamilton in The Persecuted Prosecutor. Della and Hamilton were heavily explored in The Memento Mori Murderer. And Paul’s and Mignon’s relations with Hamilton are being investigated in The Macabre Mansion. It was not a conscious effort to handle things in this way, although it was very conscious to have Hamilton be highly important to the plot of every story. There should be more fanfictions featuring him!

As I grow more comfortable writing for the characters, I notice I’m far more likely to refer to Mr. Burger by his first name. I scarcely did so in The Persecuted Prosecutor and semi-frequently did so in The Memento Mori Murderer. With The Macabre Mansion I almost exclusively call him Hamilton, unless I’m writing from the point-of-view of a character who likely would not do so.

This story marks the first time I’ve written for Mignon Germaine. I love her aloof, serious behavior; she’s a type of character I feel very much at home writing for. In chapter 1 she goes to Hamilton for help, and mentions that she is certain it’s a human disrupting the Peterson family’s lives; she doesn’t sense any ghosts in the house. I debated for a while on whether or not she should be able to sense such a thing; while I believe in ghosts, I don’t want to give anyone unusual powers in a Perry Mason story. I determined at last that in this case it’s more of a heightened sense than a sort of power, and that considering Mignon’s interests and personality, maybe it would not be too off-kilter to think that she would have perhaps decided to learn how to sense the presence of spirits.

There were at least two times on the series when supernatural concepts were explored (in The Meddling Medium and The Fatal Fetish), but both times logical explanations were then presented. I don’t intend to deviate from logic and actually display the supernatural. Of course, who knows; I might decide to have something unexplained and benign happen at the end and leave the possibility open that that time it was a ghost. I doubt I would take it further than that, however. Aside from my little oneshot piece The Case of the Captain’s Ghost, which I wrote to help cope with Captain Caldwell’s death in The Misguided Missile, at this time I would prefer not to introduce anything genuinely supernatural into these stories.

As much as I love The Fatal Fetish, it seems to have given some misinformation about vodun—the religion commonly warped into voodoo—and the usage of the infamous dolls. That is not surprising, considering how Hollywood has more often than not painted everything connected with vodun to be evil and dark. After doing a bit of research, I cringed at the misrepresentation and knew that I did not want to perpetuate that if I could help it. In chapter 4 of The Macabre Mansion, Mignon explains a bit about the religion to Hamilton. The dolls do play a part in the story, serving their common creepy goals, but using them for ill purposes will not be connected with mainstream vodun.

I had a bit of a problem determining what to do with the unseen Leon, whom I had decided should be around. I had already listed Miss Miller as Mr. Burger’s secretary in The Persecuted Prosecutor, but I’m still not sure if she might just be a stenographer instead. Leon certainly seems to serve in the capacity of secretary. In The Macabre Mansion, both he and Miss Miller are mentioned, but neither is expressly said to be Mr. Burger’s secretary. They both handle answering the telephone, however.

I am tentatively planning that Andy will play a larger role in this story than he did in The Memento Mori Murderer; hence his presence (albeit brief) in the trailer I made. I don’t want to reveal future spoilers, but if all goes as I am planning, his inclusion will make things very intense.

With five chapters done so far, I’m a lot further from the climax while writing this than I was when I wrote the entries concerning the other two mysteries. I have a vague outline for how the rest of the story may play out, and I’m hoping it will come together the way I’m imagining (or even better).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Case of the Dead Ringer: Shameless, In-Character Fun

With my growing unhappiness concerning season 9, I have been increasingly wary of its offerings. One unique episode, The Dead Ringer, I have also been uncertain of due to something I was told that sounded highly out-of-character to me. I could believe it might be true that it was intended that way, considering the odd way some season 9 episodes decide to handle characterization. Nevertheless, I still wanted to see it.

The Dead Ringer is sometimes put down by fans, who cite it as one of the strangest things the show ever did. Perhaps it is, but I do not share their displeasure. On the contrary, after having been given the chance to view this late venture (indeed, it was one of the final episodes), I am enthusiastic and thrilled and find it without blemish. And the part that I was lukewarm about I actually loved and found in-character. The intent behind it seems to be at least partially a matter of personal interpretation, depending, I suppose, on how one perceives the characters involved. More on that later.

The Dead Ringer is the episode where Raymond Burr pulls double-duty as both Perry Mason and his “dead ringer” from England, Mr. Grimes. Raymond’s voice talent is just amazing. His Cockney accent for Grimes is, as far as I can tell, flawless. And of course, Grimes is about as different from Perry as he could possibly be. He’s brash, loud, and uncouth. Just a poor sailor without much money to his name, he jumps at the chance to come into some green by helping the villains set up Perry and try to make it look like he was soliciting a bribe in a big case.

Both Della and Paul are furious, even moreso when they argue with Perry’s client over Perry’s suspected illegal activities. For one of the only times in the series, we see a very angry Della. It’s exciting and exhilarating to see her and Paul chew out the client, who is insistent on feeling Perry must be guilty.

Especially since it’s a season 9 episode, and they’re so unpredictable, I wondered what Mr. Burger’s reaction was to all this. In the first season, I could imagine that things might play out similar to The Sun-Bather’s Diary and he would be furiously trying to get to the bottom of things while not wanting to believe that Perry would be guilty of so terrible a crime. Or, in a worst-case scenario, he would wonder if Perry actually was guilty (either because of bad writing or because of Perry’s past track record of bending the law).

We don’t see a scene of him reacting to the scandal at the time. But there are things in the episode that indicate his feelings. A month goes by without the D.A.’s office making any move to prosecute Perry. And during the later hearing for the episode’s murder, Perry attempts to question Mr. Grimes about the impersonation. When asked by the judge why he isn’t objecting to the line of questioning, Mr. Burger says that everyone should have a chance to clear himself. It seems that Mr. Burger must have believed Perry’s innocence in the matter, or at least felt that there was not enough evidence to warrant a prosecution. With enough evidence against Perry, of course Mr. Burger would not have had a choice about prosecuting. If he had, I feel it would have been with as much reluctance as he prosecuted Paul in Paul Drake’s Dilemma. Despite the times when Mr. Burger has accused Perry, both with and without good reasons, I don’t recall him ever coming up with anything about bribes. (And then of course in The Sun-Bather’s Diary he outright says he doesn’t want to think Perry could be guilty of being an accessory to murder. I believe that's the time when he comes closest to getting Perry in serious trouble, and he is not savoring it at all. He just wants the truth.)

For me, the episode had gained a high point and I would have been perfectly happy if it had been left at that. But it only got better.

Mr. Grimes ended up being quite a philosophical fellow, as Perry even noted in the epilogue. He accused everyone involved in the case of being just as bad as him with their facades and their criminal acts. He also seemed to hold a great deal of respect for Perry and felt betrayed when Perry exposed him as the murderer. He is quite an engaging oneshot character. It would be fun to bring him back in a fanfiction story sometime, capturing both his unique speech pattern and his complex personality.

The epilogue concerns the bit that I was unsure what to make of before seeing it. It features Perry and Hamilton sharing a table at Clay’s restaurant. Hamilton tells Perry that Mr. Grimes has been sent on his way to San Quentin earlier that day. He then jokes that he supposes it was Grimes, and wouldn’t it be funny if there had been a mix-up and Perry had been sent up while Hamilton was dining with Grimes.

I saw no indication that Hamilton relished that thought, as I was told he seemed to, and indeed, if he had it would have been drastically out-of-character. He would like to catch Perry on his legal tricks, it’s true, but he would never want anyone convicted for crimes they had not committed. He made that plain once again right in this very episode. In the epilogue he just seems to be making a joke concerning the whole ridiculousness of the situation of Perry having a double. I could not see any malicious feeling in it at all, and Perry even smiles in amusement in response. I don’t see it as being any different than Perry joking in The Prudent Prosecutor that he would help Hamilton’s friend “even if he did save your life.” Perry didn’t mean that; he would not have wanted any harm to come to Mr. Burger. They just have a tendency to tease each other now and then.

After they and Lieutenant Drumm and Clay converse a bit, they suddenly hear a voice that sounds like Grimes, singing a song that he sang several times throughout the episode. They, especially Hamilton, turn to look in shock. And Paul descends the stairs, grinning in mischief as he continues his (impressive) imitation of Grimes. Hamilton is extremely relieved and amused and laughs. Perry appears more deadpan.

My conclusion is that the epilogue is one of those fascinating scenes I was intrigued by years ago and really depicts them as good friends out of court, moreso than even some other scenes do. The sheer relaxed nature of their in-character gathering is a joy to behold.

Overall, between Raymond Burr playing two characters and Della and Paul putting Perry’s client in his place and Hamilton being awesome and he and Perry dining together, this episode takes its place as one of my favorites of season 9 and is also quite high on the list of my favorites throughout the run of the series. I remember watching it years ago, as the confrontation between Perry and Grimes stood out to me when viewing it recently, and I’m very sure I was intrigued by it then as well as now.

This episode’s existence does rather knock out a possible story idea I had a few weeks ago after re-watching William Talman’s film The Hitchhiker, in which a double of Mr. Burger’s is wandering around causing trouble and confusion. I don’t think I’d want to write it with there having been a canonical instance of a double. But I’m just fine with that; The Dead Ringer is wonderful and fun and should be a treat for Perry fans. For me it was a breath of fresh air in the sometimes bewildering and contradictory season 9.