Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Case of the Bogus Buccaneers: Della's Moment

The Bogus Buccaneers is episode 15 of season 9. I’ve only seen it in a badly edited form, as part of my station’s New Year’s marathon. And judging from a detailed summary here: http://www.storrer.com/masongardner/pmesgnine.html#Bogus%20Buccaneers they cut some of the things that would have made the episode make more sense. I might like it better if I see the complete version.

The plot involves a curious group of buccaneers who have a TV show and accompanying commercials for sponsored products. One of the buccaneers passing out samples, Tony Polk, goes to one house and receives a very strange greeting from the resident, who seems to think he was supposed to bring her something other than samples. They get into a struggle and he finally hits the woman to break away. Later, she is found dead and he is accused. This is another very early death, leaving the majority of the episode available for crime-solving.

The most interesting element involves Tony’s expectant wife Bett. A strange man breaks in and demands to know where she’s keeping $25,000 her husband is supposed to have. Later, this same fellow abducts both her and Della, who had gone to get her and bring her to Perry and Paul. While he holds them hostage in the house in order to search for the money, Della tricks him into looking under the sink. She then proceeds to knock him out with a frying pan and she and Bett are able to escape.

Somewhere in the middle of all this and before the abduction is a scene where Della comforts Bett. I do not recall seeing such a scene, so it must have been one of the edits. It’s a crying shame too; this episode gave Della the awesome moment of outwitting the kidnapper. The other scene is probably very good too.

Also missing is any appearance by Clay until the end of the episode, when he, Perry, and Tony’s parole officer have become the three godfathers of the Polks’ son. I realized right away something must surely be missing, as Clay being a godfather when I had not even seen him meet either parent just did not make sense. Him apparently having some earlier participation in the case would have given some foundation to the epilogue. As it was, I was bewildered.

Honestly, I know there have to be commercials, but it’s so aggravating when there have to be so many that parts of the show get chopped out. My station doesn’t even have commercials, but the prints they have available are mostly filled with syndication cuts.

The court scene had an interesting bit where Perry showed that the witness could not have seen everything she claimed to have seen, but aside from that I don’t remember anything of special interest happening in court. Hamilton had very few lines in that episode. I’m not sure he and Perry even engaged in any courtroom banter, and when that’s absent, the court scenes are often very dull for the most part. Make no mistake, I can’t stand it when Hamilton acts out-of-character in several season 9 episodes, and I do get exasperated in the first four seasons when the writers are continually falling back on Perry getting accused of misconduct even when he isn’t doing anything wrong (it happened way too often), but I love the courtroom banter in general. It’s part of the meat of the show.

All in all, I found the edited version of The Bogus Buccaneers very unmemorable, save for the scene where Della bonks the abductor. That was just epic. I don’t recall any other episode where Della got into a confrontation with a potentially dangerous antagonist and wheedled her way out of it. The main characters, as previously observed, are rarely in serious danger (or perceived serious danger). This was Della’s moment and she came through with flying colors. It’s a pity they didn’t have more scenes like this, and that they waited until the final season to bring in this one.

On a completely unrelated note: I found more evidence that season 9 may have been intended as a reboot and another season 1 as far as structure is concerned. In at least two season 1 episodes, they have met or talked about meeting at Clay’s Restaurant and Grill. I think they may have showed the actual place once, but it looked different from the one in season 9. The point is, I don’t recall them mentioning the locale again until season 9, where it became an important stop and Clay became a regular character.

I never realized before that Clay’s had been spoken of as early as season 1. I thought it had been invented solely for season 9. So it’s very interesting that it was among the characters’ first meeting places. I wonder if it was mentioned in the books.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The case of the characters' ages

I was originally going to do another episode-centric post, on The Bogus Buccaneers (a rather unremarkable episode save for one scene where Della and another woman are abducted), but then I decided maybe it would be better to try something different.

How old are the characters? Are their ages meant to be contemporary with their actors’? Or are they supposed to be younger?

I’ve been pondering and puzzling over it for some time. For the most part, I would imagine that Yes, their ages are more or less the same as their actors’. Perhaps a few years younger. There’s never any real indication, however.

In one episode, Perry asks Della if she would like to pose as the wife of a handsome man about forty. The initial implication, I believe, is that the audience is supposed to believe he’s talking about himself. He isn’t, but that still stands as the only (and very shaky) clue to his age.

The cast was mostly in their early forties when they begun their nine years as our beloved characters, save for Barbara Hale, who was in her mid thirties, and Ray Collins, who was in his late sixties. And Lieutenant Tragg’s age is certainly the biggest mystery. Is he really supposed to be the same age as his actor? It’s a perplexity that’s left me scratching my head for months.

In season 4 he soberly tells a widow that he’s been on the police force almost 25 years, and telling someone about a loved one’s death never gets easier. If he joined the force at the earliest possible age, he would be somewhere in his forties in that season 4 episode. And that would put him contemporary with the other male cast, which … doesn’t sound quite right. Even though the book and radio character versions were around the same age as the others, it’s generally assumed that the TV show version is older.

Perhaps the only reason for that is because his actor was. But it makes sense. He seems older, more seasoned, than the rest of the characters, as though he’s experienced much more and over a longer period of time.

Now, suppose instead that he joined the police force in his thirties. Then he would be somewhere in his fifties—older than the rest and at a more believable age. To get him the same age as the actor, he would have joined the force in his forties. And that is possible. Apparently, even though each municipality has somewhat their own rules on age restrictions, in general you’re never too old to either become a police officer or stay a police officer, if you’ve graduated the police academy and passed all the physical fitness tests. After 25 years it seems you’re eligible for retiring from the force, but you don’t have to.

It makes me ponder again on Andy’s introduction. I wonder if the character was being groomed by Tragg to take his place, if he intended to retire. Andy first appeared in season 5, and although I don’t know if each season constitutes an approximate year for the characters, it could be thought of as such if one wanted. Perhaps Tragg was approaching 25 years with the force and wanted to retire. Or, if one would rather think that Tragg continued with the force, perhaps he was simply taking a younger policeman under his wing without any intention of having Andy take his place.

(When it comes to Andy's age, by the way, he has stated in season 8 that he's been on the force for 15 years. Supposing he joined at the earliest possible age, he would be around 36, which sounds reasonable. I always thought he was probably a few years younger than Perry, Paul, and Hamilton, as his actor is. Of course, perhaps he's a few years older than 36, but probably not by much. Wesley Lau, incidentally, was around 39 or 40 when he first played the character in season 5.)

In any case, Tragg’s age is a dilemma I’ve been wondering how to deal with in my stories. So far, I’ve never addressed it for lack of needing to and lack of knowing how to do so. I think I’ve always pictured him as being in his fifties. But since it would be technically possible for him to be closer in age to his actor, I might change my mind.

The others I’ve mostly kept contemporary with their actors’ ages, with a slight adjustment here and there. Hamilton and Mignon, for instance, I’ve depicted as closer to two years apart instead of the eight years between their actors.

I had to determine an entire timeline for them while writing The Broken Ties, and moreso for my series of vignettes for February. The main factor determining it was Mignon’s son Larry’s age. Once Hamilton told Paul he had known Mignon since before Larry was born (and that Hamilton had been around college age at the time), I had to work accordingly with that. I ended up placing Larry’s age between 25 and 26 (or 27), taking into my calculations him finishing college and law school before getting into the D.A.’s office. Then I added a year or so to how long he had been there.

With Larry’s age in mind, I juggled the timeline around until it came out with Hamilton approximately 47 by the present day and Mignon approximately 49. That satisfied me quite well.

And I find it amusing that, regardless of Tragg’s age, I kept picturing his wife Maureen looking like Meredith Baxter while writing The Broken Ties.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Case of the Capering Camera: We need more capers like this!

Season 7 is a really interesting piece of work in many ways. Following on the heels of one of my favorite seasons, it includes a great number of my most-loved episodes as well. The majority of them, however, seem to be in the first half of the season, with only a couple really catching my eye later.

When CBS gets around to releasing another DVD set, it will probably have the first 15 episodes of season 7. (Unless they decide to give us a whole season at once, which is unlikely.) The episode that would close that set would be The Capering Camera.

And what a stellar caper it is! I don’t know if it was just because it was Ray Collins’ last episode and they wanted to make a splash or if that had nothing to do with it (maybe they didn’t know it would be his last?), but it is an amazing episode.

The plot itself has a surprising opening, with a model confronting the photographer over a blackmail issue. Apparently he has some nude calendar pictures he took of her some time ago and has been blackmailing her over them. She wants them back. She eventually draws a gun and says she would love to shoot him. At that moment, he is shot and drops dead. In spite of her words, she is stunned and horrified. And absolutely bewildered; it was not her gun that fired the shot.

That has to be one of the earliest on-screen deaths in any episode.

Perry is a friend of the girl’s family. When she goes to her father’s house Perry is present at a small gathering. She then goes to Perry’s office later and explains her story. It sounds outrageous, but Perry is willing to give her the benefit of a doubt.

By the time the police arrive the scene has been changed and looks like a suicide. Andy writes it off as such, but seeing Perry and Paul show up and act surprised and troubled makes him wonder if something more is going on, such as murder. The next day he goes to Tragg at the station for advice. It’s a very interesting scene, and it and their next scene together both seem to give the impression that Andy is or perhaps more likely was under Tragg’s tutelage and that he highly looks up to and admires the older policeman.

Tragg’s advice is interesting too, and reminds me of something he might have said in season 1. He suggests that Andy consider Perry Mason his only suspect. Not that he really believes Perry would be guilty (I’m not sure Tragg was even serious about the advice, as he acts surprised later when Andy says he followed it), but the idea is that if Andy tails Perry, he may discover a real suspect in the form of a client. Which is exactly what eventually happens.

Meanwhile, however, Perry is wrestling with his conscience over this curious ethical dilemma. If he stays quiet, then the death will likely remain labeled a suicide and his client will be in the clear. He’s not even sure it wasn’t really a suicide and the girl is telling a wild story. Or of course, she might really be a murderer. Whether she is or not, there’s always the possibility that the man actually was murdered. And then a killer would be running free. And despite the girl telling him things in confidence, he can’t ignore the moral responsibility of alerting the authorities that the man may have been murdered.

Eventually he can’t stand it any longer and knows he must take some course of action. But, still conflicted over what the right thing is and wondering how to protect his client amid it all in case she is innocent, he opts for a very intriguing solution. He goes to Hamilton for advice.

Hamilton is friendly and amiable, as he usually is in the later seasons. He greets Perry with a congenial handshake and asks if there’s something pending between them. Perry says he doesn’t think so. Hamilton asks next if this is a social call. Perry says he isn’t sure what it is. Hamilton suggests that between the two of them, they can figure it out.

Perry says he’s got an ethical dilemma and asks if Hamilton will hear him out with the promise that his client will be protected until all the facts are in. Hamilton says that as district attorney he can’t “buy a pig in a poke like that”, which Perry knows. Perry then says he’ll present the situation hypothetically so Hamilton won’t have to promise anything. He lays out the whole problem. Hamilton says that Perry knows he, or oops, his hypothetical lawyer, can’t be forced to come forward. Perry agrees but says he wants to. Hamilton tells him it’s a humdinger of a problem, and by a strange coincidence, he can help Perry with it. Lieutenant Anderson is there, with Perry’s client.

The rest of the episode is just as engaging, as the characters try to find the solution and catch the real murderer. There’s a small sub-plot of another young woman who was blackmailed in the past over some similar inappropriate pictures, who doesn’t want the story to have to come out because she’s tried to turn her life around and is filming the starring role in a movie about orphans and nuns. And as it turns out, it was actually Perry’s client’s sister who was being blackmailed over the other pictures and the sister took over for her, paying the blackmail and trying to get the pictures back.

Tragg and Andy appear in court and together later to pick up the actress as a witness, as she saw the defendant leaving the building the night of the murder. The murderer’s identity keeps the audience guessing until the very end. Perry conducts an experiment in court of reenacting the murder, with Della as his client and Andy as the victim. Paul plays the real murderer, whose identity Perry unmasks moments later. Hamilton and Tragg stand at the prosecutor’s table during the experiment. That is the last we ever see of Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.

The epilogue scene includes Perry receiving an autographed picture of the actress as a thank you for not asking any questions about her own blackmail experience. Della expresses concern over whether the woman has sent Perry one of the inappropriate pictures. He reassures her No.

It’s one of the series’ high-points. It’s also bittersweet, as Tragg’s final appearance. Someone once commented that he stands a lot in many of his scenes. This is true. And he’s standing when we see him last. Ray Collins was already ill by the time he filmed his last episodes, and this other fan commented that perhaps he had wanted to stand, sort of as saying that he was still stubbornly hanging on and standing strong. It’s possible. But in any case, it’s a comforting final image.

The character is never mentioned again. We never know if he’s still around and the audience just doesn’t see him (since of course Ray is unable to come back and play him on-screen), or if he retired or even died. I prefer to think that Tragg is still around. It would have been enjoyable if he had been remembered in the scripts, perhaps being mentioned now and then. That would have been a nice tribute to Ray Collins and a way to keep his beloved character alive off-screen.

Ray Collins’ other two appearances in season 7, in The Deadly Verdict and The Reluctant Model, are also both exceptional episodes. They will both be highlighted here in the future.

Andy’s behavior in the episode is a bit surprising at times. His decision to take Tragg’s “advice”, seeming to think Tragg is serious even if Tragg isn’t, indicates either complete, perhaps a bit na├»ve, trust in and idolization of the older man or that he determined it was a good idea regardless of whether Tragg meant it. When they stand by in the police darkroom and watch a photograph develop of Perry’s client holding a gun at the photographer, however, Andy indicates that he believes Tragg did mean what he said.

The possible idolizing of Tragg is a side of him we’ve never really seen before. Usually he seems fully in control, an independent and hardboiled detective in his own right. But if Tragg has had Andy under his wing since season 5, so to speak, it’s very understandable that Andy would think a great deal of him. The fact that he goes to Tragg for advice in the first place says that loud and clear.

And I think it’s the only time he is shown seeking out Tragg’s advice. Considering it’s Tragg’s last episode that is also a bit bittersweet. But Tragg seems to be hard at work at the time, with no indication that he plans to leave the force any time soon.

And then of course, Perry’s moral dilemma and what he finally does about it. Well, there’s no need to say I was utterly thrilled and ecstatic! And the way Hamilton handles it, especially since he already knows about the client, is very interesting. He is friendly throughout, never mocking, and never accuses Perry of any misconduct. It’s always possible he could have done so off-screen, but he seems more like he’s willing to accept Perry’s story as Perry’s genuine feelings and doesn’t have any desire to charge Perry with anything.

I’ve been pondering whether such a scene could have occurred earlier, even in season 1. As season 1 goes on, there are some hints that Perry and Hamilton are growing closer. But there are also many book-inspired ventures, such as The Daring Decoy, in which Hamilton is most unfriendly. That is his overall attitude in season 1, with it being a rarity if he behaves differently towards Perry. (The Crooked Candle and The Sun-Bather’s Diary both include such unusual for the time, friendly scenes.) If Perry had possibly trusted Hamilton enough to go to him in season 1 the scene could have potentially happened, but Hamilton might have then ceased to be friendly and even decided to charge Perry with misconduct or obstructing justice. If it had proceeded the way it did in The Capering Camera, it would have been even more of a surprise than it was in season 7!

(Of course, if Hamilton had felt that Perry had indeed been guilty of misconduct, even in season 7 he would have found it necessary to charge him. Make no mistake about that. Hamilton does not let friendship get in the way of doing his job, as much as it pains him sometimes.)

All in all, the episode is an absolutely wonderful treat. Most, if not all, of the season 6 and season 7 episodes featuring both Tragg and Andy are extremely well done. And this is among the best of the best.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The New Perry Mason: Really as bad as all that?

Along with the majority of the world, I detest remakes. (In fact, that's probably one of the few things I agree with other people on.) Every now and then one comes along that’s passable (can’t think of one), and even more rarely, one that surpasses the original. (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Desert Song.)

I have steadfastly refused to even bother with The New Perry Mason. Apparently, so did the great number of TV watchers, since after 16 episodes it flopped. It was only seven years after the end of the original Perry Mason. Most people still remembered the original cast too fondly to be able to enjoy watching newcomers try at playing the same roles.

But is it really as bad as all that?

Good question.

The only episode I’ve really been interested in seeing is The Ominous Oath with Simon Oakland. Unfortunately, that appears to be one of a couple of episodes that is almost impossible to track down. So ironic. But, after some encouragement from a friend, I finally decided to buckle down and give some other episodes a chance. The ones I tinkered with were The Violent Valley, which was his recommendation, and The Telltale Trunk. My conclusions?

Well, they’re not all bad. In fact, just watching on their own merits, they’re not so bad at all. They’re very . . . 1970s in their feel. The issues, the outfits, the hairstyles, the film coloring, the people. . . . And I enjoy the 1970s.

The show had a lot of people in the crew from the original Perry, so that probably helped a lot towards keeping the plot format the same. And the scriptwriters, I believe, were also people from the original. The dialogue made me very happy. It was dialogue I could easily imagine our beloved original cast using. Every time they spoke, almost, I could imagine Raymond Burr or William Hopper or one of the others saying their words.

And the actors themselves. How were they? Well . . . I’ll be honest, I kind of agree with someone else’s assessment about robotic delivery, at least on Monte Markham’s part. I got the impression that he was trying too hard to be Raymond Burr and failing miserably.

I haven’t got much of a feel for the new Della Street, played by Sharon Acker. She’s very 1970s, blonde, and younger than I can ever imagine Della being in the series. She’s sweet and nice from what I saw, but I couldn’t tell if she really has much personality.

Paul Drake, played by Albert Stratton, was fine. His dialogue delivery was among the best and reminded me a lot of William Hopper. His build was similar too.

Lieutenant Tragg is interesting. Dane Clark is certainly younger than Ray Collins was when he got the original role, but he still appears to be older than the rest of the cast. His dialogue is, perhaps, the most different, but that may only be because Ray Collins himself had such a distinctive and memorable speech pattern. Dane Clark doesn’t try to imitate that, most likely for the better.

And Hamilton Burger? Well, Harry Guardino shows up looking more like Erle Stanley Gardner’s original vision of the character as described in the books. Hence, he has a moustache. Strange to picture. But I enjoyed his delivery. He seemed at ease in the part.

And as for character interaction. . . . The Telltale Trunk absolutely thrilled and delighted me. There was one of those scenes in Hamilton’s office between him and Perry as they discuss elements of the case. They seemed to be very friendly towards each other and their dialogue was much like that of Raymond Burr’s and William Talman’s from the original series.

One thing that made me blink. Hamilton made no objections during the court scene at all, and there were several places where I thought William Talman’s Hamilton would have objected. I don’t know if this is normal for The New Perry Mason or if Hamilton just didn’t have any objections that day. Actually, the judge was the vocal one, sometimes scolding Perry a bit.

And another thing that kind of excited me. Just a little thing, but I loved what it implied. Dane Clark’s Lieutenant Tragg still sits on Hamilton’s desk the way Ray Collins’ Tragg sometimes did. (And while they were questioning a suspect, no less!) For him to do that certainly indicates the characters are close friends in this version too. You don’t sit on the desk of a mere associate unless you’re trying to be very brazen!

On the downside, they spent very little time in the courtroom in The Telltale Trunk. I'm not sure if that was an isolated incident either. Some of the original Perry episodes were the same way; it all depended. I'd have to watch more to judge for sure. And there wasn't much of an epilogue sequence. It ended as court let out, with just a few scant words in closing. That was disappointing, considering the fun epilogues of the original.

I didn’t have time to fully watch both episodes all the way through, so I intend to go back and see what I skipped over at a later date. I may also tinker with other episodes.

The Telltale Trunk also made me happy because of the guest-stars. Both Richard Anderson and Keenan Wynn were there! It was a very pleasant surprise. Keenan Wynn has long been a favorite of mine, ever since I saw him in his string of Disney movies. And Richard Anderson, of course, is our Lieutenant Drumm.

In The Telltale Trunk he plays the defendant, a hapless man who made a joke about murdering a creep and randomly came up with a plan for how to do it. He emphasized to his associates that it was a joke. Unfortunately, someone bugging the place heard and decided to do it for real. And Richard’s character got the blame.

It was so surreal every time he said “Perry.” It was just like Drumm used to say it, only now he was talking to a completely different Perry.

When it comes to the main stars, I believe Dane Clark is the one with whom I’m the most familiar. I’ve definitely seen him in things before; I recognized him immediately. I just never had a name to go with the face. And I still can’t think of what I watched that he was in.

Monte Markham, oddly enough, I can only recall from that off-the-wall comedy The Second Hundred Years. Someone whom I would like to think of as a friend showed me the trailer for it several months back. Apparently it made such an impression that it became hard for me to imagine Monte in anything dramatic. But I have seen him in other things before and just don’t remember. I’ll take greater stock in the future. IMDB.com says that he was in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which I remember seeing, but I don’t remember beyond the name (The Mystery of Pirate’s Cove) and an episode of Diagnosis Murder entitled Dead in the Water. I’ve seen just about every episode of that, so I probably saw that one too, but it’s been years since I’ve seen anything other than season 1 (which I bought last year).

Harry Guardino, well, who hasn’t heard of Dirty Harry? He played a police lieutenant in that. Probably his most widely viewed role, although I’ve never seen the film. I have probably seen him in things, however, and just can’t recall at the moment.

Della and Paul’s actors I honestly don’t remember much. According to IMDB.com, Albert Stratton was in The Last of the Belles, a very strange movie that I did have occasion to see. And Sharon Acker was in the Mission: Impossible episode Trapped, which I saw a couple of weeks ago for the second time. She was also in an episode of The Wild Wild West that I believe I saw.

My ultimate conclusion is that, while of course The New Perry Mason can’t compare to our beloved original, and I can fully understand why it flopped, it is worth a try. There’s definitely some good stuff in there. (And I still want to find that episode with Simon. . . .)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February Perry writing projects and nostalgia

As of the end of January, I concluded my longest Perry mystery yet, The Case of the Broken Ties. It was a very rewarding experience overall. I loved writing for the characters, as I have with every venture.

It’s probably the strangest Perry story anyone will ever stumble across. I pitched the initial idea to the Della-Perry Yahoo group (which is for Della, although they are certainly not adverse to Perry/Della as a romantic pairing) and was surprised by the level of interested response. As previously described, it is a very supernatural story. And it is also Hamilton and Paul’s story—with the scale tipped a bit more in Hamilton’s favor as far as narrative point-of-view is concerned. I still find him easier to write for than Paul, although I tried to give Paul a good number of scenes too and found it very interesting when I started trying to pick apart his mind.

While trying to avoid spoilers and repeating myself from past blog posts, the basic plot involves several villains teaming up and enacting revenge on the good guys by unleashing a powerful spell that causes nearly everyone to forget some or all of their life’s memories. Hamilton and Paul are the only ones unaffected and must try to get everyone else to remember as well. Perry and Della’s bond also survived the spell, and despite not consciously remembering each other, they do subconsciously and want to meet.

When I finished that story, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do on the mystery front. I had already decided to work on a month-long project for the community 31 Days, a writing prompt group on Livejournal.com. The overall theme of the prompts for February was Fire and Ice, and I decided that fit Hamilton and Mignon Germaine quite well, with Hamilton representing fire and Mignon, ice. I have been writing and posting short vignettes with each of the month’s writing prompts. Some take place in the past, when Hamilton and Mignon first met, some in the present, and others all throughout the middle. All are being collected here: http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=insaneladybug&keyword=hamilton%20%26%20mignon&filter=all I am unsure if I will post them at Fanfiction.net or not.

While the overarching theme of the vignettes is an exploration and celebration of those characters and their canonical friendship, other characters feature in some of the ventures as well. I have been writing ahead, and the one I am currently working on for the 23rd largely features Lieutenant Tragg and his friendship with Hamilton. I also threw in a reference to The Screaming Woman, with the technology updated to be a doctored CD that Hamilton threw at the wall instead of a Dictaphone cylinder.

Finally I decided that I would also start another mystery story as well and write both projects during the month. The plot of the new story is one I debated over for some time and previously rejected, but with the receptive response I received for The Broken Ties I decided to give it the go-ahead.

The new story is The Case of the Spectral Stalker, and it is a sequel to season 4’s The Misguided Missile. Actor Simon Oakland was directly responsible for rekindling my old interest in Perry Mason, and his character Captain Caldwell is my favorite of the two he originated for our series. I was heartbroken by Caldwell’s needless death (seriously, by killing him in hopes of letting his missile fly, Dan Morgan almost got the launch stopped anyway by leaving the body on the test field!) and have wondered what really happened concerning his past with Perry’s friend Jerry Reynolds. He insisted that he never received the order Jerry gave that he didn’t follow. And depending on the circumstances, maybe he really didn’t. We never found out enough to draw an opinion one way or another.

My first Perry story was a very short piece written as an addendum to The Misguided Missile. The new story doesn’t connect with it at all, even offering a different scenario and explanation as to why Caldwell did not receive Jerry’s order. In addition, although when I started this blog I mused that I would change the war Jerry and Caldwell fought in from the Korean War to Afghanistan to make it contemporary, I realized recently that it wouldn’t quite fit in the timeframe I had in mind. The Bosnian War, on the other hand, would fit just about perfectly. So Bosnia it is.

The mystery also offers Jerry being stalked by a mysterious person who eerily resembles Caldwell. Panic-stricken and believing he’s losing his mind, he goes to Perry for help. Perry deduces that someone is likely trying to torture Jerry and either make him believe he’s cracking up or cause him to crack up. The mystery quickly descends into a dark and twisted puzzle as it interlocks with Perry’s current case and begins to open up a world of unaccepted science none of the characters ever dreamed could exist. Its main villain will be another of my long-time original characters, Dr. Alice Portman.

There isn’t much more I can offer without revealing what I have planned for the story in future chapters. I currently have four completed. It’s a very interesting and unique venture. While Hamilton was really the star of the previous two, this one goes back to Perry and Della being the main characters, due to Perry’s friend Jerry being the one to have the problem. But Hamilton is the most prominent after them. Of course, he will always be prominent in my mysteries!

The other main characters are also certainly present as well. Taking place over a month after The Broken Ties, some of them are still trying to heal from the various emotional damage done to their hearts and souls during their previous experiences. I’m planning that Tragg will finally be able to fully get on the mend, but to tell why and how is a huge spoiler.

I hope that these projects will be enjoyed, just as the others have been. I find it very fun to write for characters I’ve loved for so many years.

I finally figured out some calculations and determined that it’s been at least over twelve years since the show became a household name for us. I want to say we started watching on the New Year’s Eve marathon of 1999, and that that was also our local station’s introduction to airing the show, but I’m not fully sure on the latter point. Perhaps it had aired for some time before that and we just never happened to catch it. Although that seems a bit far-fetched; I can’t believe we wouldn’t have run across it at least sometimes.

I remember that Dad turned the TV on that night and the marathon was on. I had just learned of the marathon’s existence from the mother of my brother’s future wife before we came home and was surprised at such an old show being on. I was curious and excited at the prospect. Mom was initially lukewarm about the show being on, as she wasn’t crazy about murder mysteries. But somehow we all got hooked, Mom when she remembered having watched the show years ago with her father, Dad because of the mysteries, and me because of the characters. (We all came to love at least some of the characters, however. Mom and I love everyone. Dad I’m not sure about.)

I remember my surprise at realizing there was always (or almost always) the same prosecuting attorney and policeman. I immediately thought that was cool. I liked continuity of that sort even back then. And I believe I liked Hamilton almost immediately. I remember seeing him walking around the courtroom, questioning witnesses. I’m not sure what I liked about him at that point. There were certainly plenty of indications even early on that he is a wonderful person. (I believe that first marathon was the first few episodes of season 1.) But maybe right then I just thought he was a good foil for Perry. Somehow, though, I think it was more than that. I think that perhaps I had a little crush on him even then.

And on this highly nostalgic (for me) and completely unplanned part of my musing, I will close this post.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Golfer's Gambit: The case of being too close to the case

The Golfer’s Gambit, from season 9, is very interesting and unique in several ways. We meet another of Hamilton’s oneshot friends, though certainly a repulsive one. And Hamilton has a disastrous day in court, possibly brought on by the fact that he is too close to the case.

It’s unlikely Hamilton was even aware of how nasty his friend Chick was, at least while the fellow was alive. Knowing that Hamilton was the district attorney, and a very honest one, Chick probably strove to keep his true nature hidden. They may not even be very close at all, perhaps little more than golfing/country club buddies. But Chick does have Hamilton’s home phone number. Considering Hamilton’s occupation, I’d doubt he’d give that out to just anyone.

The episode opens at a country club, where a golfing tournament is taking place. Chick bullies, threatens, and cheats his way to the top. He is arrogant, selfish, and wholly willing to use whomever he has to for his own means.

That evening Hamilton presents the tournament trophy to Chick, admitting at the same time that he himself is terrible at golfing. This is also the episode where Hamilton is apparently on a date with an unnamed and silent girl. They are shown dancing, and later on, observing a fight between Chick and another guy.

It bothered me that when Chick ends up knocking his opponent into a pool, everyone—including Hamilton and the girl—laughs. But in their defense, they never knew what the fight was about. All they saw was the fight itself, and perhaps they thought that the other guy was the one at fault, jealous of Chick winning the tournament or something like that. Hence, Chick making a fool of the guy would seem satisfying.

Later on, Chick calls Hamilton in the middle of the night, as Jefferson Pike did six seasons earlier. We see part of Hamilton’s house for only the second time, and his bedroom for the first time. Hamilton answers the phone, half-asleep, and tries to wake up while a panic-stricken Chick tells him that he is being threatened and needs to talk about it tonight and not tomorrow at the office. In the middle of the conversation Chick is clubbed over the head, which finally wakes Hamilton up the rest of the way. He immediately calls the police, but Chick is already dead. An unfortunate young man is taken into custody as the prime suspect and later charged with the murder.

The uncut episode has an interesting scene where Perry talks with Hamilton and Steve at Clay’s. Hamilton mentions how difficult the case is for him, as everyone likes the defendant. Nevertheless, he has to prosecute, and as Steve tells Perry after Hamilton leaves, no matter how much Burger likes the kid, when he gets him in front of the bar he’ll be a total stranger.

(Somehow this makes Hamilton’s visible regret at prosecuting Paul even more poignant.)

During the hearing Hamilton testifies about the phone call and how he is thoroughly convinced it proves the defendant’s involvement. Perry shows it does not, ripping the testimony to shreds in a cringe-worthy cross-examination. Hamilton is certainly left looking ridiculous—or at least as though the case is, perhaps, just hitting far too close to home and he isn’t thinking clearly because of it. Maybe, with the murder victim being a friend of his, he should not have been prosecuting. Even the assistant D.A. who he has question him on the phone call looks uncertain and perhaps worried, maybe suspecting how badly it will go. (Or maybe he was simply nervous to be examining the D.A., something he probably never did before.)

That, I believe, is the last truly noteworthy thing happening in the episode, save for an interesting sub-plot with one of the important witnesses wanting to teach Paul how to golf. It’s brought up again in the epilogue.

Overall I’m not sure what to make of the episode. We get some very unusual elements—the golf setting in general, Hamilton on a date, Hamilton being friends with the murder victim—but it, like The Shapely Shadow, really makes me cringe and feel embarrassed and sorry for Hamilton.

I definitely like it better in its uncut format, but something still seems to be missing. With Hamilton friendly with the victim, and Perry defending the murder suspect, it made for a very sticky situation all around. The writers didn’t fully milk this unique scenario for all it was worth. They mainly focused on the negative and then let it drop. I would have liked a scene with Perry going to Hamilton and apologizing for having to tear into his testimony, then saying he knows how much Hamilton wants to see the murderer convicted and would Hamilton help him with a plan of his to expose the killer? I even would have been pleased with something in the epilogue with Perry and company discussing what happened in the hearing and how it must have been a particularly difficult case for Hamilton to prosecute. Some acknowledgement that Perry (or Della or Paul) realized how hard it must have been and how Hamilton had likely felt. Without any acknowledgement of that at all, it felt unfair to Hamilton.

I kind of thought Hamilton might even turn up in the epilogue, since they were at the country club (I think) and he’s a member. But he is not seen. In both of the other episodes featuring his oneshot friends, he appears in the epilogues. (Also in both of them, he and Perry work closely together. Interesting.) Here, the writers kept him around until that disaster during the hearing and then seemed to lose interest in him.

I’m reminded of The Sausalito Sunrise again, and how Perry ripped into Steve Drumm’s testimony on the stand. But in that case, Perry was trying to help Steve see that he had allowed his view of the case to become colored. They acknowledged as much in the episode and it was important to the plot. Hence, it came across far better. Why couldn’t they have done that for The Golfer’s Gambit too?

I suppose in the end I see The Golfer’s Gambit as a very interesting and watchable episode, but one that still manages to fall short. It could have and should have gone farther. It would have been better for it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Birthday Tribute: William Talman

I have been greatly looking forward to this post.

Today we honor William Talman, born February 4th, 1915. He was another star who appeared on stage as well as in the movies and on television. Although he was not in a great many movies, he brought some amazing characters to life. And of course on television, he gave us the incomparable and best version of Hamilton Burger we’ll ever have.

My earliest experience with seeing him in a role other than Hamilton was ten or more years ago, in The Hitchhiker. What a one to start with, eh? My brother had given us a DVD set of movies with Edward G. Robinson and Gary Cooper. The Hitchhiker was on Edward’s DVD.

As I recall, my dad was the first one to recognize our friend. I remember him exclaiming approximately, “Isn’t that Burger?!” And William delivered an incredible, appropriately chilling performance as the titular hitchhiker, a remorseless psychopath. (I also remember being bothered by a fly that kept buzzing around the room and that when it finally landed on the carpet, we paused the movie to catch it.) I can’t remember if we watched the film before or after Perry aired that night. I think I remember it ended and we were in time to watch at least some of Perry. I distinctly remember thinking “… I’m glad to see William play good old Hamilton Burger again.”

As mentioned, William had a wonderful sense of humor. One time he was accosted at a red light while in his convertible. The guy asked him if he was the Hitchhiker. When William said Yes, the guy slapped him and drove off. William commented that he never won an Academy Award, but that was the closest he would probably ever get.

I believe that was the only film I ever saw him in until I started deliberately seeking them out over the past year. I have since discovered some wonderful little-known gems, including several where he plays good guys.

One of the first I found was The Ballad of Josie, his last film and his second-to-last performance. THIS TV aired it around Labor Day and I recorded it. He played a district attorney in it. I’m sure that wasn’t a coincidence! The character was kind and good, just like Hamilton. My favorite scene in the movie is where he chews out George Kennedy’s character, who was the main jerk in the film. It was awesome. And I also love where he tells Josie that she should do whatever she wants to do in life.

Those with Netflix Streaming have access to Two-Gun Lady, the Western I mentioned on Wednesday. It would never win any awards, but gosh, it’s a fun way to spend 70 minutes. William plays a federal marshal who’s gone undercover to try to get the goods on the crooked Ivers family that runs a small, unnamed town.

The father long ago gunned down a man named Marshall, while one of the sons killed Mrs. Marshall in cold blood. He also tried to kill the 13-year-old daughter, but she managed to get away. For ten years she was raised by a kind couple and learned to sharpshoot, wanting to come back and kill the man who slaughtered her mother. When she does, her path inevitably crosses with the federal marshal’s. They end up falling in love and he convinces her that she can’t go through with her plan to gun down her mother’s murderer. Instead, they try to bring the family to justice within the law.

Of course, at only 70 minutes there’s not much time to develop a romance. But that problem plagues many Hollywood productions, so I just ignore it. It’s a very enjoyable venture with a fine cast. In addition to William and Peggie Castle, Marie Windsor plays a devious saloon girl in love with the wretched Ivers boy and Robert Lowery plays the upright man who owns the saloon.

In the film The Persuader, William has a dual role. He portrays twin brothers in another lawless Western town. The first brother is determined to stop the crook who runs their town, by forming a vigilante posse. But the town is too afraid to fall in with him and sadly, he is killed early on when he tries to stop the crook’s thugs from stealing his horses.

The second brother arrives a few days later, unaware of his twin’s death. He is stunned when he gets to the home and is greeted by a black ribbon on the door and the grieving widow. A pastor who has given up his large church in Atlanta because he feels inspired that this little town needs him more, he performs his brother’s funeral service and then sets about trying to find his own way to get this town in shape. He feels that a large problem is that the town has forgotten God, and that they must change their own hearts before they can hope to have success taking the town back from the evil running it.

The movie is largely about the characters and their various ideas about setting the town straight. A prominent character is the pastor’s nephew, grieving over his father’s death and angry at the criminal who ordered it. He decides to try to kill the guy, but he is swiftly overpowered. The sly man then suggests that he stick around a few days and see what they’re really all about. Although everyone else can see that the boy is a fool and he’ll never learn what he hopes to from the tricky man, he decides to go along with it.

First and foremost, The Persuader is a religious film. It’s not overbearing or preachy; it’s a beautiful production with a powerful message. In the end, the town does change. Not only do they turn back to God, they develop a newfound courage. In the climax, they all stand up to the crook and his men when he threatens to burn down the church they’ve all built. And the guy, finding a quiet respect for the pastor, backs off.

The film also has some very adorable things you’re not likely to find anywhere else. Have you ever seen William Talman petting kittens or holding one?

His most complex and dark good guy character is probably Captain Harper in the movie Smoke Signal. While Dana Andrews gets top billing and William only fourth, I can’t help but feel it’s just because Dana Andrews is the more well-known star of the two. The more I watch the film, the more I’m convinced that William’s character is the main one. Dana Andrews’ character and the leading lady, Piper Laurie, have less screen time than you’d expect from the two top-billers. Instead, the focus seems to be largely on Captain Harper as he leads his small group through the Colorado River Rapids as they try to escape Native Americans on the warpath and reach Fort Marble.

I also believe one of the movie’s main themes is how easy it is to misjudge people. Harper is bitter and hateful towards the supposed traitor Captain Halliday, who left to join the Utes and apparently was responsible for a battle that killed Harper’s brother. The other men feel the same. But on their journey they begin to see that Halliday is not what they thought. He’s a good, honorable man who risks his life for any of the others when they’re in trouble. And he reveals it was the deceased Major Evans who was causing trouble with the Native Americans, until they finally couldn’t take it and began descending upon them in war. Several tribes have united in the fight, and only the Apache chief can stop the bloodbath. Halliday is trying to get to him. Harper, however, is still suspicious. And as the movie goes on, the others begin to turn against him, believing he is as wretched as they thought Halliday was.

Harper is certainly an enigma. At one point he sends Halliday’s then-strongest sympathizer, Sergeant Miles, to get to Fort Marble ahead of them. Miles ends up killed by the Native Americans who have been following them along the top of the Grand Canyon. Most of the group believes that Harper deliberately sent Miles to his death because he wanted to testify in Halliday’s behalf at the upcoming court-martial. But when Harper overhears Private Livingston speaking bitterly about him, he looks distressed. The next morning he gets the group together and tells them they’ve forgotten that they’re soldiers and he considers them all equally responsible for helping get through this journey. The implication seems to be, as Sergeant Daly tried to assure the Private, that Harper did not have any ill intentions towards Miles. Most likely, he sent Miles because he had previously had more scouting experience than the others.

There are many indications throughout the film that Harper is a good man who is being misunderstood as much as Halliday. At another point, he loses his temper with Halliday and says some cruel things about him in relation to the Native American pendant he always wears. Halliday finally says it belonged to his wife, who died in the same battle that claimed Harper’s brother. Harper is honestly stunned and looks guilt-stricken.

By the climax, even Harper’s strongest supporter Sergeant Daly seems to be against him. Daly and the others still living threaten to mutiny if he won’t release Halliday to get to the Apache chief, instead of insisting on him coming to the court-martial. Harper refuses, and still acts like he plans to kill Halliday himself if they can’t make it to the court-martial (which he has threatened to do off and on). But the Apaches are waiting for Halliday on the banks as they emerge from the canyon near Fort Marble. Harper, showing the respect and trust for Halliday that has quietly developed throughout the venture, lets his gun slip from his fingers and gives Halliday a thinly-veiled okay to escape and go to the Apaches. Halliday does, and Harper orders the men to shoot at him, knowing that they’ll deliberately miss. The one girl, Major Evans’ daughter, has fallen in love with Halliday and thanks Harper for what he did. Harper smiles kindly and assures her that Halliday will be back, to which she agrees.

Both Harper and the marshal Dan Corbin from Two-Gun Lady appear in a Western story I’ve been writing. Of course, the townspeople are quite bemused by how much they look like. They are polar opposites in personality, but both are good people. The story takes place after the end of both movies and features my own imagining of how I imagine the resolutions to have gone. Halliday did return and undergo the court-martial, where Captain Harper testified in his behalf. Halliday was restored to his former position.

Among William’s other good guy movies are two Robert Mitchum pictures. In both he plays a good friend of Robert’s, and in both his poor characters die. In the afore-mentioned The Racket (which features Ray Collins as a crooked D.A.), William plays an honest policeman eventually killed by a mobster. And in the heart-wrenching war film One Minute to Zero, William plays an Air Force Colonel with a wife and two kids. He eventually dies during a mission saving Robert’s character and his unit.

One Minute to Zero also features the only times I’ve heard William sing. (And he’s very good.) He sings a few lines of Bird in a Gilded Cage during a scene where he’s showering and Robert’s character has accidentally gotten himself locked out of the apartment they share. And he sarcastically (but good-naturedly) sings a line of the Army song when they come upon two of the soldiers entertaining a bunch of Korean kids by blowing bubblegum.

I still haven’t gotten around to talking about to his television appearances yet. (Although I do remember briefly mentioning some of those before.) I believe his most poignant role was in an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo entitled Return of the Outlaw. His character, a wounded outlaw nursed back to health by a young woman who ends up helping him escape and running away with him, is really not a bad sort. He genuinely cares about the girl, although he doubts they can make a relationship work on the run and with their age gap. But she wants to stay with him. He senses she’s torn and really wants to go home, however, so when the main character comes looking for her, he has her go back with him. She pleads with him to come back and turn himself in if he loves her, but he’s afraid. Eventually, however, he does go back, because he loves her and hopes they can make it work after he does his time. But her angry father shoots and kills him without waiting for any explanation.

I was heartbroken by that one. I started writing a story as a follow-up to it, where they find he’s still alive but badly hurt.

I was also quite intrigued by his character Walt Archer from an episode of Wagon Train. Bitter and racist, he says some horrible things when he discovers that his friend’s wife has given birth to a Native American baby after she was raped. But Flint McCullough, one of the main characters, previously saw him being sweet and gentle with his little girl and realizes he’s really a good person. He tries to get at the heart of Walt’s bitterness and learns that he thinks Native Americans attacked their home, killing his father and rendering his mother catatonic. Walt and Flint end up getting into a fight and Walt receives a bloody nose. His mother suddenly screams at the sight of the blood and comes out of her state, where she reveals that it was not Native Americans but a white man and his mob that attacked. Walt is stunned and horrified. Wanting to turn over a new leaf and make amends, he goes back with Flint to his friend’s house to apologize.

We’ll be here all day if I try to talk about every one of his guest-spots I’ve loved, so I’ll just mention his role on Gunsmoke, in the episode Legends Don’t Sleep, and one of his two appearances on Have Gun-Will Travel, in The Shooting of Jessie May. Those are two very good and very sad ventures.

And then of course, Hamilton Burger. I talk all the time about how wonderful he is, so rather than try to cram it all into a few sentences, I’ll mainly provide another link to that defense I wrote for him. http://hated-character.livejournal.com/438282.html I added a couple more paragraphs a while back, and there’s still another I’ve been wanting to figure out how to slip in.

There’s just so many indications in so many episodes that he’s a kind person. I love how he’s often so polite with the witnesses and is concerned about the ones that break down. He tries to be so gentle with the ones who have especially had a rough time of it and seen particularly terrible things. And that holds true with the defendants, too. In The Wrathful Wraith, he is distressed when he sees the overwrought defendant crumbling from some of his comments. He’s concerned as it is that she might have not been in her right mind when she supposedly killed her husband (who had faked his death before that and had started “haunting” her). He meets with Perry and the judge in chambers and suggests a plea deal of innocent by reason of insanity. Perry is gracious but declines.

Hamilton is my favorite of William’s characters, but he brought so many amazing ones to life—good, bad, and troubled. I’m still looking for some of his more rare performances, but I’m thrilled with the amount I’ve found.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Negligent Nymph: Definitely not a case of negligent writing!

Since my weekend post will be on Saturday this week, I decided to throw my weekday post ahead a day.

The Negligent Nymph is an episode the likes of which I wish there had been more of. The plot is intense and twisted, as season 1 plots generally are, and everyone has a chance to shine. Hamilton and Tragg make an awesome presentation in court that proves once and for all that Perry is not the only one who can put things together in the correct way. Given the chance, the district attorney and the police do so as well.

Our defendant today is played by Peggie Castle, to my surprise. Peggie played opposite William Talman in the little-known Western Two-Gun Lady, which we will be learning more about on Saturday. (Hmm, so we go from romancing Peggie to prosecuting her.) She’s an interesting character here. Unlike the usual tearful, sometimes hysterical, and/or often very innocent-seeming defendants that populate season 1, Peggie’s character Sally Fenner gives the impression that what she has seen and experienced in life has made her somewhat aloof and cynical.

She is the secretary of businessman George Alder, who has paid blackmail money for a note claiming he killed a relative in what was supposed to be a boating accident. While attempting to get the note that night, she is unaware that George Alder has been killed. The nightwatchman and his Doberman realize she’s in the house and chase her down the beach, where she escapes into the ocean and is rescued by Perry and Paul as they return from a fishing expedition.

It’s the next day when news of the murder hits the papers and Sally is sought by the police for questioning. Perry sends her to his apartment with Della for the time being—a bad move on his part, as they are later discovered by Lieutenant Tragg and Della is taken to Hamilton’s office to be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive. Hamilton agrees to let her go when Perry arrives and says she was only acting under his instructions, but then wants to charge Perry.

It is, as I thought I remembered, the episode where Hamilton outright calls Perry’s conduct unethical. Perry gives his response about, “Is protecting a client so unethical?” and Hamilton stares at him in disbelief before exclaiming that Perry was helping a fugitive from justice. They debate for a moment over the role of a prosecutor in the grand plan of justice, which ends with Hamilton saying he just hopes Perry is serving the ends of justice and not obstructing them.

During court, George Alder’s alcoholic wife testifies to seeing the blackmailer leaving the house on the night of the murder and going down the beach. Hamilton suspects something amiss in her testimony when she says she saw this from her bedroom window. He has Tragg go out to the house to photograph what can be seen from said window. When Tragg returns, they make a presentation in court showing pictures of the house, the beach, and how the view at Mrs. Alder’s window is blocked by trees, thus proving that she has perjured herself. Hamilton thinks she is lying to protect her friend Sally; Perry takes this further and eventually exposes Mrs. Alder as the murderer.

I was absolutely ecstatic over the court presentation scene. In most episodes, it would of course be Perry thinking something was amiss and sending Paul to find the holes in the testimony. This episode proves it doesn’t have to be that way. I wish they had come up with scenes like this more often. The prosecution shows many times that they are putting together well-thought-out cases, gathering evidence and witnesses before Perry even thinks of wanting them himself. That can easily be taken a step further to show them dismantling false testimonies completely on their own, without any suggestions from Perry. This episode brings that out very clearly.

It also brings us Paul having some humorous encounters with Mexican food. He and Perry go to question a witness at a restaurant and end up ordering. Paul insists he was raised on the hot and spicy topping, but he takes one bite and grabs the entire water pitcher in horror. In the epilogue he refuses Mexican food and orders bacon and eggs, but then becomes so caught up watching a beautiful dancer that he doesn’t realize he just told the waitress to put salsa on his food. Again the water pitcher becomes his best friend.

All in all, this is one of the best of season 1. There are even some hints that Perry and Hamilton are already starting to grow closer—yes, even in spite of the reason why they’re meeting in Hamilton’s office. It’s all in their attitudes. Whereas in The Runaway Corpse Hamilton seems to feel quite rocky and cold towards Perry (even refusing to call him anything but Mason), in the following episode The Crooked Candle and this one, he does not. Perry in turn treats Hamilton familiarly; each calls the other by his first name and they have a more relaxed, congenial approach overall.

A very nice precursor to even better things to come.