The Prudent Prosecutor from season 3 is certainly a milestone episode, there’s no mistake about that. Some people, however, have the incorrect assumption that it is unique and rare to the point that it is the only time Perry and Hamilton work together on a case. As I’ve shown many times in the past, this is not so. No, The Prudent Prosecutor’s main milestone is that it is the first time of many. It is also the first time of several when Hamilton asks for Perry’s help, and the first time we see one of Hamilton’s oneshot friends.
Jefferson Pike is a short-tempered fellow. He can’t stand the hold that a local crooked businessman has over his son. He’s so incensed by it that he takes the man’s gun and shoots himself in the leg, with the intention of telling around that his enemy shot him in the hopes of getting him arrested and out of the way.
Jefferson has a job at a lodge’s gun club somewhere in Los Angeles County. Even though he tells a friend of his about the “shooting”, he immediately clams up about it when he goes into the lodge and finds Hamilton in there with a few other people, all of whom have been duck hunting. Apparently, knowing that it’s a false tale, he doesn’t want to get in trouble by spinning it to the district attorney. (Or perhaps he doesn’t want to lie to someone who is as close a friend as Hamilton seems to be.) In any case, the friend he did tell is bewildered by his silence.
Later that night Jefferson calls Hamilton at what seems to be Hamilton’s home, giving us one of only two views of the place. (Originally I thought it was the lodge, but Hamilton had indicated he was going back to town. Hence, it’s probably his home.) He says he needs help for his son and wants a good defense attorney. If I remember right, he asks specifically for Perry. It’s either that or Hamilton recommends Perry to him. In any case, Hamilton then calls Perry on Jefferson’s behalf. Perry comments that he is surprised Hamilton is up so late “drumming up business” for him.
By the time Perry reaches Jefferson’s place the next morning, more trouble has happened. The man Jefferson detests has been murdered. And, to keep his son from taking the blame, Jefferson proclaims his own guilt in the matter.
One of the most amusing scenes happens here. In addition to Hamilton requesting Perry’s help, he wanted Lieutenant Tragg on the case once the murder happened. Tragg intercepts Perry and tries to get him to move along. But Hamilton shows up then and gives Perry a warm greeting, saying he’s glad Perry could make it. Tragg is bowled over. “You’re glad that he . . .” In bewilderment, he turns and wanders off, leaving the two lawyers to discuss the case.
It’s very rare to glean any tidbits about the characters’ backstories. Their pasts are largely closed books to the audience. But Hamilton confesses a small part of his history to Perry in trying to explain his concern for Jefferson. On a hunting trip in Canada twelve years ago, Hamilton was injured in a duck blind and Jefferson carried him three miles to safety. In the icy water, Jefferson lost two toes on the trek. Hamilton later got him the job at the gun club.
Hamilton does not often show his awkward side, but it definitely comes out here. He wants to ask Perry to defend Jefferson, yet can’t seem to get the words out. Not because of swallowing his pride, however (or at least not altogether), but because he feels he has no right to ask. Hamilton may have been justified in at least some of his prior frustrations with Perry; nevertheless, that isn’t an issue here. Knowing what Hamilton is trying to say, Perry just smiles and assures Hamilton that he will defend Jefferson. “Even if he did save your life,” he teasingly adds. Hamilton relaxes.
It’s one of my favorite scenes in the series. Despite the fact that it is most certainly not the only time they collaborate on a case, it is one of the only times they talk so candidly with each other. It’s clear from the scene that they each have an immense respect for the other, in addition to being close friends. That Perry can tease Hamilton, with Hamilton recognizing it as such and relaxing, shows that they’ve come quite a long way from the often antagonistic scenes in season 1. Hamilton cooling off and treating Perry in a friendly way happens many times in season 2 and succeeding seasons, but rarely do we get such an extended look at him in this light. Most such scenes are shorter and over much too soon. This scene, and the very last scene, combine to give us probably the most evidence in any one episode that there's a lot more going on in their relationship than some viewers might think. (Although there are plenty of glorious morsels in other episodes to further support it.)
Considering their backstory, Hamilton can’t bring himself to prosecute Jefferson for murder. He disqualifies himself and his office, which results in another prosecutor having to be sent in specifically for the case. Hamilton then sits in the gallery and observes the case as it unfolds.
Hamilton has always been exasperated by Perry’s courtroom tricks. It’s frustrating to be on the other end of them. But even when he is, it’s obvious through the seasons how he comes to be impressed by Perry’s skills. That is shown many times, from when he offers no objections once there is some foundation for Perry’s ideas to the times he listens in rapt attention and smiles in apparent awe and amazement for something Perry uncovers. In this episode, although he is not the acting prosecutor, Hamilton continues to be impressed. (It’s probably easier to enjoy it when he isn’t on the receiving end having to come up with a rebuttal, too.)
Amusingly, when the prosecutor is making objections later on, Hamilton’s patience is stretched so far that he mutters, “Oh, sit down and be quiet.” With his friend’s life at stake, he is thoroughly rooting for Perry. (Of course, despite any longings he himself has to succeed when he is prosecuting a case, he wants the truth above all else, even if that means Perry will end up winning.)
One thing I was disappointed about was that Hamilton and Perry don’t have much interaction once the case goes to court. In between the court scenes there is the usual investigation scene, and I had hoped Hamilton might be present. I suppose he wasn’t because of not having his office involved. But I thought he might come unofficially, off the record. I don’t know whether he really couldn’t without it appearing bad for him and his office or whether it was just the writers not thinking to write him into the scene.
There is a lovely and satisfying epilogue once everything is solved. Perry and Hamilton have apparently been out hunting together. They’re cleaning their rifles back near the gun club and discussing the case with Jefferson.
The killer had turned out to be Jefferson’s neighborhood friend, who also despised the murder victim. Jefferson shows some sympathy and understanding for him, as well as for the wife of another neighbor who seemed to have been involved with the murdered man. Jefferson is an interesting fellow that way. He seems to try to look for the good in most people and not think the worst of them. The murder victim is an exception; him having a hold over Jefferson’s son was the last straw there.
Jefferson leaves for a moment to talk to his son, who’s going up to Lake Tahoe to work. Hamilton and Perry observe, and Hamilton says with a smile, “You know, I think I won this case.” Perry smiles too, and they clink their mugs.
One curious omission to this episode is Paul Drake. He is nowhere to be seen. Out of the handful of episodes in which he does not appear, this is one where I would have particularly liked to see him. His reaction to the request for help and the truce would have been fascinating and enlightening. Perhaps we could have finally learned a little more on what he thinks of Hamilton after season 1. Then again, perhaps not, since Della is there and says nothing. If Paul had been there, however, I have a hard time believing he would have kept silent.
But in spite of any flaws or things that could have been done better, this episode is thrilling. It was a wonderful turning point in the series and I am very glad that Erle Stanley Gardner allowed it to happen.
Long live the curious and deep friendship of Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger.