Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Case of the Renegade Refugee (including missing scenes)

Happy Easter, everyone! In trying to come up with a subject that would be at least semi-appropriate for the day, I suddenly realized that I’ve never given The Renegade Refugee a spotlight post. (And I even forgot to include it in last year’s Easter post and had to add it later. Oy vey.)

Airing as part of season 5, The Renegade Refugee is certainly the most outright religious/spiritual episode the show ever did. Scriptures and prayers are quoted and a Franciscan retreat is a vital setting.

The episode opens with two intriguing and important facts: a Nazi war criminal is loose in a Los Angeles business, and a man named Harlan is very agitated and on the run. Someone is blackmailing him and a reporter is trying to find out where he served in WWII. Is he the war criminal? Or is there another reason for his anxiety?

Cut from the common syndicated version is an important scene that introduces us to all of the board members. Without it, the first time we see any of them is at the retreat, when Harlan greets one with, “It’s you.” Surely this has confused quite a few viewers. This episode is one of the ones that was cut up the very worst. That introduction scene should have been kept, but then again, so should some other scenes from later on. It seems like the episodes mangled the worst are always missing very important scenes, whereas some of the ones not cut up as badly are sometimes missing things not too important.

I imagine David haters are particularly irritated with this episode, as it’s the one where David tries to help Harlan when he comes to Perry’s office and Perry is still in court. When Harlan wants David’s help David is quick to point out that he’s not a practicing attorney yet, but he will do what he can. He suggests a few things to help Harlan with transferring his assets to his wife without her knowledge, culminating in David having a power of attorney form drawn up to give Perry the power to do what Harlan wants in Harlan’s absence. Unfortunately, David is unaware that he also needs to have Harlan write a letter detailing what he wants done, so the actions can’t be contested later.

Perry is so awesome with David, though. He’s very kind and patient as he explains the problem with what David did. He knows mistakes are made and he’s willing to give David another chance, knowing that David is a quick learner and won’t do it again. Maybe the writers didn’t always handle David the way that would have been best, but I still say it could have been pretty interesting if there had been more scenes like this between Perry and David.

David wants to make up for what he did wrong, so he hurries to catch Harlan and have him write the letter. Instead, Harlan blows him off and runs out, saying he’s going to take care of the problem himself. David finds a copy of a badly drawn map, presumably where Harlan’s off to, and David hastens to get Perry and catch up.

I have to wonder how anyone can find the retreat using that map. It’s so simple and badly drawn and bewildering. Basically it’s just a few lines and squiggles and a “Here” sign. How does anyone know where the lines and squiggles are without more details and names and places?

But Harlan somehow finds the St. Francis Retreat, discovers the other board members and that reporter are there, and is approved to stay there for the weekend by Father Paul.

Around here, another very vital scene is clipped. He and Father Paul talk at night about Harlan’s agonized feelings and Harlan admits he’s come there to kill a man. He thinks that surely Father Paul won’t still allow him to stay, but after a moment to digest the news, Father Paul bids him “Goodnight” and leaves.

When Harlan gets back to his room, he finds the reporter going through his things. They fight, until William Boyett’s character Buck Osborne comes in and chastises them with, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but remember where we are.”

The next time we see the reporter, he’s lying dead near the retreat and Perry, Paul, and David have found him.

I have to wonder why it took them so long to get up there. Were they doing other things before they could go or did it really take them that long to drive all that way? It surely couldn’t be that far away, because it’s still under the jurisdiction of the LAPD and not the Sheriff’s office.

As morning comes, Andy, Sergeant Brice, and other LAPD officers are milling around the retreat. Andy tells the group of businessmen about the murder and that they’ll be allowed to finish their weekend retreat, but then they’ll be escorted back to the city for questioning. He also tells Father Paul that he’ll need to leave a couple of police officers there, but he’ll see to it that they don’t get in the way. Father Paul is grateful.

Under Perry’s prodding, Harlan finally reveals the reason why he was running: he was an American soldier in WWII who ran in cowardice at the Battle of the Bulge. He was hurt by a mortar and left for dead, but woke up, exchanged dog tags with another soldier, and fled. He breaks down as he recites his name, rank, and serial number.

I love how compassionate David is towards him. Back at Perry’s office, Della comments that Harlan must have found it hard to live with himself. David tells her that to hear him, he had died a thousand times since then from his shame and guilt.

Paul goes to Washington to try to back up Harlan’s story. He only becomes further confused when he’s told that Lieutenant Philip Kuyper, which Harlan gave as his real name, was actually a hero and died saving another man.

Of course, Harlan ends up charged with the reporter’s murder. He also apparently embezzled $55,000 from the company. He insists he didn’t steal the money, even though the mysterious blackmailer tried to force him to do so, and that he didn’t kill the reporter either. The blackmailer believed Harlan was the Nazi, which Harlan didn’t contest since he was trying to hide his own past.

In court, one of the other board members, Arthur Hennings, declares that he saw Harlan throw a rock into the bushes on the night of the murder. This leads to another missing scene, as David is upset that Hamilton pulled this surprise witness and testimony out of nowhere without Perry having a chance to know about it and prepare for it. Perry tries to explain to David that it wasn’t wrong for Hamilton to do that. (Perry himself has certainly done it many times to Hamilton!) Perry goes on to say that he and Hamilton are adversaries but not enemies and they’re both working for the cause of justice.

Paul, meanwhile, is still absent, tracking down two survivors from Philip Kuyper’s unit. Perry confronts Harlan about his identity and Harlan insists that he is Philip Kuyper. He wonders if Perry doesn’t believe him but later muses that it sounds as though Perry does. Perry insists that he is examining every bit of evidence in this case as though Harlan is innocent. He says that Harlan should not have to pay the price for his past mistakes by taking the blame for a murder he did not commit. He sets out to try to get Harlan an extension on his self-imposed debt.

Perry drives out to the retreat, where he talks with Father Paul. Father Paul tells him the story of St. Francis of Assisi and how he sees parallels between that and Harlan’s desire to pay his debt. Perry asks Father Paul about the Nazi war criminal, whom Father Paul must know. Father Paul insists he can’t reveal the man’s name, but Perry says what he wants to know is whether the man will tell the truth if Perry gets him to realize that he is holding Harlan’s life in his hands.

In court the next day, Perry cross-examines Arthur. When at last he recites part of St. Francis’s prayer (“For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life”) and asserts that Harlan is innocent, Arthur is deeply moved. Holding his crucifix in his hands, he finally admits that he lied about Harlan and the rock because of being blackmailed by someone who realized he was the missing Nazi. He insists he would not have lied if he hadn’t believed Harlan was guilty and says he isn’t afraid any longer to admit to his true identity.

With this problem solved, Perry proceeds to uncover and identify the real killer, Denver Pyle’s Emery Fillmore, who breaks down on the witness stand when cornered. He admits to a confrontation between him and the reporter and that he struck the reporter, who had figured out not only the Nazi’s identity but that Emery had framed Harlan for a robbery and had embezzled money to invest in the company through a supposedly inoperative small company that he owned. Emery gets up amid orders from the judge to sit down, crying out that everybody should have thought it was an accident. He then collapses in tears exclaiming he’s so sorry.

The epilogue finally solves the mystery of what actually happened to Harlan and who he is. He is willing to turn himself over to the authorities on having run during the war, but Paul brings in one of Philip Kuyper’s friends, who immediately identifies Harlan as him and tells him that while everybody ran, it was only Harlan who ran in the right direction, to pick up a wounded man. They were both blasted by the mortar and thought dead. Harlan suffered a concussion and shock and could only remember running, which he could only equate with desertion. For fifteen years, he has been paying a debt that didn’t even need to be paid. Now, he is free at last. “Welcome home, Philip Kuyper.”

It’s one of my favorite episodes, not only of season 5, but of the entire series. I love the religious/spiritual content and the truth about Harlan’s past. It’s an episode that always encourages me and buoys me up. I just wish it wasn’t so cut up on television!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Quick Post

Closed captioning can be a very wonderful thing.

The earlier Perry DVDs didn’t have it, but by season 6 all the DVD sets include optional subtitles. They seem to be very well-done. And certainly, they help correct viewer errors.

The first time I watched the uncut Hateful Hero, I honestly thought Jimmy said that as kids, Andy got him into trouble. It was hard for me to picture Andy as a mischievous rebel, although I know it would be possible that he was one and then changed his ways.

But what I saw when I watched it again and this time had the subtitles on made so much more sense. Jimmy says that Andy got him out of trouble. Whew. That fits my original image of what their childhood was probably like and also fits better in the context of what was going on in the episode right then.

MeTV aired The Blonde Bonanza last night. I wasn’t able to catch it, although I do have a copy from when it last aired in the morning. It’s not a favorite episode of mine, but I do have something I love about it: Paul and Della’s extended interaction. They have a very nice and amusing scene at the beginning when Della is exercising due to feeling inadequate and nervous over meeting with a family friend who always manages to stay slim so matter what she eats. While Paul and Della often have little, fun exchanges during the episodes, it’s rare for them to have any extended interaction, so that alone makes the episode well worth watching. The only other episode I can think of offhand where they are together a lot is season 5’s The Glamorous Ghost.

The Blonde Bonanza is one of the last of the original adaptations of Gardner’s books, before they go into the re-adaptations in season 9. (I think the only other book plot in between is The Grinning Gorilla.) What I find so utterly bizarre about it is both the scam that’s run on Della’s friend and the fact that she falls for said scam. After what I read about some of the strange goings-on in the book version of The Daring Decoy, I’m highly curious to know if this business about the scam is pretty much directly lifted from the book version of The Blonde Bonanza. I’ll have to look into that.
The subplot running through the episode, of the girl's problems with her estranged dad (who really did and does act like a jerk), is interesting. It's nice to see the dad finally want to change his ways and try to reunite with her, and it's also nice that by the end of the episode, she's willing to give him a chance.
Severed family ties are another common theme running through the series, although there may be too many of those types of episodes to attempt cataloging them in one post, if I ever decide to consider it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Daring Decoy: Book vs. Episode

First off, YAAAY, we have some news! YES! Season 9 to start releasing on DVD in June! I am so there.

So on Tuesday morning MeTV will air The Daring Decoy. I always look forward to that, even in its chopped-up state. With it, I really am sure that they didn’t cut any of H.M.’s scenes.

I got curious a while back to know what differences there were in the book, so I looked it up.

Of course, I imagine that every one of the books gets seriously condensed in the television versions. They pretty much have to do that in order to fit into the time slots. There’s just too many plot twists and turns otherwise.

The book is . . . well, extremely different. So much so that while the plot is recognizable, those parts kind of get a bit buried under everything else that’s going on. I can’t say I necessarily like the sound of the way the book does it better than I like the television version, but Conway does have a great deal more “screentime” in the book. That, I most definitely like.

Note I call him by his last name. That’s because, among other things, his given name is different in the book. He’s Gerald or Jerry there, instead of Daniel. Just from the summary, I can’t really tell if his personality is the same, but if it is I think Daniel is a much more fitting name. Gerald seems a bit stiff, while Daniel seems sweeter and friendlier, matching his basically easy-going and kind personality in the episode.

Almost everyone gets a name change from book to episode, actually. The only character who keeps both first and last names is the victim, Rose Calvert. The elevator operator is Myrtle instead of Mavis.

Said operator has a lot bigger of a role to play in the book. Paul even seems to be dating her to try to get her to open up and cooperate. And she has some amusing eating habits. If you click the above link, just see what she thinks is a little bit of food!

She doesn’t seem to have the same personality as on television. I wasn’t sure I liked where it mentions that she laughs at Mr. Calvert. And she wants a fur coat in the epilogue. I like the cute, introverted, kind of plain girl with the amazing talent for recognizing shoes in the television episode.

And Mr. Calvert, by the way, must be a lot creepier in the book. Whereas it’s implied that the killing is an accident in the episode, in the book he doesn’t want anyone to have Rose if he can’t. He kills her in a murder-suicide thing, but then chickens out on killing himself. Good grief.

The character of Amelia Armitage seems to be completely absent. There’s no one really comparable to the role she plays in the episode. I’m glad they added her in the episode; I really like her. (And she has good taste in men.)

The mysterious woman who calls Conway on the phone, the wife of the Warner Griffith counterpart, actually seems to be trying to help Conway at first. But then she gets worried that she (not her husband) will get blamed for the murder and she sets about trying to frame Conway.

Instead of him finding the body when he goes to the hotel room, he finds her stripped to her undies and wearing a mud-mask, and they fight over the gun, with her wanting him to take it (although he doesn’t know she wants that). That … honestly sounds like one of the most bizarre scenes ever. Okay, so she wears a mud-mask to disguise her face, but … stripping down like that? Was that so he wouldn’t be able to recognize her clothes later? Even if that’s the answer, that is weird.

But, differences aside, I would definitely be interested in reading this book (or at least looking through it) if I ever run into it locally. Most particularly, I want to see how Conway’s personality in the book compares with Daniel in the episode.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Art Episodes! (At Last.)

Well, that was one more epic fail to add to the list. I am so sorry. Once again I wasn’t feeling well. I think March is my bad luck month where health is concerned. (Maybe it’s those pesky Ides.)

One bad thing about watching the uncut of something and then seeing the cut version, if you don’t own the uncut: It gets very frustrating seeing exactly what the extent is of everything that’s suddenly missing!

Last night my local station had The Singing Skirt. Well, since it’s the only Perry episode with H.M. Wynant that I don’t own, I of course have been anxious for it to air so I could finally get a copy for myself. I knew things were missing, but I didn’t remember that any of his scenes were gone. All I recalled was not seeing that scene between Mr. and Mrs. Ennis, their only scene together.

But they also clipped this scene: 

And this scene: 

I’m especially annoyed by the former scene being missing, because from the way the characters converse, I get the feeling that they are at least on somewhat friendly terms. Although that’s a moot point, since Marcus later tried to incriminate the girl for the murder.

And I’m particularly confused by the latter scene being absent. I was sure I’d seen it before I watched it in the uncut! Maybe it’s a case of my local station having two copies and sometimes airing one and sometimes the other. It’s very strange, but I’ve seen it happen, with the Stand-In Sister as one recent example.

But I’ve definitely decided I’ll be buying the last half of season 3 now, possibly before any other Perry-related purchases. (Unless season 9 starts releasing in the meantime!) I want to have all those scenes at my beck and call! Plus, an uncut copy of The Prudent Prosecutor would be nice. (Albeit thankfully the cut version leaves in all the Perry and Hamilton awesomeness.)

I think I had something else in mind that I was going to say before getting to the main body of the entry, but now I’m not sure what it was! Aurgh.

The arts have always been a common theme on Perry. And, as we know, artists are very often portrayed as eccentric. A lot of the time, we get both elements in the same episode. Sometimes we don’t, and I think during those times, we get variations on the idea.

It seems like almost every season had one art-themed episode, but now I can’t think what season 1’s is, if any. But picking up on season 2, we have one of my most favorite episodes ever, The Purple Woman. It deals with art dealers, old paintings, and yes, an eccentric artist. This one is making forgeries and ends up being the murderer. He goes on a rant in court (one Perry coerces him into) about what an amazing artist he is and eventually gets around to confessing to the murder.

Season 3 has The Crying Cherub, the first of the non-Hamilton episodes. What really gets me is they did film at least some scenes with William Talman. I would love to know if that footage still exists somewhere! If it does, it should totally be released, maybe as a bonus feature on one of the season 9 sets.

The Crying Cherub deals with paintings and crooked art dealers again, with the intriguing idea of one painting being painted over another to hide it. The slightly eccentric person here is a woman buying the paintings and not making sure they’re genuine first.

I can’t recall if season 4 did an art episode either. I suppose the closest they came is The Torrid Tapestry, the titular object of which isn’t a painting but is certainly art.

Season 5 has The Posthumous Painter, wherein a crooked artist decides to fake his death so his paintings will go up in value. He also continues to paint in secret to make more to sell. This is one of the David episodes, and one of the ones where David has an idea to help advance the case, that of using the device to track heat in the paintings and determine when they were painted.

I’ve never really been bothered by David knowing about certain things to help the episodes along. I imagine that the other characters (or at least Perry and sometimes Paul) would know about at least some of those things as well, instead of David telling them things they don’t know, but giving the spotlight to David in those cases at least allows him something to do.

Season 5 also has The Absent Artist, featuring a man leading a double life: one as a stereotypical artist in an older apartment, and the other as a high-profile cartoon creator in Hollywood. The kook here is played by Victor Buono, so that immediately tells us that we’re in for a fun and amusing ride. He kind of behaves as a stereotypical artist himself, including insisting that he isn’t interested in money. But he’s really very interested in it!

Interesting sidenote: while all of Victor’s Perry characters are involved in shady dealings to some extent, this fellow is probably the most harmless. The worst that he does is to drive the dead body out to Hollywood to try to keep the double life a secret. Oh yeah, and I think he asks for $500. Compare that with two murderers and a guy running a car-theft ring.

Along the same lines as the season 4 episode, with something different than paintings, the season 6 art-themed episode is The Greek Goddess, about a sculptor and the model he falls in love with. The sculptor’s eccentricities seem to have mostly been present before the time of the episode. According to his journalist friend, his clothes always looked rumpled and wrinkled like they’d been slept in and worn for days, he didn’t like hats (I think), and he said soap was for dishes. (Um, ewww, if he really never used soap!) When he brings back the model and her “mother”, however, he seems to abandon a lot of those eccentricities, upsetting his friend.

Actually, I’d say his friend ends up the real kook in this episode. He’s so upset over the sculptor changing his ways and falling in love with Theba, the model, that he goes to massive lengths to break up the couple. He finally says that the gods chose John Kenyon to portray love in his works but to never get to experience it himself. Um, gee. What a great friend. And he’s got seemingly no qualms about letting Kenyon take the fall for the murder.

Season 7’s The Reluctant Model, also one of my favorite episodes ever, gets us back to paintings. There’s an eccentric beatnik painter, whose beatnik dialogue is an act if the gallery owner is to be believed, and a husband and wife quarreling over where a painting they both like gets to hang. And said husband is played by John Larkin, who played the sculptor in The Greek Goddess!

This is one of the book adaptions, but I imagine the book version is vastly different. And I imagine it doesn’t have any of the awesomeness of Perry and Hamilton investigating the case together. It’s also one of the few episodes to feature both Andy and Tragg, but they sadly don’t share any scenes (except when they sit silently in court).

It’s back to sculpting in season 8’s The Scandalous Sculptor. In this case, both the sculptor and his model are kind of kooky. Sue Ane Langdon plays one of her classic ditzy girls (who isn’t adverse to posing just in her birthday suit, shocking two elderly visitors to the house). But she’s both smarter and darker than she appears to be.

The sculptor is cheerful, bad with money, and a bit scandalous in his attitude and actions, yes. But he doesn’t mean any harm. And he’s really sweet and genuinely loves his wife. They’re one of my most favorite couples in the series. It’s always nice to see a marriage that’s really working out!

Season 9’s art-themed episode is the remake of The Moth-Eaten Mink, The Sausalito Sunrise. The kooky artist is not a main plot point, but he’s an amusing one. Della runs into him at an art exhibit and they study a bizarre sculpture that looks like feet sticking out of a tub of water (if I remember right). The artist proclaims that it’s obvious that it’s depicting a naked soul, to which Della answers that she’s never seen a naked soul.

Other art-related goings-on are some comments Perry makes about modern art and the fact that paintings are being stolen and smuggled. Without seeing the uncut version, I still don’t know the significance of the one particular painting mentioned in the episode title.

Of the art-themed episodes, The Reluctant Model is probably my favorite overall, but The Sausalito Sunrise is definitely #2. I find the character exploration of Steve very intense and intriguing. And I must admit, my favorite thing about my third choice, The Purple Woman, is the epilogue. But all three episodes have exciting plots in general, as well as character interactions that I adore.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Quick Post

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I celebrated early, yesterday, by watching my favorite Perry Irishman. No, not Terrance Clay; Amory Fallon! Here, have some pictures.

And I’m absolutely thrilled that watching The Impatient Partner, coupled with an idea a friend gave me a couple weeks ago, gave me the drive and inspiration to write more in the next chapter of The Malevolent Mugging. I’m even more thrilled that the chapter is going to be tying a bunch of loose ends together and getting me over the spot that’s been making me tear my hair out. I hope to get it up sometime tomorrow, at the latest. And then I should be free and clear to proceed with the other plot angles I’ve had planned.

Oh, and speaking of Terrance Clay, incidentally, who caught Dan Tobin in The Scandalous Sculptor on MeTV the other night? I recognized him instantly, even without those glasses. I hadn’t remembered he was ever on the show as anyone other than Clay! I suppose his excellent performance in that episode is what made the producers decide to call him in when they needed another cast role filled in season 9.

I think I will write up that entry on kooky artists featured on the series, but as it looks like I won’t be able to devote enough time to it today, I’ll make it the weekday post.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Richard Anderson Promo and The Missing Button

First, a bit of news! A lovely promo for MeTV, hosted by Richard Anderson, has surfaced! I was unable to see it in its entirety last night, but it looks like it’s similar to the one James Hampton does, where he introduces himself and talks about some of the shows where he can be seen. They showed a clip from a Perry episode, of Steve on the witness stand. (I think it was The Tsarina’s Tiara.) Could this possibly indicate more promos from Richard in the future? Maybe even him hosting one of the Sunday Showcases? Oh, that would be so awesome! But even if this is the sole promo by Richard, it’s a wonderful one! I’m thrilled. I hope it airs again, during a time when I’m recording something, so I can pick it up in its entirety!

Now they just need to get a promo from H.M. Wynant! I’ve already contacted MeTV and told them how much I love the Richard promo and said that I would also really like to see one from H.M. I wonder if they’ll put the Richard one on their website.

And so we’ve gone into season 8 for the evening sessions. The first time I saw The Missing Button in its edited state, I was horrified. I felt no different this time. I think whoever mashed that episode cut it up in the very worst way possible. The way they did it, I don’t even like to show the episode to anyone. And I think that’s the only edited episode I feel that strongly about.

So what’s missing that’s such a source of alarm? Most of the scene where Perry and Paul find Button safe on the yacht and they’re informed at that point of what’s happening and that Button’s father orchestrated the taking of her from her house. Note I say “most” of the scene. They keep the part where Perry says goodbye to Button, Paul expresses disbelief that they’re going to leave her there, and Perry says that they are.

It makes no sense. Leaving that piece of scene makes it look like Perry is just leaving Button with a bunch of random kidnappers! It’s awful. If they’re clipping most of the scene, they should have gone all the way and cut the rest of it, too. It could then open instead where they go see Button’s father and talk to him about seeing Button and learning that he was involved in the grab. That would look a lot better.

I remember they also clipped some of the court scene with Otto Kruger as the judge, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen the uncut version that I don’t recall what was cut. I remember being appalled at Thanksgiving time, however, and I must have recalled the missing part in specific at that point.

I’ve always enjoyed the episode in general because I really like the ones where Perry interacts with kids. But every time I’ve watched it, there’s something else that perplexes me—the way the climax is acted out.

Why in the world, when that secretary is starting to try to lift Button up to apparently throw her off the bridge (!!), do her parents just sit in horror in the car while Della slowly walks towards the scene?!

I assume that Della doesn’t run because she’s afraid of startling the woman into really throwing Button overboard. But why doesn’t she move like she’s trying to be cautious? Instead it just looks like she’s taking a calm stroll and nothing’s wrong at all. It's not like the woman is facing her, so that she has to be completely casual about it. She wouldn't have had to at all.

And why is she the one going? Was Perry afraid that the parents would be too emotional, or that the sight of the father would tip the woman over the edge of sanity, since she was so obsessed with being his wife?

How did they even come to suspect such an obsession, anyway? In the epilogue Perry says it’s just as they thought, but it seems like it was pulled out of a hat. Even in the uncut, I don’t recall anything that really indicated that she had such a deeply-rooted complex, nor anything that showed Perry or anyone else being even vaguely suspicious of her. I know that the guilty party often seems to be pulled out of a hat, but in a case like that, there’s usually some type of hint, even if the main characters aren’t present for it. I couldn’t find anything. Just because the woman stood up for the father in front of Perry and was saying he was a wonderful man doesn’t seem any indication of an obsession to want to marry him.

Well, those puzzlements aside, I still love the uncut episode. It's exciting, intense, sweet, and all the cast has pretty good amounts of screentime, including Andy, and that was something that had started to become more infrequent by season 8.

The guest cast is also very good, including several veterans of Perry episodes: Julie Adams, Otto Kruger, Ed Nelson, and David Macklin. Button is played by Claire Wilcox, in her only Perry role.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Moth-Eaten Mink vs. The Sausalito Sunrise

I was considering getting this up on Thursday, but then I wasn’t feeling well and other things happened. I think I was able to devote more and better time to it now. And I’m hoping to get the schedule back to normal now! I have every intention of keeping this blog going.

I promised a comparison post with The Moth-Eaten Mink and The Sausalito Sunrise. I’ve talked a lot about the latter, but not often the former, except to briefly comment that I liked it better.

I imagine most people do. However, after reviewing both episodes shortly after each other, I’ve been having some differences in opinion.

The initial setting is different for each. I have no problem with either setting; the restaurant and the art museum are equally interesting places, considering the events that Perry and Della encounter at each.

In both, a young woman is in trouble and ends up hit by a car. She later disappears from the hospital and ends up with the man who knows her at her place of employment and has tried to help her. They both eventually end up accused of murder—one of the only times when there’s two defendants. (Other such times that I can think of are the remake, of course, and also The Elusive Element.)

In Mink, the titular mink becomes an object of interest, due to being stolen. In Sunrise, it’s the titular painting, and I’ve never seen The Sausalito Sunrise uncut, so I hope that when I eventually get to, there will be more explanation of exactly what the painting is and what its particular importance is (as opposed to the other stolen paintings).

One amusing scene opened up by the latter setting is Perry and Della at an art exhibit. They run into some bizarre modern art and some bizarre modern artists. Kooky artists are seen so frequently on the series that they probably deserve a post all their own.

An important event in both episodes is the unsolved murder of a policeman. But some of the details are intriguingly and intensely different. In Mink, Paul suddenly pulls the story out of the blue, showing it to Perry in a newspaper. The murder has been unsolved for an entire year. And now, suddenly, they have their first real break, with the murder gun being used again in the Moth-Eaten Mink case.

Contrast that with The Sausalito Sunrise, where it opens actually showing the events leading up to the poor policeman’s murder (minus the killer’s identity, of course)! It really involves the audience in the horror and tragedy and mystery of the case. It’s hard to get so involved in it in Mink, when Paul just brings up the matter and it’s little more than a newspaper story at first.

A month passes here, which makes more sense than a year considering the identity of the vengeful policeman looking for the killer, which is different for each episode. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The finding of the murder gun is also different. In Mink, Paul just so briefly mentions it. But in Sunrise, he is heavily involved in its discovery. He goes undercover as a trucker at the company where trucks keep getting hijacked. He goes up to San Francisco, nearly getting hijacked along the way and having to deal with a stowaway reporter who’s a friend of the murdered cop. While there, he finds the bus locker where the attacked girl’s art case is kept. The murder gun is inside the case and the police pounce, brought there by a mysterious anonymous tip about the case.

And hence, we finally come to the vengeful policeman looking for the cop killer. In Mink, the man is a character the audience has never met. He’s only around for that particular episode. He was the superior officer of the murdered man.

He’s also the killer. His vengefulness is all an act.

In Sunrise, the poor officer’s superior is still the killer, but he isn’t the one specifically depicted as vengeful. That role falls to someone the audience does know well, or at least, better than a oneshot character. His vengefulness is very real.

Once again, the later episode has done something to more deeply involve the audience. The vengeful sergeant in Mink isn’t really even seen that often (unless he has more scenes in the uncut version, which I don’t remember). A oneshot character can be very involving if they’re active enough in the plot, but this one just doesn’t seem to be. Hence, he’s not someone the audience is always consciously thinking about. He’s there for a scene or two, drops back into the background, and suddenly is coming after Perry after Perry starts to put together the truth about the guy being involved in assorted rackets and being the killer because the good cop found out.

In Sunrise, where the vengeful lieutenant is very active, frequently seen, and is Perry’s friend and a regular cast member to boot, it’s impossible to forget about him. One of the key issues to the whole plot is Steve Drumm’s quest to find the killer and Perry worrying about how bitter and vengeful he’s getting.

And this brings us to the climaxes. In Mink, Tragg is aware of Perry’s plot because Perry actually converses with him and brings him back to the office to wait with him. When the sergeant tries to shoot Perry, Perry knows Tragg is right there (although the audience doesn’t, until he starts to open the door). Tragg calls out, the creep whirls, shoots, and Tragg shoots back, hitting him in the arm. Furious and repulsed, Tragg snarls about how the honest police are trying to do their jobs and then slime like this guy comes along and makes a mess of his badge. He agrees with Perry to call an ambulance, but advises not to hurry. It’s totally one of Tragg’s best scenes, both the rescue and his subsequent speech.

In Sunrise, Perry has not told Steve of his plan. Perhaps he feels he can’t, with Steve so upset and angry, but also, he’s hoping that what he said to Steve during his cross-examination on the witness stand will get through and Steve will start to put the pieces together on his own. He does, and asks Della where Perry went.

The audience, however, knows nothing of this until after the fact (unless it’s a cut scene). All we see is Perry confronting the wretched dirty cop and the guy about to shoot. It really looks like Perry is done for (even though we know of course that somehow he won’t be killed). And suddenly, two shots ring out and the crumb drops dead. Only then is Steve seen on the stairs.

I adore the subsequent conversation they share, where Steve thanks Perry and Perry expresses amazement, since Steve saved Perry’s life. Steve elaborates that he’s thankful Perry kept trying to get through to him and finally got him on the right track about who the guilty party has to be—the policeman, managing to be on the case and cover up all the evidence wherever the good police would have normally found it. Steve wonders how Perry could put so much trust in Steve to come through, considering his angry and unthinking behavior. Perry says he knew he had the best thing in the world going for him—one good, honest cop.

Well, in the end, between Mink’s lesser involvement of the unsolved murder, the brief mention of the discovery of the gun, and the lesser involvement of the vengeful policeman, going up against very active involvement of all three elements in Sunrise, I kind of have to say, my tastes have swung more towards The Sausalito Sunrise. I prefer the more active approach and having a main character be the vengeful one. It certainly is a twist, though, to have the vengeful one in Mink be the killer. I don’t remember suspecting him at all the first time I recently saw Mink.

Most people are probably aware that The Moth-Eaten Mink was the first filmed episode, even though it aired as #13. And it is a true classic! Make no mistake about that. It’s one of my favorite season 1 episodes. It has very good interaction among the characters. Perry and Della and Perry and Paul get excellent amounts of screentime, and of course, Tragg gets to be awesome! That’s always something exciting. I just wish Hamilton had been in it more. He isn’t in Sunrise too much, either, for that matter, since the focus is more on Steve. Of course, I love that Steve gets the spotlight.

A brief difference in the episodes involving Hamilton is the judge’s attitude towards the way Hamilton wants to prosecute. Oddly enough, the judge in Mink is willing to consider Hamilton’s feelings that the murder of the policeman directly ties in with the more recent murder. In Sunrise, the judge refuses to allow Hamilton to bring in evidence for both murders and insists that he only focus on the policeman’s murder. Normally, I would think that the judge of the later episode would give Hamilton more latitude than the judge of a season 1 episode, but here, it’s just the opposite. Points for Mink.

One oddball thing about Mink is the epilogue. Perry, Della, and Paul are back at the restaurant and Perry is gratefully thanked by his friend for helping him and the girl get out of their mess. He asks about desserts and Perry says he’ll take anything … except a moth-eaten mink. It’s an amusing bit, and of course the mink was originally found at the restaurant, but it still sounds a bit strange, since a moth-eaten mink coat isn’t food at all. The show really does have some groan-worthy jokes sometimes, especially in earlier seasons. But that’s part of the charm.

And tomorrow marks the anniversary of Erle Stanley Gardner’s death in 1970, just several days after William Hopper died. It’s hard to believe that in 2013, it’s the 80th year of Perry Mason existing in some form or another. I recommend watching The Case of the Velvet Claws, since that story was the first book. Or if you have the book, heck, read the book. I still plan to have a look at the books if I can track some down locally, despite my displeasure at how Hamilton is handled. Perry wouldn’t exist without the books, and even those of us who prefer the television series should always keep that in mind.

Thank you for another wonderful year of Perry, Mr. Gardner!