Thursday, February 20, 2014

MeTV Interviews Tim Talman!

Second post for today, but this couldn't wait for another post. And I thought it deserved a post to itself instead of being edited into the below post.

I have been aware that MeTV recently interviewed Tim Talman, William's son. I have been eagerly waiting to find out what they would do with this interview. Well, they've started putting it up!

Apparently more will follow!

This is awesome. I'm always thrilled to see William Talman getting the recognition he deserves, and MeTV being interested in interviewing his son is very exciting.

The Case of the Deadly Verdict?

I feel like I’m going out of my mind.

I can’t believe that I would watch an incredible episode like The Deadly Verdict and not rave about it somewhere. I’m sure I did exactly that. I remember details such as my discussing the scene where Perry wanders through the mansion thinking about the trial.

But where did I say this? I can’t find any trace of it here or at Livejournal. I somewhat doubt I would have made such a post at a social meeting place such as the Yahoo Group. That only leaves a private conversation, and I was sure it was public.

Does anyone remember my making a post about this episode? I could have tagged it in a way that now it’s hard to find (although it seems like I should still be able to find it by going through the titles of the posts).

The reason I was thinking about it was because I saw it recently on MeTV and I wanted to make a post about some of my new thoughts, but then I couldn’t find any trace of a previous post to see what my first thoughts were, in order not to repeat myself.

It definitely stands as a shining example of what the show could have been had it been able to stray from its formulaic roots more often. Oh, of course Perry still triumphs in the end, and surely we would want him to since the client is innocent, but there’s a level of urgency and intensity to get there that isn’t usually present.

It’s the only time we actually see one of Perry’s clients get convicted of murder. From the very first scene, as the jury comes in and delivers their deadly verdict, it’s obvious that this episode is going to be quite different from the standard fare. Instead of meeting the characters and getting to know them before everything goes down, we jump right in at this critical point of the story. And everywhere Perry turns to buy time for his client, doors are slammed in his face. Sentencing is pronounced. The date is set for the execution. All attempts at appeals, even before the state Supreme Court, fail.

The scene where Perry goes to the partially closed-down mansion and wanders amid the sheet-covered furniture is very poignant and powerful. Thoughts come to his mind, echoing through the dark and lonely room. He remembers Hamilton questioning Doctor Hoxie and Lieutenants Tragg and Anderson on the witness stand. As key points in the scene of the crime are discussed, such as the glass by the nightstand and the broken balcony railing, Perry goes to them and examines them. There’s something particularly chilling about the shattered balcony railing, especially with the voiceover of Hamilton talking about the defendant lifting her drugged aunt’s body and shoving her against the railing until it broke and she fell to her death.

Even though we know Perry’s client must be innocent, it certainly looks bad for her for a while, especially since she lied about her whereabouts the night of the murder and even paid a bartender to lie about the time she went in for a drink. And it does admittedly get exasperating when she continues to insist she won’t tell, even in the face of her execution date being set.

I’m never quite sure what I think of the defendant. On the one hand, it’s very noble of her not to want to ruin her sister’s marriage, when she’s so certain that what she saw was proof of an affair. On the other hand, it isn’t worth dying over! And if there really was something going on, the sister should know about it.

What Janice should have done was to go to her brother-in-law and confront him about what she saw, instead of just insisting on believing the worst. Of course, I suppose she was arrested before she could have had a chance to do that, and once she was arrested she wouldn’t want to send for him to talk to him about it, in case everything would come out that way.

She acts so bitter about being convicted when she’s innocent. That’s certainly understandable and natural. But she acts like she isn’t aware that she helped bring about that verdict by her actions. Maybe telling the truth wouldn’t have helped her case in the end, since her brother-in-law didn’t see her out the window when she saw him that night. Lying and bribing definitely didn’t help, though. And in the face of that, her bitterness always rubs me the wrong way a bit.

Julie Adams’ performance is incredible, however, no matter what I think of everything the character says and does. She delivers amazing, heartfelt performances in every one of her Perry episodes, but I think this one and her previous appearance in The Lover’s Leap are my favorites.

I’m also not sure what I think of Janice’s wheelchair-bound sister, Paulette. It bugs me when she immediately jumps to the conclusion that Janice was having an affair with Paulette’s husband, instead of simply having witnessed what she thought was proof of one. Seems like thinking the worst of people runs in their family. Or perhaps in Paulette’s case, it was a bit of bitterness coming out for Janice having driven recklessly and getting her into that wheelchair.

I do love that Paulette immediately says her husband should have come forth and admitted to the affair, as it’s Janice’s life against Paulette’s pride. And I also love that for once, there really wasn’t an affair. The poor husband was just trying to comfort his hysterical nurse, who was threatening to commit suicide due to being pregnant out of wedlock and the young, immature father refusing to marry her.

Right after those revelations, the husband admits he didn’t see Janice and neither did the nurse. But the husband is willing to commit perjury and say he saw her, if it would save her life. Perry, however, says that he can’t do that.

The entire family of suspects is an interesting lot. There’s a socialite horrified at the idea of being related to a convicted murderer, an actress who thinks it’s exciting and will give her career a boost, and an obnoxious . . . whatever Chris is. Chris’s father is off in South America and sends a telegram about the medicine for the aunt not being what he prescribed for her, prompting Perry to send Paul off looking for him.

Paul’s trek is another unique element. We see a handful of his adventures outside of the L.A. area, but I think this is the only time where he has to go so completely out in the boondocks. We see him traveling up a river with a guide, being pestered by mosquitoes, and eventually reaching the medical outpost. “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” Unfortunately, this doctor is dead. He knew he was dying before he went on this last trip and wanted to be buried among the people he had spent so much of his time helping.

But it’s that one clue that he sent in the telegram that eventually leads to the resolution of the crime. One of the major things that led to Janice’s conviction was the hateful housekeeper seeing a woman run out of the house. She determined it was Janice, at least partially because her hateful feelings were clouding her judgment. I always find it interesting that she doesn’t protest in helping Perry find another solution to the murder. She acted so gleeful when she knew Janice’s execution date was set. But she goes along with Perry’s idea and finally exposes the true murderer as Chris, who had dressed up like a woman to try to frame Janice.

The climatic scene is so eerie, with the housekeeper walking through the darkened house and using the stairlift to get to the second floor. There’s some strange sounds, but all seems peaceful until we see someone in a raincoat and high heels going up the stairlift and preparing to strangle the housekeeper. Suddenly Perry, Paul, and Andy appear and prevent it.

Janice had become accustomed to the idea that there was no way to save her from the gas chamber. In the epilogue, she’s set free and is joyous over it being ten A.M., the time the executions generally happen, and having air to breathe instead of poisonous gas.

The episode was heavily promoted as being the time Perry would lose a case. There’s a hilarious promotional picture where Perry and Hamilton are standing together and Hamilton is reading a newspaper with the headline proclaiming that Hamilton won a case.

I’m glad they used a different newspaper in the actual episode, although they still try to insert a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor by captioning a picture of Hamilton “Victorious Prosecutor.” Hamilton, thankfully, looks serious and grim and not overjoyed.

Hamilton doesn’t have a lot of screentime in this episode, which I regret, but his scenes are very good. He handles everything with the soberness and maturity it deserves.

It’s also one of Tragg’s final episodes, and I’m glad that of all the episodes that could have been among those, this milestone episode is included. He has less screentime than Hamilton, but it’s wonderful to see and hear him again, even though it is bittersweet to see him sitting down during all of his time onscreen.

Perry is always noted for overworking himself on cases, but in this episode we see it most powerfully. He even falls asleep in the office, desperately looking through a book, and is found in a disheveled state by Della and Paul the next morning.

Naturally they wouldn’t have wanted to switch up the formula too often with episodes like this, where the client is convicted and the plot involves trying to save them, but I do wish they had found other ways to distance themselves from the formula sometimes. This one is definitely in a class by itself.

I often list the episodes that stray from the standard formula as being among my most favorites. This one and The Hateful Hero are two of my favorite examples of that, while The Betrayed Bride is a much more bizarre and, I feel, unflattering attempt at a different type of episode. But that’s another story.

I may be able to return to two posts a week soon; I have another topic I’m anxious to explore.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Travelling Treasure

As I imagine you’ve noticed, blog posts lately have trickled down to one per week. I’m hoping that won’t persist indefinitely, but for the time being it will probably stay that way.

There has been a method to the madness of at least some of the unusual days whereupon the posts have been going up, however. Last week was a double birthday tribute (one half belated); this week is another one. I couldn’t let my beloved H.M. Wynant’s birthday pass by without a mention on the blog, as long as there’s something I can come up with for it! And with ten episodes and eight characters, there is still quite a lot!

Today I decided to highlight The Travelling Treasure, which is one of my favorite Perry episodes ever, and which features an H.M. character who is fairly nice compared to some of his others, even though this one is a crook.

The eponymous object is a large amount of gold stolen from the Alchemy Gold Mines (hmm, interesting name). We see the guard, Leon Ulrich, who’s mixed up in the theft. He hides the gold under his jacket in the trunk of his car as he escapes the mine. He then transfers it to the woods for safekeeping.

We follow him on his exploits to find a way to smuggle the gold out of the country. He thinks he can easily get it aboard Scott Cahill’s boat, due to an odd charter party that has it every weekend, but this particular weekend they’ve cancelled, so he sets about trying to change their minds.

We meet H.M.’s character, Max Bleaker, at this point. He’s sitting with friend Charlie Bender in a bar. Charlie is the diver for the charter party, but he thinks he won’t have to go this weekend and hence, has gotten quite drunk. He starts singing about Karl McGovern breaking his leg to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell and he and Max laugh at the silly song. Leon rushes to find McGovern’s address.

Karl McGovern is in all kinds of trouble due to a deal that didn’t go through when it was supposed to. Leon poses as another process server to scare him into taking another trip to Mexico, only at the beginning we’re led to believe that they just might be in on the theft together.

Lisa Gaye, in one of her many Perry guest-spots, plays McGovern’s frustrated wife. He’s always snapping at her and never lets her in on what’s going on. Fearing that he’s going to get a divorce in Mexico and just stay there, she keeps going on the trips even though she hates boats.

The last member of the charter party is absent-minded professor Vaughn Taylor, who wears his hat and asks where it is. The whole reason for the trips is supposedly to collect Mexican seaweed. The professor has sunk an immense chunk of money into the project, going deeply into debt by doing so, but McGovern hasn’t put in any of his half.

With Charlie Bender drunk to high heaven, they recruit Max Bleaker as their diver. He comes willingly, particularly after catching sight of Lisa Gaye.

Two scenes missing from the current televised version are right around here. First, the McGoverns argue and Mrs. McGovern tries desperately and in vain to find out what’s frightening her husband so badly. Mr. McGovern treats her like dirt, as always, and orders her to call the ambulance to take him to the pier. She tells him it’s been out there for twenty minutes already. He forgot he had called it!

Second, after everyone is on the docks, Max is loading his gear onto the boat and a policeman stops him, asking if he’s seen Leon. Max looks at the picture and says he hasn’t. He finishes loading and everyone climbs aboard. The boat then starts off. This scene is cut on television to the part where Leon watches the boat depart and salutes it, smirking.

McGovern is such a jerk, but I never fail to get a giggle out of the part where deckhand Benny is staring at Mrs. McGovern and Mr. McGovern scowls and sarcastically asks, “Would you like me to buy you one, Buster?”

Mrs. McGovern certainly is popular with the guys. Both Benny and Max admire her throughout the episode, even though nobody makes a move to do anything about it.

Captain Cahill is a friend of Perry’s. Perry and Paul were actually supposed to take the boat out with him for the weekend when the charter cancelled, but when McGovern decided they had to go after all, Cahill had to find another boat for Perry and Paul.

Perry and Paul aren’t having much luck fishing on the other boat. In the middle of their woes, the radio lights up with an urgent message from Cahill. McGovern died aboard the boat. And a bunch of stolen gold has been found and now Cahill is suspected of being involved in the robbery.

Tragg is waiting when Perry and Paul arrive. He delivers a classic line, bemoaning their arrival in addition to the police, the Coast Guard, the Treasury Department, and three presidents of a gold mine.

Cahill thinks McGovern just died from too much alcohol, but the police soon discover it’s murder. Eventually they decide that McGovern and Cahill were mixed up in the robbery together and that Cahill murdered him.

I love the part where Tragg tells Perry for the second time to go fishing, and Perry says, “Tragg, I’ll just wait until I can go with Captain Cahill.”

The scenes where everyone on the boat is questioned are fun. I especially love Paul talking to Max, of course, and the scene with the professor is also a kick.

This episode boasts so many classic lines. Another is from the latter scene, where Perry tells Paul to see if he can find Charlie Bender. Paul goes, “If he’s not on one, I’ll find him.” Ha!

Paul is off in Mexico for the hearing, eventually discovering Leon waiting for someone. This is another scene that’s cut on television, instead going directly to Perry’s subsequent telephone conversation with Paul. Perry tells Paul not to move in and that he’ll let Paul know when he’s coming. Referencing Paul Revere, Perry says to wait to see a light in the belfry—one if by land, two if by sea.

You know, the funny thing about Leon Ulrich is that he is so central to the episode, yet he remains silent for the entire time! He speaks not a single word.

One thing I don’t like is that Max’s testimony is the only one we don’t hear in court. I wanted to see more of him and hear what he said! But the episode is so enjoyable that I forgive that omission.

I usually think of this episode as a great Perry and Hamilton episode. The latter scenes show why. Perry wants a two-day recess because he thinks he knows where the gold is. The judge grants it and Hamilton and the boat’s crew accompany Perry on a Navy vessel as they search for the spot where Cahill’s boat was anchored.

Perry and Hamilton have some great exchanges as Perry picks Hamilton’s brain about how he would mark the gold if it’s under the water. Hamilton plays along, although he’s confused and increasingly so as it goes on. “Why don’t you go back in the Navy?” he says more than once. Eventually, however, Perry uncovers the location by having the ship go full-speed through a kelp bed. The marker is triggered. This isn’t an unusual idea, Perry says, for someone who once served aboard a minesweeper.

I wonder if we were supposed to hear Max’s testimony in court. Perry’s line doesn’t make much sense without having heard it, if by doing so we would have learned in court that Max served aboard a minesweeper. On the other hand, maybe Perry was just putting the pieces together and guessing and never really did know for sure about Max.

In any case, he’s right. Max served on a minesweeper and is Leon’s partner in the robbery. He was taking the gold down inside the diving tanks. But when Perry comments he thought of the tanks “you divers use”, Max immediately says that it was just him and Charlie was never in on it.

I love him for that. I can think of quite a few characters who would try to put some of the blame on poor, hapless Charlie, but Max accepts full responsibility as soon as Perry figures it out. I like to think that Charlie and Max are genuinely good friends and that Max didn’t just stumble on Charlie around the time he got his idea. Their opening scene in the bar certainly makes it look like they’re pals.

Hamilton thinks Max’s involvement means Max also committed the murder, but Max is quick to exclaim that he did not. Perry agrees, saying that someone who could create such a masterful plan certainly wouldn’t spoil it with a murder.

Once they’re back on land, Perry and Hamilton question Mrs. McGovern in her house. She insists Max must have done it, but together the lawyers finally draw the truth from her, that her husband stole her furs and deliberately burned one of their homes, all for money, and that he was planning to leave her as she feared. If he stayed in Mexico, she wouldn’t be able to get anything back. So she killed him.

Perry and Paul are fishing with Cahill in the epilogue. They discuss a few loose ends and Cahill notes that Perry isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing, as he’s just about to lose a big fish.

This is one of the few episodes in which Della doesn’t appear. Honestly, though, I have to admit that there’s so much going on that sometimes I don’t even stop to think about that fact. This is in complete contrast to the season 7 episodes where she’s missing. Her absence is very glaring in those.

Max doesn’t have as many scenes as I would like, but as he always does, H.M. takes the screentime he has and creates a character who feels real. Max laughs, plots, admires beautiful women, chews gum in court, and gets things done without violence. Stealing the gold is wrong, of course, but Max seems so harmless and good-natured that it’s hard for me to be that angry with him. H.M. is really good at playing menacing antagonists, and he certainly could have made Max into another one, but he didn’t.

I have written for Max once, briefly, in my Rockford Files story The Warehouse on Wharf 33. Now released from prison, Max is working with Mike Nelson from Sea Hunt to get a new lease on life. They dive around the site of the exploded warehouse in the story, looking for any trace of the body that was supposed to have been there.

Perhaps future Perry stories will result in Max having some type of role there, as well.

H.M. Wynant is 87 today. Here’s to many more happy birthdays for a very talented and very kind man!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Double Birthday Tribute: William Hopper and William Talman

While it’s still the 4th, I wanted to be sure to get in a little birthday tribute post for William Talman. Then I had that sinking feeling because I knew I thought there was something else in January, but I forgot to look into it. Hence, I missed getting up a birthday post for William Hopper on the 26th. So, perhaps, this post should be for both of the Williams together.

What would the show have ever been like without the Williams? I can scarcely conceive of it. Of course, nowadays there are the television movies without them (instead bringing us a new William for a few of them, Barbara Hale’s son William Katt), and there is definitely something sharply missing. And I honestly have to wonder if the television series would have ever gotten so popular that the movies could have happened, had the first two Williams not been part of it.

There are some absolutely wonderful, rare gems on the 50th Anniversary DVD set. Even if people aren’t thrilled with the episode choices, I can’t understand why they would ever get rid of this treasure trove if they have it, since the bonus features are so amazing. There’s two interviews with Raymond Burr and one with Barbara Hale, as well as interviews with director Arthur Marks and CBS executive Anne Nelson. There are syndication promos and a photo gallery and a featurette on Erle Stanley Gardner. And then there are extremely rare gems such as screen tests, some of the cast on Stump the Stars (I can’t help wondering why Wesley wasn’t there), and a second version of William Talman’s message against smoking.

Sadly, there are no screen tests for William Talman, but there is a very intriguing one where William Hopper is trying out for the role of Perry Mason. He does a good job, naturally, but somehow he just doesn’t feel quite right for the character. I don’t know if that’s because I’m used to him as Paul Drake or if it’s the same thing the people putting the show together saw. Apparently, they saw that they definitely didn’t want to let William Hopper go, but they also saw that they could find a better place for him than as Perry.

As Perry’s friend and best private investigator, William H. is so perfectly cast. He fits into the role like a glove, so comfortable with the character and so expertly making the character his own. Other actors could have (and have) played Paul Drake, but it’s William Hopper’s characterization that is remembered the most.

The clips of the cast members on Stump the Stars are a true delight. We see Raymond, Barbara, and the Williams each take a turn acting out charades. They’re all having a wonderful time relaxing and laughing and being silly with each other. The good rapport they all had is very clear here. While William Talman and Barbara Hale succeed in getting the others to understand their pantomimed sentences, William Hopper and Raymond Burr have quite a bit more trouble.

William Talman and William Hopper are in wonderful form as they both act out and guess sentences. Their comments and reactions are among the most hilarious; my favorite is probably when they’re working on William H.’s sentence, “Perry Mason wishes to meet tailor: Object, a law suit.” They’ve gotten as far as “meet”, and somehow they get on the idea that Perry wants to meet another type of mason. William T. chimes in with “Mason jar!” Priceless. I also love where they’re on Raymond’s sentence, “The Case of the Busy Spook, or No Rest for the Weirdy!” and Barbara goes, “The Case of the Nose!” and William H. lightly swats her on the back.

On a much more somber note, William Talman’s anti-smoking message is very heartbreaking and powerful. It isn’t the same one as the short version that’s on YouTube; there are some similarities in content at the beginning (although the dialogue is not exact), but then they completely diverge. The long version on the disc has him then go into telling in detail how he’s been a smoker since age twelve and discusses the urgent need to fight cancer. I’m unsure why there are the two versions of the message or where this longer version was shown; it clocks in at around seven minutes, compared to the one-minute message on YouTube. Both versions show his deep sincerity and sadness over the cancer that has been ravaging his body and his strong desire to get people to realize the dangers of smoking and stop.

I never fail to be moved by both versions, but the one on YouTube has always struck a particular poignant chord with me. I have literally been brought to tears as William Talman shows pictures of his family and the picture of himself and Raymond and tells how he doesn’t want to lose his battle against cancer and thus also lose on being able to be with his loved ones.

Today, it would have been William Talman’s 99th birthday. On the 26th of January, it would have been the same for William Hopper. Born the same year, both also left us far too soon.
Wonderful actors and wonderful men: I salute you.