Friday, September 26, 2014

The Startled Stallion

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the uncut version of The Startled Stallion, as I’m pretty sure I did once, that I can’t fully remember what’s missing from the television version. But one thing present in both versions that I always love seeing is the awesomeness of Lieutenant Tragg.

Even before he realizes that the case is murder and not death by frightened horse, he doesn’t like the idea of putting down a beautiful animal like this horse. Probably some of that is recognizing how valuable the horse is, but he just comes across as someone who appreciates animals in general and doesn’t like to see them killed unless absolutely necessary.

Also present in this episode is another element that occurred several times around season 3, that of Tragg teaching Sergeant Brice some of the clues he looks for in an investigation. The bit with determining it had to be murder because the wheelchair-bound man could not have locked himself in the barn is great. I love any scenes showing that the police are not idiots. Of course, the wrong person gets arrested, as always, but there is definite evidence against her.

I also like how Hamilton seems to be acknowledging the problem of the wrong people getting arrested when he tells Perry, “You know what we go through before we indict someone.” It doesn’t just happen at random; they are making an effort to get the right person arrested. The only reason it doesn’t work is because of the formula. And I do have to give points to the books for apparently not falling back on said formula all the time. I just don’t like that the reason they don’t is because Perry’s clients sometimes (or often) are guilty. As I said, I rather romanticize the character due to his television counterpart!

Another fun thing about The Startled Stallion episode is Elliott Reid playing the defendant’s brother. I’ve liked him for years because of his roles in Disney movies, so I was happy to see him pop up on Perry.

Of the episodes about horses, I think I like this one a lot more than the season 6 episode The Fickle Filly. I find it so sad in the latter episode when the horse goes lame. It’s sad for the horse and also for the people, since they thought they had a great racehorse. Of course, there is the bit in the epilogue where they plan to breed the horse, so it’s nice that all of their plans don’t have to just go down the drain.

What’s strange about the syndication copy of The Startled Stallion, however, is that I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever seen the first scene on television before, the part that shows the actual mock wedding and reveals in their car that the secretary didn’t really marry the old man. It seems like all the other times I’ve seen the episode on television, it’s opened with the racing horses. That is very weird if there really is a syndication episode floating around without that key opening scene, although I definitely wouldn’t put it past networks to clip it out for commercial time.

Back to Sergeant Brice, it’s fun seeing him becoming an important fixture on Perry. By season 3, he’s there almost all the time when it’s an in-town episode. According to IMDB, Lee Miller was playing Sergeant Brice, uncredited as the character, in several season 1 episodes. I don’t recall seeing him, but the broadcast prints of season 1 episodes are bad, so I should check my DVDs to see if I see him anywhere.

What I do know is that once or twice in season 2, they had a character called Sergeant Brice who was not played by Lee Miller. Even if Lee’s character in season 1 is thought to be Brice, I am quite sure he is never actually addressed as such until late in season 2, when they decided Tragg should have a steady partner instead of different ones most of the time. And instead of keeping the actor who was originally playing a Sergeant Brice character, they brought in Lee, which was a stroke of genius.

Lee is perfect as the quiet Sergeant Brice, silently observing everything and speaking when necessary. He interacts with Tragg, Perry, Hamilton, suspects and witnesses, Andy, Steve, and even Della. Those who have only seen syndication versions of the episodes won’t have seen it, but one of the good things about The 12th Wildcat is the bit where Brice wanders in and greets Della, jokingly asking if Perry and Paul are giving her a bad time. She responds by touching his arm and saying if they do, he’s her policeman. Aww. Brice has been shown to be friendly to Perry and company on several occasions, and indicates in The Careless Kitten and The Impetuous Imp that he has a lot less problems with them poking around investigating than his superiors do, but that brief and telling interaction with Della says that he must interact with them (and her) a lot more than we ever see onscreen. I still want to write a story with him and Della sometime.

Perhaps they can have some interaction if I write a Halloween story this year. I was thinking that if I did, it would be a great time to write that masquerade-themed adventure I always wanted the show to have. It will kind of be The Dodging Domino as the title made me think that episode should have been. I was thinking of setting it around season six or seven, but I might just set it after season 9 instead, as per most of my stories.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Birthday Tribute: Karl Held

This must be the week of unpopular opinions, because today is the 19th and it’s time to talk about Karl Held again!

And oh snap. I was just looking him up to make sure he’s still alive (he is; he’s 83 today!), and it said his wife just died this year. Gah. That is so sad. They married in 1964, which is awesome, but now he must be so lonely and sad without her.

Karl is unfortunately quite unpopular among Perry fans. If disliking The Jaded Joker is almost universal, disliking David Gideon seems to be even moreso!

Honestly, I think people are hating on the wrong character. David is a nice boy, despite getting sidetracked for a while and taken in by a femme fatale’s wiles. But Karl’s first Perry character, son of the titular Angry Dead Man, is really a piece of work.

I ordered some things on Amazon recently, and among them was the second half of season 4. I’ve been wanting that for over three years to have the uncut version of The Misguided Missile. Finally, it’s mine! All the Simon scenes are intact and I can watch them any time I want!

I have been watching the episodes I’ve never seen uncut before I go on to my beloved Misguided Missile. The first one I tried was The Angry Dead Man. And of the ones I’ve seen on the set so far from the first two discs, it has the biggest chunks taken out of it on television!

I gave the television set one very long, blank stare when it showed the scene with Lloyd Castle reading about Willard Nesbitt’s death at sea and his receptionist Helen comes in crying. Later, Lloyd is with his secretary Jenny and they are apparently romantically involved. The television version, to the best of my recollection, eliminated all scenes showing Lloyd and Jenny’s relationship, including this one and about two others. Lloyd asks Jenny to marry him in one scene, and this is discussed in court in another scene.

Also missing is a scene right after Willard Nesbitt reads in the paper about the mine and realizes his wife’s being cheated. He runs inside and calls Perry’s office, using a handkerchief to muffle his voice as he talks with Della, pretending to be an IRS agent. When the conversation doesn’t go as he hoped, he hangs up and rushes out to break into the cabin and look for the contract. A short scene where Della talks about the phone conversation is missing as well.

And some of Karl Held’s screentime is also among what’s absent, albeit only a small portion. After he and his stepmother Eve take the luggage outside to go back to the city, the uncut version shows them loading the luggage and getting in the car to drive away.

Bruce Nesbitt is a strange person. In his first scene, he actually seems nice. He holds Eve as she cries over the news of Willard’s (first) death and later tries to bring her a drink. Later, however, he behaves very obnoxiously and disrespectfully, not seeming upset by his father’s death and jeering at his stepmother. He remains obnoxious for the remainder of his screentime, criticizing Eve to Perry on the phone and trying to insinuate in court that she was playing around and that his father wanted him to spy on her because of it. Perry points out that Willard was likely only worried for Eve’s safety.

One of the criticisms against Karl Held is that his acting is wooden. I honestly can’t see anything wrong with it here. He portrays Bruce as a very nasty, selfish, repulsive boy who seriously resents his stepmother and seems indifferent about his father. If Karl’s acting was truly wooden, I doubt Bruce would be so despicable. I also doubt that David would seem much different from him.

But David is very different, and in mostly good ways. While he wasn’t always kind to his grandfather, he was nowhere near as terrible as Bruce, and he did improve. Thankfully, one complaint I’ve never heard against David is that he’s nasty, which is good since he isn’t.

David idolizes Perry and is eager to get back on track and finish law school. While naturally he makes slip-ups, I could really only find a couple in addition to the ones in his first episode. That’s quite different from what some of the fans will say, exaggerating that he’s “always” making mistakes!

There’s about three episodes where he offers helpful suggestions that move the plot along. The same role would have been taken by one of the other team members in other episodes, true, but this did give David something to do. And I thought it was good to have him try to contribute to the episodes instead of just being there like a bump on a log.

He also occasionally investigates, which may or not prove fruitful, just as it doesn’t always prove fruitful when Perry or Paul investigates. Now if David always had good luck, that might come off as more aggravating! Or if he always failed. Instead, as I recall, they seemed to try to have a balance, the same as with the other characters. And that, as far as I’m concerned, makes it fine.

I still wish they would have developed the idea a bit more of Perry teaching David the principles of the law. I really liked that angle. And honestly, David could have become a recurring character, popping in and out of the show perhaps once or twice per season, coming to Perry for advice or maybe even bringing a problem that would end up becoming the mystery for the episode. That would have been fun and perhaps the viewers wouldn’t have found him too intrusive.

Hey, maybe that’s how I could use the character in my stories, if I ever get The Malevolent Mugging finished and continue the mystery series. I also need to decide if I’ll be writing a Halloween Perry story this year. David might be in that if I do.

I’ve actually had an idle thought lately of making one of my screenshot music videos using the song Hallelujah (the Leonard Cohen song) and images from David’s episodes. Some things in the song definitely put me in mind of him, particularly his misadventure with the femme fatale. I don’t know whether I’d really make it, or if I’d post it anywhere if I did, but the idea does intrigue me (even if most people would detest it just for being about David).

David isn’t my favorite character, but I am proud to say I like him. I feel rather sad and puzzled that the dislike of the character is so rampant throughout the fandom. I’ve tried to understand why, but I just can’t seem to see what the problem is. I will agree that it probably wouldn’t have worked to have him there long-term, but since he’s around for only nine episodes, the dislike boggles my mind all the more. I guess it’s just one more of many ways that I am very unconventional.

In any case, I feel that Karl Held did a fine job bringing both Bruce and David to life and making them different as night and day. I’m happy he’s part of the Perry family and I hope he has a very lovely birthday!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Case of the Jaded Joker

I ended up missing The Jaded Joker when it aired on television recently. I decided it would be the perfect time to watch it uncut again, as I think I’ve only seen the uncut version once or twice.

I cringed to remember just how much was cut out. They eliminated both the scene where the titular character Danny tries to kill himself and is stopped by Freddie, and a scene at breakfast the next day where they discuss it. Or Danny tries to discuss it, anyway, and Freddie gruffly brushes it off, saying that he himself has been helped out of jams many times by Danny. They then discuss the murder and Danny tries to give an alibi to Freddie, worrying that he killed the creep who’s caused them so much trouble. Freddie, meanwhile, worries that Danny did it, although he doesn’t say so at this point.

As before, I find the episode just delightful because of the friendship between those two. I am annoyed that those scenes get cut, but even the cut version retains some of the friendship scenes. Danny exclaims on the witness stand that if Freddie did kill the guy, it was for Danny, so Danny should be the one to go to the gas chamber. It’s illogical, but it shows how deeply Danny cares about Freddie. Meanwhile, Freddie is still worried that Danny did it and he’s willing to take the blame to protect Danny.

Paul expresses confusion early on as to why Freddie stays on with Danny and if there’s anything crooked in his mind, since Freddie has a record and was a two-bit operator before meeting Danny. But from all the scenes between them and concerning them, it’s obvious that Freddie has no criminal motives in mind unless said motives are for the protection of Danny. He’s very loyal and caring and they have a truly lovely, deep friendship.

The friendship, however, seems to be largely overshadowed by the main thing people seem to dislike about this episode, which is the fact that it gets into beatnik culture. Danny and Freddie’s friend, Buzzie, is a beat, mostly always playing the piano or occasionally spouting strange statements that people other than beats aren’t likely to understand. He ends up being the murderer, upset about the way his friends have been treated (“friends” also including Sheila Hayes, who was stood up). And the bizarre element of the body being stuffed into the kneehole of the desk is apparently because the victim is a “square” and Buzzie somehow feels that killing him and putting him in such a strange position will enable him to be “born again” and eventually find salvation.

It’s definitely weird, that’s for sure. But there have been other Perry episodes with strange resolutions. Whether or not they are accepted any better is something I’m not sure of. In any case, while I do think the solution to the crime is why my mom doesn’t like the episode, from what most people have said, it seems to be the idea of anything beatnik-related at all that makes their skin crawl. It kind of interferes with their ideas of what Perry cases should be like. They prefer more mainstream plots and characters, such as the ones from season 1, and do not care to see unusual subcultures. (Or stuff about the Space Age, as another example.)

While some of that may be a desire to keep the plots and characters more relatable to more people, I think another large part of it goes back to the idea of wanting to keep Perry a period piece, taking place even before beatniks really started coming into being. Beatniks properly place the series in the present day of its time, plus I suppose some people would say that the presence of beatniks dates the episode today.

I’m all for contemporary Perry, as everyone probably well knows by now, and I enjoy seeing them encounter the things that were happening at that time. I see nothing wrong with that and don’t think it should take away from the enjoyment of the episodes.

That being said, I do think it’s better to keep jaunts into the beatnik or Space Age worlds as something occasional and not the main thing. And the show did that very well; most plots are more mainstream, with more average, relatable guest-stars. (Although I think Danny and Freddie’s friendship should be relatable for most people.)

While the majority of people dislike this episode, however, one thing it seems most of them still appreciate is the hilarious adorableness of Lieutenant Tragg spouting off beat talk. Tragg is totally in tune with the slang of the day and would definitely be able to carry on conversations with members of the younger set who actually talk like that most of the time. I just love that priceless, mischievous grin as he says, “Don’t bug me, Granny. I’m one of the cool ones. I don't dig slick chicks trying to goof me up, Daddy-O.” Classic Tragg.

And now I have an image of Tragg in my stories (which are set in the present day) carrying on a conversation with a kid about video games like Mario and Sonic. If he could keep up-to-date on beatnik talk, I bet a present-day Tragg would also keep up on current interests of the young people. That would be pretty adorable too.

But I digress. I find The Jaded Joker a very enjoyable and fun episode, largely because of the friendship between Danny and Freddie. The beatnik elements certainly make it unusual, and the solution to the mystery is very trippy and strange (I can’t think of any other episode that resolves itself in a beat joint!), but I see no reason why those elements should have to make the episode overall any less fun to watch. And anyway, being a fan of Bobby Troupe, I found it intriguing to see him in this early role.

Actually, it’s interesting that The Jaded Joker is rather a musical episode, with music personalities in the form of not only Bobby Troupe, but Frankie Laine, who plays Danny. But despite Frankie Laine’s status as a singer, he doesn’t so much as hum one note in the episode. I’m always slightly amused when a famous singer comes onboard and then doesn’t sing. I suppose he wants to be known for something other than solely singing, or else the staff working on the episode doesn’t want the episode to turn into little more than a vehicle for the singer to sing.

Both Frankie Laine and Bobby Troupe are excellent in their roles, and I’m also very impressed with Walter Burke as Freddie. But then, I generally am impressed with the quality of the guest-stars on Perry. Maybe occasionally a slip is made, such as how I’ve heard that people forgot their lines in The Lost Last Act when Tragg comes to arrest Stacy Harris’s character, but it’s covered up so beautifully I never would have realized it hadn’t played out the way it was really supposed to be. Ray Collins is awesome in that scene, with his gentle prompting and ad-libbing. No wonder they kept it in instead of asking for another take!

Anyway, aside from the beatnik elements, the story of The Jaded Joker is very much like any other Perry mystery in that it has a wide variety of character types often seen on the series, a puzzling murder, and nice character interaction as the crew works to solve it. I study the episode trying to find something wrong with it since it’s so universally disliked, but I always end up coming away feeling that it’s just fine.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Raymond Burr

Today it’s 21 years since we lost our Perry Mason, Raymond Burr. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.

Raymond was, and really still is, the quintessential Perry Mason. His acting style isn’t appreciated by everyone, of course, but I and many others found him just perfect in the part. His ability to deadpan and be serious is what’s often remembered about his interpretation of the character; even Raymond himself forgot that Perry also has a definite mischievous streak, usually in the form of teasing Paul Drake. And he often smiles in amusement at things that are going on or being said by other characters. It wasn’t just in the later television movies when his sense of humor came out.

Perry can become emotional in court, even raising his voice when speaking to certain witnesses (often the real murderers). Other times he becomes very sarcastic and mocking, such as when he talks to fortune-teller Marius in The Fatal Fortune. It doesn’t happen often, so it might be easy to forget, but I enjoy The Fatal Fortune in general and found the role-reversal of Perry’s sarcasm and Hamilton objecting to it to be very interesting. Hamilton certainly doesn’t believe in fortune-telling and the like, but he still found Perry’s sarcasm inappropriate in the cross-examination.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Perry is very kind. Raymond always brought it out perfectly, showing how Perry would help many destitute clients who wouldn’t be able to pay, patiently teach David Gideon in the matters of the law, and even refuse to prosecute a juvenile for the stripping of his car. And who can forget the lovely exchange between Perry and Della from The Weary Watchdog:

Della: How far would you go for a friend?

Perry: How far is forever?

And with Perry, you know he’s not exaggerating. Many of the impossible cases he takes on are for his friends. And he’ll keep fighting to save them as long as there’s even the slimmest thread of hope. Even if one doesn’t always agree with his methods, his intense loyalty is certainly an admirable quality. It would be difficult to find a more faithful friend than Perry.

I read something recently, perhaps at the Yahoo Group, where someone commented that the reason The Restless Redhead may have been chosen as the first episode aired was because of how excellently it shows how Perry champions the underdog. That was one of the main themes they wanted to sell in the series, and it’s very true that Redhead shows some classic examples of it. (It also right off the bat shows some of Perry’s most jaw-dropping less-than-legal actions by firing more bullets around the crime scene!) While I still sort of wonder why The Moth-Eaten Mink wouldn’t have been either the first aired or one of the first eight, I do agree that if they were trying to sell the underdog concept, Redhead was probably the better choice for the first one aired between those two.

Raymond was always excellent at any part he took on. Robert Ironside is a much gruffer man than Perry, but his heart is just as big underneath all the growls. I don’t like how Perry in the reunion movies sometimes acts more gruff like Ironside, but if it was a deliberate action I suppose it was the fabled grouchiness of old age.

Perry is definitely the role for which Raymond is most singularly remembered, and with very good reason, since Raymond not only did a perfect job, he played Perry right up to the time of his death. His final role was the television movie The Case of the Killer Kiss, which was actually released more than two months after his death. I still have it recorded from MeTV and haven’t seen it yet, and it will likely be a very bittersweet experience when I do.

I wonder what it was like for people watching the original broadcast in 1993? It must have been extremely sad and bittersweet, knowing it was Raymond’s final performance and that he had passed on over two months earlier. The emotional wounds of the fans would have still been very fresh.

21 years later, it’s still very sad to think that Raymond is gone. But it’s a comfort to know that there’s such a treasure trove of his work available for us to still share in the joy of watching. My friend Crystal often bemoans how the BBC destroyed many priceless recordings of their old shows. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case in America! We can still watch every episode of Perry Mason, Ironside, the Perry television movies, and many other things that Raymond Burr appeared in. And while of course watching them is not like having him still here, I like to think that he’s happy knowing he still brings happiness to people with the shows he made.

Here’s to you, Raymond. Still remembered, missed, and loved.