Friday, January 30, 2015

Birthday post for William Hopper and news

I wanted to make sure to get in one more post in January. As an anonymous reader hastened to inform me, I neglected to put up a post for William Hopper’s birthday on Monday. This year, it wasn’t for lack of remembering, but lack of physical capability to make the post. I was feeling miserable all that day. Then Tuesday was rather busy, as has been the rest of the week, but I decided I must make sure to get William H. acknowledged before the month is out.

This is a real milestone birthday for our William H.; he would have been 100 this year! (William Talman and Simon Oakland celebrate the same milestone this year as well.) It’s really quite incredible to think that it’s been that many years. I wish I really had a decent tribute to give, but I haven’t seen any more of his movies yet, nor have I gleaned new insight into Paul-centric episodes or scenes since the last time I posted on that matter.

The best I can do is mention my geeky excitement when I was watching The Stars and Stripes Forever, the biopic for John Philip Sousa, and they mentioned the actor DeWolf Hopper was going to star in a musical play Sousa was writing the music for. I figured that must be William H.’s father, considering his full name is William DeWolf Hopper, Jr., and looking him up, I find that is true. So it was fun to find a little Perry-related connection in that film.

Also, looking up things further, it says that William H. first appeared in one of his father’s silent movies, Sunshine Dad, as a baby. That’s pretty adorable.

William H. had a very illustrious career in the motion picture business during the late 1930s and off and on through parts of the 1940s and 1950s, before he became Paul Drake on Perry Mason in 1957. And it wasn’t just B-grade movies, either; he has quite the impressive resumé—even though many of his early roles were bit parts. Among other well-known films, he appeared in Stagecoach, The Maltese Falcon, Knute Rockne, and Yankee Doodle Dandy! I knew about his later role in Rebel Without a Cause, but I was unaware of these earlier roles. I am excited. It’s been years since I’ve seen The Maltese Falcon; it looks like it’s time I saw it again. And on the B-movie circuit, he was in two of the Bonita Granville Nancy Drew movies. While I did not care for her version of the character, I would definitely be interested in seeing those films to see William H.

I still find it interesting that William H. originally auditioned for the role of Perry Mason himself when they started putting the show together. I really enjoyed his screen test when I saw it on the 50th Anniversary DVD set, but he just didn’t give off a Perry vibe to me. I guess the producers agreed, since they determined he would be the perfect Paul Drake instead. That was definitely a bit of casting genius!

While I’ll admit that I didn’t think Albert Stratton in The New Perry Mason did a poor job as Paul, it will always be William Hopper’s Paul who is the iconic version of the character. He’s ideal! Smooth, intelligent, always with an eye for a beautiful lady and bewilderment over some of Perry’s desires (“A couple of dozen flies?!”), William H.’s Paul delivers many classic lines and hilarious expressions. And of course, he often brings in the evidence Perry needs to cinch a case just in time.

I love whenever the show devotes a bit more time to showing Paul operating, instead of just having Paul tell Perry things about the investigation after the fact. Every now and then the show would allow some spotlighting of Paul’s work, something that became more prominent later on as Raymond Burr grew tired of always carrying the majority of the show. Mid-series episodes such as The Barefaced Witness, The Impatient Partner, and The Glamorous Ghost are excellent Paul investigation vehicles. Later ventures such as The Bullied Bowler, The Feather Cloak, and The Carefree Coronary also involve Paul as a particularly key figure.

When out-of-town investigating needs doing, Perry often sends Paul instead of going himself. Sometimes Paul’s adventures are off-screen; other times, we see him in assorted locales such as New Orleans, Boston, and Mexico. It would make a good post just to focus on Paul’s travels sometime. I’ll have to start collecting information for such a post.

Paul is such a ladies’ man that another good post subject would be all the times he’s mentioned having dates, shows interest in particular ladies, or is actually shown on dates. Then again, that could take volumes. Paul has an interesting social life, when given the chance to have it.

Paul always adds so much spice to the show. I always enjoy seeing more of his investigations and would have liked to have seen more. There could never be too many private-eye series! Lately I’ve been enjoying a lot of Darren McGavin’s private-eye vehicle Mike Hammer, and it occurs to me how much fun it would have been had there been a series focusing more on Paul’s investigations than on the legal elements. But I love Perry Mason for what it is, and I love Paul for being a part of what it is. There is certainly a big, lonely gap in the reunion movies where Paul should be. No actor could quite fill it.

Happy belated birthday to a wonderful actor and a wonderful man, William Hopper! 100 years of being aware of his existence in the world is a milestone indeed.

And now for a bit of news. I probably shouldn’t have this in the same post, but I’d like to get it out here before any more time goes by. I still wish that there was a Perry video or computer game with all the latest graphics. It would be so fun to see the cast rendered in 3D, possibly even controllable for levels. Imagine playing out investigation levels as Paul! Going to court as Perry and Hamilton! Playing mini puzzle games with Della or Tragg, Andy, and Steve sorting through information! There are so many possibilities.

The old DOS text-based computer game remains the one time Perry ventured into such media. There may be some nice pictures of Paul in that; I’m unsure, as I’ve only seen the first 16 minutes of game play. All I recall is some nice renditions of Hamilton and Tragg. However, for anyone who understands how to work a text-based DOS game, it is now possible to find out the answers to this and any other questions revolving around said game! The Internet Archive has been adding old DOS games to be legally played online for free, and the 1985 Perry game The Mandarin Murder is among them! My friend Crystal Rose (who runs the Simon Oakland blog with me) discovered it here:

I’m looking forward to giving it a try, although I don’t know how handy I’ll be at playing a text-based game.

Also, I do have what appears to be news on the Perry movie front. There is a promo running for MeTV’s current Mystery Movie feature on weeknights, and Perry as he appears in the 1980s and 1990s movies is part of that promo. It looks like at some point, MeTV will indeed air some of the Perry movies as part of their line-up. They seem to rotate each week, so we should get a whole week of Perry movies sometime soon. That should be interesting: a late-night Perry episode followed by a Perry movie.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Extra! Extra! Read all about Mr. Mason! (Or Mr. Burger!)

So I’m writing a non-Perry story based on the adventure quest genre and decided to have some of the clichés, including a heavyset bad guy in white. I opted to base the character on Perry alumnus Dan Seymour. I’ve already written a story with a Victor Buono-inspired bad guy, and Dan Seymour seemed the next most logical choice.

The Ancient Romeo is not a favorite episode of mine and never has been. When I saw it was on MeTV tonight, I decided to see what was on the local station instead. I see that episode so seldom I didn’t recognize its opening scene at first, but I recognized Dan Seymour’s voice before he actually walked onscreen. I’m rather pleased about that.

The episode was The Silent Partner, which probably gave Dan Seymour his meatiest screentime on Perry. Even though I’ve come to prefer its remake, The Candy Queen, I like the earlier episode and decided to watch it instead of MeTV’s offering. I am, however, wondering why the local station was showing season 1 when they were in the middle of season 4! I hope they haven’t decided to only air episodes through most of season 4 now. It was bad enough when they cut out most of 7, all of 8, and half of 9!

It’s always a little odd to go back to season 1 episodes after watching later episodes. I will probably always prefer the later episodes, as sacrilegious as that likely sounds to some fans, but there’s no denying that the early episodes featured very twisty, noir-ish plots.

They also feature a Perry who doesn’t always put the interests of worried clients first. Okay, so even a bit later there are times when he really doesn’t want to take a case, but season 1 seems to bring us the majority of the times when he has a client and doesn’t always jump to their aid or even wholly believe them. He’s a much more cynical Perry. Here, he wants to work on a brief instead of immediately going to Mrs. Kimber’s aid, suggesting she come tomorrow as opposed to that night. It’s understandable that he would be worried about the brief, but it’s just interesting to note that he doesn’t drop everything to see about Mrs. Kimber that night. Della, however, thinks that he should do exactly that.

But this post isn’t going to be one that examines the differences between Perrys. The main thing I was thinking about this time around was how the press features into the episode and how often they’re around in the series at all. I was also thinking about Hamilton’s approach to the press and how that seems to change over time.

There really aren’t very many occasions when the main characters are shown being hounded by reporters. This episode gives us a glimpse into what has been happening on that front, with the reporters hanging on the friction between Perry and Hamilton and rushing off to make their stories when Perry says “No comment” in response to being asked if he really, deliberately told his client to fire a second bullet from the gun to make a paraffin test inconclusive.

Perry and Hamilton are on very bad terms here, with each calling the other by his last name and not even affording the courtesy of a “Mr.” for the sake of the press if nothing else. Hamilton is stressed and angry, believing that Perry has broken the law, and he treats the reporters in a very clipped manner. Perry is cold to Hamilton but gracious to the reporters; in spite of the “No comment” remark, he delivers it in a calm and collected tone.

Contrast this season 1 incident with a scene from season 9, where Hamilton is cornered by reporters in The Carefree Coronary. (Oddly enough, Dan Seymour is in this episode too.) Now Hamilton is calm, cool, and collected, handling the questions with grace and ease and telling the reporters that he isn’t going to make any case against Perry until he sees what the outcome of the inquest is.

Hamilton is definitely more of an ally by the final season. And he has also matured in other ways, including not losing his temper as often. (When he does, though, it’s a beaut, like in The Fatal Fortune.) Perhaps he would have handled the reporters smoother even in season 1 if he hadn’t been so stressed at the moment; we see him in the season 1 episode The Terrified Typist, rather pleased and triumphant as he talks to a reporter after court (albeit we don’t hear what he’s saying). But it’s an interesting contrast between season 1 and season 9 anyway.

Also of interest to note is that while in The Silent Partner and other early episodes, Perry goes to the police for help (i.e., Lieutenant Tragg), in later episodes such as The Carefree Coronary he’s more likely to appeal to Hamilton (despite Steve being the most genuinely friendly of the three policemen). Ah, how times change through the seasons. I just love their always-developing friendship.

(And yet another interesting contrast, as others have noted, is Hamilton’s reaction to getting an onscreen win. While in The Terrified Typist he’s clearly pleased with himself for getting a conviction, in season 7’s The Deadly Verdict he is very sobered. Even though in both cases he believes the defendant is guilty, he has always recognized that it’s still a somber thing for someone to be sentenced to death, and in The Deadly Verdict, this feeling is more visibly prominent than in the earlier episode.)

EDIT: I just remembered that Perry is cornered by reporters in The Grinning Gorilla, when they mob him to ask about him taking on the case. At that point, he had not agreed to take the case and it was very awkward for him. It's been so long since I saw the episode that I no longer recall how he handled the situation. I vaguely remember that he was so taken by surprise that he didn't know what to say at first. I think in frustration he then tried to say he had not taken the case, but never finished that statement.

I actually can’t think of any other times where we both see and hear Hamilton or the other main characters talking to reporters about themselves. Perry has to fend off reporters bothering his clients sometimes, such as in The Wrathful Wraith, and there’s a couple of times when Perry or Hamilton appears in newspaper stories, including Hamilton’s win in The Deadly Verdict, but as far as actual interaction between the main characters and reporters where reporters want to write about them, it’s quite rare. (So are those other news-related incidents, actually.)

Still, even though we are only allowed glimpses into what happens when the press pounces on our main characters, they are fascinating little glimpses. In early seasons I imagine reporters in L.A. make it big describing all the latest clashes between Perry and Hamilton, while reporters of the later seasons are stunned and amazed by all the times the two actually work in harmony together. And judging by the tongue-in-cheek example of the “District Attorney Victorious” headline in The Deadly Verdict, I wonder if the reporters make a big deal out of any time Hamilton actually wins a case.

I subscribe to the idea that he won more than we saw onscreen, and that there were actually more times that he won onscreen than what is generally noted by viewers (such as all the times a case went to jury trial instead of remaining a preliminary hearing), so I’ll admit I do hope that the reporters don’t make like a win by Hamilton is a rare event.

That said, the headline in The Deadly Verdict is amusing. A nice smidgen of humor in one of the darkest (and best) episodes of the series.