Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A moral dilemma

Friday night MeTV showed The Illicit Illusion. It still isn’t one of my favorite episodes, but it’s certainly unique, in any case.

Of course, the biggest issue with that episode is concerning the question Were Hamilton and Andy justified in what they did? I’ve struggled with that since the first time I saw the episode. At least it couldn’t technically be branded entrapment, but was it right to turn the woman’s husband loose while knowing that the supposed suicide of his partner was murder and hoping that the husband and wife would try (or seem to try) to make a break for it?

Mom has seen the episode with me several times and has said nothing. This time, however, she was very vocal and exclaimed, “Talk about tricks!”

I still don’t know what to make of it. The episode itself appears to cast an ill light on their actions, albeit nothing is actually said as to whether it’s right or wrong after the point when Andy says that they never suggested flight and Hamilton admits he knew about the murder at the time of release. Part of me says that they were justified since they didn’t actually suggest the idea of flight and were just watching to see how it would play out. The other part says that what they did relies too much on circumstantial evidence and could easily get an innocent person arrested (which is exactly what happened).

But one thing I certainly say is that while it may not have been right, I do not think for one moment that it comes close to comparing with some of the stunts Perry had pulled, as Mom seemed to feel it did.

Take what happened just the other day, for instance. Perry lures a witness in The Garrulous Go-Between by sending her a message that leads her to believe the man she loves is dying. Paul even lies down and gets under the covers to pretend to be the guy when she arrives. That is all very cruel. At least Perry acknowledges that he’s sorry for doing it, but that seriously appalled me. I’d forgotten he did that. It appalls me every time I see the episode.

And then of course there’s the mess in The Mystified Miner, where Perry deliberately sets up a scenario to obliterate his client’s fingerprints from her car because he knows her prints on it would help to build a case against her.

Actually, while that may be perfectly in line with what the book Perry would do, it seems out-of-character for television Perry. In general, television Perry insists on giving the police guns, pictures, and other evidence when he knows they’re needed, even if having those items will help them build stronger cases against the clients. To deliberately ruin evidence is not like him.

Of course, every now and then he does highly eyebrow-raising things, such as his destruction of the book in season 1’s The Screaming Woman. And The Mystified Miner was also from a season that was more book-influenced than some. But it still seemed a shocking thing to do, especially since by season 5 he wasn’t often engaging in such book-influenced behavior.

I’ve never been fully sure of what to think of his antics of “testing the witnesses’ memories”, either. He’ll use that as his excuse when he renders a witness unreliable after tricking them, but as one of the judges said, there’s a fine line between testing memories and throwing dust in the prosecution’s case. I rather liked that they let the judge say that, instead of just completely letting Perry get away with it without acknowledging that while he may be technically within his rights, it’s still a trick.

I’ve often thought that I would not want to be a defense attorney, since that would require me to take cases and do things and make arguments to get people off who probably really shouldn’t get off. With Perry, of course, almost all the defendants are innocent, but in real-life it’s more likely to be the opposite. And either way, it’s not always easy for me to root for the defense attorneys when they’re pulling shenanigans I don’t agree with.

Naturally it isn’t right for the prosecution to pull tricks either. I don’t agree with that or with the conditions of many of the plea bargains that unfortunately exist and that prosecutors feel forced to propose. But there are degrees, and as I said, I don’t think Hamilton and Andy’s actions could ever be lumped in the same category with some of Perry’s most appalling stunts.

I’m still a little surprised that incident happened in one of Samuel Newman’s scripts, actually, since he usually tries to cast the prosecution in a better light. Even though it wasn’t technically entrapment, I’m sure it didn’t help the ill feelings that many viewers probably already had for the prosecution.

I wonder how the incident would have been portrayed had it happened in a series that focused more on the prosecution or the police. Would it have been depicted as justified? Or would it have been presented as not justified and everyone involved would be in trouble for doing it? I believe I’ve seen some series where similar incidents were portrayed as justified, or at least, that the characters involved did not suffer a penalty for doing it since it turned out that they were right in their suspicions. On the other hand, the private eye series Mannix also portrayed such antics in a highly derogatory light.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Or perhaps there are no real answers, as it may be a matter for each person’s individual moral code.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Careless Kitten: Book vs. Episode

March 11th is the anniversary of Erle Stanley Gardner’s death. I always find it both sad and eerie that he and William Hopper died only a few days apart.

He left us such a lasting legacy with his Perry books and everything that resulted from them. I wonder what he thought of the television-only episodes when they began to emerge on the series? I suppose he must have been okay with them, at least enough to approve them, since he insisted on that right throughout the entire series run.

While it is exasperating that he never saw fit to approve such interesting ideas as scripts where Hamilton won (hopefully only if the client was guilty; it would be too depressing otherwise, unless Perry could overturn it as in The Deadly Verdict), as a fellow writer I do have to respect his insistence on having things the way he wanted. He already knew what it was like to lose control of his characters more than once, with both the 1930s movies and the radio series. Naturally he would want to take steps to ensure that it would not happen again.

I am intrigued that apparently he was alright with Perry and Hamilton becoming friends, as they steadily did throughout the series’ run. I wonder whether he downright supported that idea or if he just loosened up and decided to allow it while being more or less indifferent to it overall. I remember Barbara Hale saying that he didn’t want Della sitting on Perry’s desk, exclaiming that a proper secretary would never do that. But it happens multiple times throughout the series. I wonder what caused him to allow it after all.

Last night after I watched MeTV’s fun episode (it’s always a treat to watch David McCallum’s guest-spot!), I had the urge to get out my recorded copy of The Careless Kitten, which is one of the few later episodes based on one of the original books. I wanted to see the adorable kitty as well as to review one particular guest-star’s role. It was the sole appearance of British character actor Hedley Mattingly on the series, and I’m coming to be rather fond of him from watching him play opposite my beloved Christopher Cary more than once.

I wonder how much of the episode works with the book’s plot. I’ll have to bring up the book version on that Indian site Fedora found with all of the books available in English PDF files.

One thing I’m sure the book version won’t have is the great scene where Hamilton comes to Perry’s office and outright says he’s coming as a friend, worried because Perry is poking into the case all over the place and Andy is getting bent out of shape over it. Hamilton pleads with Perry to leave things alone, and Perry says he’ll consider it. Of course, however, he keeps on.

One difference I know of for a certainty is that the cat’s breed is different. In the books, the cats are always Persians, while on television they’re always Siamese. Somehow a Siamese seems a more suitable breed for such a mischievous little rascal, but maybe that’s just heavy influence from the hilarious Disney movie That Darn Cat!

Now I’m giving the book version a brief run-through via the summary on Storrer’s site, as I was just too curious now that I started thinking about it. It looks like for the most part, the characters keep their names in both versions. That’s certainly unusual. The kitten’s name is changed (Monkey on television instead of Amber Eyes) and Helen’s boyfriend’s first name in the book is Jerry. There’s a character called George, whose role I am unsure of. I believe he was omitted from the episode.

The most striking difference, character-wise, seems to be that the butler is not an Englishman, but an Oriental. I always thought Cosmo was a very odd choice of name for the butler on television. Now that I see the butler’s name was Komo in the book, perhaps it makes a bit more sense. They picked something rather similar.

And oh my, the plot sounded like it was fairly well lifted from the book, until chapter 11. When someone shoots at Helen’s boyfriend in the book, he’s hurt far more seriously.

Another thing the same in both is Thomas’s ill feelings towards the butler. In the book, he keeps trying to insist that the butler poisoned the cat and Matilda, which is really disgusting since he knows the truth. In the episode, we’re left with either believing that the butler really is a creepy sadist as Thomas says or believing that Thomas is prejudiced. Considering everything that Thomas is doing, I find it rather difficult to believe him about anything. The butler shows no indications of being a sadist; the kitten rather seems to like him, snuggling against him and even purring. (Yes, I’m sure I heard purrs!) Of course, that could simply be that the cat liked the actor rather than the character. But considering that Thomas even refers to him with a racial slur (“Limey”), I would have to say that he is just being unfair and has no real knowledge that the butler is a nasty sort. Perhaps, as in the book, he’s also trying to cast blame where he knows it doesn’t belong.

I rather liked the butler, honestly. He seemed perfectly nice to me. And he was the one played by the great character actor Hedley Mattingly, who was very capable of playing nasty characters as well as nice ones. If the butler was truly unpleasant, Hedley would have given some indication of it. He was a little short with Perry on the phone, true, but Matilda had just been taken to the hospital and he was shaken up about it. It was a touch of realism that he reacted on the phone the way he did.

A difference between the two versions is that once again, Della takes care of the kitty for a while, just like she does in the book version of The Caretaker’s Cat. The kitten gets into mischief and is discovered by Della and Tragg. Tragg then takes them both to headquarters.

And ah yes, Hamilton is definitely not friendly with Perry in the book. We also get to court, unlike in the episode. Della is the defendant. Apparently they’re in court not for Leech’s murder, but for Della having the kitten and Hamilton thinking she was hiding the missing and wanted Franklin Shore!

Thomas is killed via hit-and-run in the book. He and Matilda Shore being partners in their evil plan, and Matilda having killed Franklin, are the same. But those facts never come to light; Perry just tells it to Della in private.

I really don’t care for how in the books, it seems like a lot of times the solution is only revealed in private, instead of having the real culprits uncovered and punished. Sometimes the culprits are Perry’s clients and he’s perfectly okay with getting them off even if he knows they’re guilty. In this case, where neither crook was his client, I wonder why he chose to keep it all secret.

I suppose some book fans prefer Perry’s behavior in the books to his insistence on exposing the real killers and the clients always being innocent in the television series. I do think it would have been interesting for the clients to be guilty sometimes, but not for Perry to absolutely not care if they are. Naturally there are plenty of lawyers in real-life who wouldn’t care, so it’s a realistic touch, but it seems an odd trait for a lawyer to have when Gardner was writing the books to try to show lawyers in a better light.

I guess he must have been okay with those formulaic changes to the television series. Either that or he was simply informed that the censors would not allow it to be otherwise. It would be interesting to know which. What actually prompted such changes from the books? Was it the censors? Was it that they thought the character would be more likable and heroic that way? Something else?

I also wonder what prompted Perry and Hamilton to become friends. It was such a natural progression through the seasons, in that respect keeping something fluid amid all the formula. But they could have chosen to keep things in a more season 1 light. So why the change? As much as I love these and other changes, I’m still curious to know the reasons for them, since they make the series so different from the books.

Whichever one prefers, the series or the books, the series would of course not exist without the books. I will always be grateful to Erle Stanley Gardner for creating the original Core Five and their first adventures. Every time we watch the series, we’re ultimately celebrating Gardner’s genius.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

In Memoriam: William Hopper

I find it amusing that right after I called out MeTV for not airing their supposedly most popular show more than once a week, they make an announcement that they’re going to do just that. Naturally it’s a coincidence; I doubt anyone from MeTV even knows this blog exists. (And of course, even if they did, I highly doubt it would make one bit of difference.) I’m sure their reason is because of Leonard Nimoy’s death. Still, the timing of my post and their announcement amuses me.

The 6th sadly marks the death of William Hopper, who died much too soon in 1970. It’s saddening how many Perry cast members either met early deaths or otherwise died while the show was ongoing. Both Williams and Wesley died far too young. And it’s always sad that Ray Collins passed away in the middle of the show’s run, even though he was getting on in years. Some guest-stars, such as Theodore Marcuse and Simon Oakland, also died much too young.

I always love discovering more Paul-centric episodes. I finally had a chance to see the uncut Angry Astronaut, which wasn’t as cut as I expected it would be. In either state, it’s quite a good Paul vehicle, starting out by showing Paul being hired by the titular character to find some missing things. Perry doesn’t appear until after the murder, when Paul goes to him to see if he will represent the man. Even though Paul believes he’s nuts and really did commit the murder, he wants to see him have proper representation. (Also, in that case, the astronaut already knew of Perry and specifically asked Paul to ask Perry about representation. Paul always tries to follow through with an owed favor.)

It’s always interesting to me that Paul is the skeptic among Perry’s group. It definitely adds a little more spice, as opposed to everyone just fully believing that the client is innocent because Perry believes that. And it’s moving that in spite of the many times when Paul thinks the client is guilty, he’s still willing as always to help Perry try to dig up proof that the truth is otherwise.

It would have been an intense character study if there had ever been a case where Paul had such strong feelings as to a client’s guilt that he felt he could not help Perry on the case. Either that, or perhaps a situation where Perry wanted Paul to do something on the investigation that Paul absolutely felt he could not do. Although it never happened on the show, it’s always very clear that Paul has his limits and doesn’t want to put his license in jeopardy. I still don’t think Perry has the right to ask him to do things that could indeed disrupt his career. But of course, Paul could refuse if he felt he simply couldn’t do it.

The two have a great friendship, enjoying fishing breaks the few times a caseload eases enough to allow for it. And in spite of when Perry asks things that often don’t seem fair, Paul goes through with it anyway because of their friendship and his belief in Perry. Paul is quite invaluable to Perry; his investigations often bring in the final piece of evidence needed. Paul is likely aware of this, and perhaps that is one reason why he continues to lend his assistance on cases, even when he doesn’t believe in a client’s innocence or doesn’t like something Perry wants him to do.

I still love the intensity in The Carefree Coronary, when Perry finally acknowledges Paul’s value both as a friend and as part of the team. When it feels like Perry often takes Paul for granted, it’s nice to have him really announce that he is aware of Paul’s importance. Although, admittedly, it would have been nice if it hadn’t taken such a huge scare for Perry to say it. Still, it’s Perry’s way to not usually say such things aloud.

It’s very sad that we lost William Hopper so unfairly soon. But it’s awesome that he left us such a legacy of wonderful roles, especially Paul Drake. He will always be remembered for that.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A new round of MeTV Madness?

So today MeTV sent me an email about their upcoming “MeTV Madness” in a couple of weeks. Just like last year, they’ll have people vote on their favorite MeTV shows over a period of six rounds.

I kind of rolled my eyes that they decided to do that again. If the real purpose of the contest is to try and figure out what shows to keep and what shows to put on hiatus or get rid of altogether, it seems that it doesn’t fairly represent the entirety of the MeTV viewing population. Many viewers likely don’t bother with the Internet at all, and many that do likely don’t bother with the contest.

I wasn’t even sure whether last year’s votes were accurate. While it’s believable that Star Trek and The Twilight Zone are among the channel’s most popular shows, I doubt that they are the most popular above all others.


Because if they really were, why would they remove The Twilight Zone from the schedule for six months or more (unless they were having a problem keeping hold of the distribution rights)? And why would they continue to only air Star Trek once a week? (Perhaps because it only ran for three seasons, but they’ve aired more than one series every weekday that only ran for four.)

It seems to me that in actuality, MeTV’s most popular shows may very well be Daniel Boone, The Rifleman, and our own Perry Mason.

Again, why?

Perry is the only hour-long show that MeTV airs twice a day. When they tried to remove one of the showings for The Love Boat, it apparently was an epic fail. Perry was back before long.

The same thing happened with Daniel Boone. That time, the duration it was booted in favor of The Love Boat was even shorter than it had been with Perry. Even though Daniel Boone still aired on Saturdays, people apparently still really wanted it on weekdays too and balked at having The Love Boat stuck in its place.

The Rifleman airs six days a week on MeTV. When they wanted to put another show in its previous weekday slot, they moved The Rifleman up by three hours and sent The Big Valley packing to Saturdays only. Apparently people are okay with that; they want their Rifleman. And in addition to the six days, they also air The Rifleman online, rotating episodes each week. It, and Wanted: Dead or Alive, are the only shows they have online that they air on the network more than once a week. Wanted does not have the charm of The Rifleman, however, and it is not hard to believe that The Rifleman is the more popular of the two.

Of course, one could argue that perhaps if shows other than The Love Boat had been stuck in Perry’s and Daniel’s timeslots, the viewers might be okay with that. Maybe they just don’t like The Love Boat. But it would seem to me that it’s a combination of both that and the fact that they especially love Perry and Daniel.

It would be interesting if MeTV ran a most popular/most favorite show contest and it really was all-encompassing, taking in every viewer everywhere. I wonder how the results would end up then?

Also, speaking of Star Trek, I must take this moment to acknowledge the sad passing of Leonard Nimoy. A Perry alumnus, he played the bad guy in season 6’s The Shoplifter’s Shoe. MeTV aired it again on Friday night in honor of him. I had missed the airing when they showed it chronologically, so I was happy to tune in on Friday. I had been looking forward to The Decadent Dean, but I half-expected they would alter the aired episode that night, so I really wasn’t surprised when they did.

I am very sad that he’s gone, but I’m happy he led such a rich, full life and left such a legacy for his fans. And I’m glad that he is, in some way, part of the Perry family.