Thursday, August 20, 2009

Perry Mason meets The Shadow

I just saw Perry Mason team up with the Shadow, Nero Wolfe and Sam Spade’s secretary.

Well, not really—but almost. The fourth season of the classic TV series Perry Mason recently came out on DVD and I’ve been Netflixing them. (I actually wouldn’t mind owning this particular series, but that possibility does not exist within the confines of my bank account.)

The first episode on the latest disc I’ve received had a murder victim played by Francis X. Bushman, who in 1945 briefly played the corpulent detective Nero Wolfe on radio. Poor Bushman/Wolfe got himself bludgeoned to death with a fireplace poker, so he wasn’t as much help in the consequent investigation as he might otherwise have been. But (to the surprise of no one) Perry Mason managed to finger the killer by the end of the episode anyway.

The next episode on the disc included Lurene Tuttle in the cast, playing the widow of this story’s murder victim. From 1946 to 1951, Lurene played Effie, the ditsy but loyal secretary to private eye Sam Spade, in one of radio’s best-ever detective series.

In the next episode, John Archer played an older guy planning on marrying a younger woman—until someone kakked her with a letter opener. It’s surprising that Archer didn’t identify the murderer right off the bat, since in 1944-45, he played on radio the one man who “knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men”—the Shadow.

{On a side note: I saw Archer get wounded by James Cagney when I re-watched White Heat this past weekend. The man just can’t seem to stay out of trouble.}

So Perry Mason sorta, kinda, in a way, had himself a series of team-ups with some of the other great characters from the mystery genre. This is, of course, a perfectly meaningless piece of information. But nonetheless, I think it’s pretty darn cool.

Actually, a lot of the great character actors who learned their craft from radio rather understandably began taking work on television as dramatic radio began to die away. That may be one of the reasons so many early TV shows became the classics they are-still as enjoyable today as they were over a half-century ago.

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