We've visited with Warren William while he's solved murders as the Lone Wolf; as a Sam Spade expy; and as Arsene Lupin's nemesis. Now we'll drop in on him as he walks in the shoes of ace attorney Perry Mason for four movies.
But, taken for what they are, the films are very entertaining.
But if you have an interesting case, you can still get Mason's personal attention. Millionaire Arthur Cartwright at first doesn't seem to be that interesting. He's complaining about his neighbor's dog howling all night long and wants a warrant sworn out against him. But what makes Cartwright a little more interesting is the new will he wants--leaving his fortune to his neighbor's wife. He also asks Mason if a will is still valid even if the person dies via execution for murder.
Well, after that, it's not that surprising that someone does indeed get murdered. But even before that, Mason and his detectives uncover shenanigans involving who is actually married to whom and who has been running around on whom. When the neighbor with the loud dog is murdered, Arthur Cartwright goes missing. The neighbor's estranged wife, though, turns out to be the main suspect, with Mason agreeing to defend her.
It turns out the key to proving her innocence involves figuring out why that darn dog had been howling all night long.
Warren William is always fun to watch in a B-movie. He gives the impression that he's enjoying himself immensely and carries us into the same mood. Though his version of Mason is different from the books, he does still have that fast-thinking determination to fight tooth-and-nail for his clients.
Mary Astor plays his client, which is fun in a movie trivia way. Two years later, William would star in a loose adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. Four years after that, Astor would play the femme fatale in John Huston's more faithful adaptation of that novel.
The film isn't perfect. Whereas the courtroom scenes in the novels are often the best part of the stories, here they seem a little contrived. And I'm not sure the ending explains everything quite as neatly as a murder mystery usually should. But the virtues trump the flaws, backed by an interesting plot and a cast of talented character actors.
I can see why Gardner didn't care for the movie series--heck, it's going to depart a little farther from the novels with each successive film. I'm a huge fan of those novels and a more faithful adaptation made in the 1930s would have been a wonderful thing. But the Warren William films create their own Mason sub-universe that's well worth visiting.
We'll eventually look at the three other films as part of the In Order series, at which time we will meet the 1930s Paul Drake--sort of.