Thursday, May 14, 2015


Read/Watch 'em In Order #54

In 1934, the movie version of Perry Mason was based in L.A. (as he was in the novels) running a huge law firm with scores of employees (as he did NOT do in the novels). But I guess he got tired of this, because when the curtain rises on the second Mason film (1935's The Case of the Curious Bride), he's working in San Francisco and no longer seems to be associated with a large firm. Della Street is still with him, of course, because Perry Mason simply cannot exist in any incarnation without Della at his side. The universe would implode if this weren't the case.

When I reviewed the first film, I mentioned that Erle Stanley Gardner was unhappy with this films. And, again, it's easy to see why. This Perry Mason is similar to the original in one important way--he'll go all out for his client. But otherwise, it's a completely different guy.

The movie Perry is a lot more prone to make off-the-cuff jokes, is said to be a ladies' man, and is a gourmet cook. I don't recall the original Perry ever so much as cracking an egg.

But Warren William always infuses his B-movie roles with humor and charm. I'm a huge fan of both the novels and the classic TV series, but I simply can't find it in my heart to be annoyed with these films. They're simply too much fun.

The plot does follow the novel it's based on with reasonable faithfulness. Perry's client is Rhoda Montaine, who has re-married after her first husband supposedly died. But husband #1 faked his death and is now blackmailing Rhoda. So when he turns up dead for real, the cops peg Rhoda for the crime.

When she's badgered into signing a false statement to catch her in a lie, the cops use this to "prove" her guilt.

So Perry has to catch the real killer to prove Rhoda is innocent. Helping him, by the way, is an ex-boxer who now works as Perry's Man Friday, driver, assistant investigator and part-time comic relief. This is "Spudsy" Drake.

Spudsy? Poor Paul Drake. He is key part of the triumvirate of protagonists that make the novels so good, but despite this he didn't appear at all in the first film. Now he finally shows up, only to get stuck with an annoying nick-name.

But Spudsy is played by Allen Jenkins (who played a cop in the first film). Jenkins was a character actor who made a career out of playing stooges and henchmen, usually giving those characters a comic bent. But he gave a nice balance to the comedy, never taking it too far and always making sure we would know that his characters were competent. For fans of classic films, Jenkins is one of those actors who gets to be an old friend.

The homicide cop who clashes with Perry in Curious Bride is played by Barton MacLane, yet another old friend to movie fans. There's a bit of irony here--later in the 1930s, both MacLane and Jenkins would get chances to play homicide cop Steve MacBride in the Torchy Blane movies.

One more interesting bit of casting: The murdered husband is played by Errol Flynn, who was about to become a star that same year when he played Captain Blood. Both Curious Bride and Blood are directed by Michael Curtiz.

I know coincidences like this aren't that unlikely in the Studio Era days, but gee whiz, The Case of the Curious Bride is the starting point for some cosmic-level game of "six degrees of separation."

Some of the changes from the novel reflect the differences between storytelling in the different media. Some of the changes seem random--why San Franciso? Did Warner Brothers have some new stock footage of the city they wanted to use?

But in terms of story, it's a solid mystery, with Perry's investigation moving along in a logical and satisfying way. Like all good B-movies, the pacing is brisk, the cast is fun and the story is sound.

Oh, well. Warren William may not be the "real" Perry Mason, but, by golly, we still have a good time hanging out with him.

And we'll hang out with him some more. There's still two Mason films starring W.W. for us to take a look at.

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