Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Very Busy Wedding Night

Read/Watch 'em In Order #60

By the time we get to Warren William's fourth and last appearance as Perry Mason, we really need to look at the movies as knock-offs of The Thin Man, rather than adaptations of Erle Stanley Gardner's novels.

To be fair, even a faithful adaptation of the 1933 novel would have been different from the Perry Mason we know. The Case of the Velvet Claws was the very first Mason novel, in which Gardner was still figuring out how best to use the character. Initially, Mason was more of a hard-boiled detective than a lawyer--bribing cops and acting tough while bragging about how he wrapped up cases without ever having to go to court! Boy, did that ever change quickly!

The 1936 movie actually preserves the skeleton of the novel's plot. A woman is accused of killing her husband and, in fact, it seems that she must be guilty. She's actually not a very nice person and ends up attempting to blackmail Perry into representing her by threatening to accuse him of the murder.

But the hard-boiled feel of the novel is dropped. The movie begins with Perry and Della stampeding into night court and asking the judge to marry them. Then its off to their honeymoon--on which they inexplicably bring along Perry's assistant Spudsy Drake. I don't care how much you depend on your Man Friday--you don't bring him on your honeymoon!

But Perry won't have time for romance. A woman with a gun is waiting in his hotel room, forcing Perry to accept a $5000 retainer and dragging him away to help her squash a story that's about to be published in a sleazy tabloid.

Then her husband turns up dead and she goes into her "But I heard you arguing with him, Perry, dear" act. Before long, Perry can't go back to his new wife, because he has to dodge the cops while tracking down the real killer.

Claire Dodd, who played Della Street two movies earlier in The Case of the Curious Bride, returns to the role here and her banter with Perry actually does remind you a little of William Powell and Myrna Loy. The trouble there is that the plot structure requires them to spend most of the movie apart, so their word-play with each other is disappointingly brief.

Another weak point is replacing Allen Jenkins as Spudsy with Eddie Acuff, who simply isn't that good in a part that saddles him with some pretty bad attempts at comedy.

But Warren William's charm and humor manage to keep a so-so film afloat. It would have been nice to see a series of Mason movies made in the 1930s that were more faithful to the novels, but if we are going to get comedy-mysteries instead of straight mysteries, then you would be hard-put to do better than giving Warren William the lead role.

That's it for Perry Mason--there were two more made in the 1930s, but Mason was no longer played by William, so this is a good stopping point. For the next movies in the In Order series, I think we'll pay a couple of visits to a hillbilly family living in the small town of Hootin' Holler.

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