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Perry Mason Mysteries: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection


I was underwhelmed, your honor.

Rod Lott December 5th, 2012

I should have listened to Ron Backer. In his new book, Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood, he more or less warns would-be audiences away from trying any of the early 1930s’ half-dozen movies based on Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason character.

perrymason

But curiosity is curiosity, and interest is interest, so when Warner Archive issued an MOD DVD set of them in Perry Mason Mysteries: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection, I just had to check it out, your honor.

Warren William (who also played another famous detective, Philo Vance, for the big screen) stars as the intrepid attorney-at-law in the first four films, and I suppose he's fine, but it's simply impossible for me to not compare him to Raymond Burr, who defined the character for millions of loyal TV viewers for a decade.

Mason is played so differently by the two, you wouldn't know you were watching a Perry Mason movie if the credits didn't tell you otherwise. William's interpretation is so far removed not only from Burr's iconic version, but from Gardner's pulpy novels. With his pencil-thin mustache and dandy mannerisms, William is more like Nick Charles from The Thin Man franchise than the Mason intended by Gardner.

And it sure doesn't help that the scripts — brief they may be — deal with such low, low stakes. For example, 1934's The Case of the Howling Dog involves a man taking the moans of the titular pooch as an omen of doom, and a beneficiary squabble that later results. Worse, a year later, The Case of the Lucky Legs finds winners of a hosiery contest (!) being cheated out of their rightful cash prizes. Your grandfather may have enjoyed looking at those gams on display, but gripping courtroom drama these dull plots do not make. —Rod Lott

 
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