You’ll find that I’m a lawyer who has specialized in trial work, and in a lot of criminal work. … I’m a specialist on getting people out of trouble. They come to me when they’re in all sorts of trouble, and I work them out. … If you look me up through some family lawyer or some corporation lawyer, he’ll probably tell you that I’m a shyster. If you look me up through some chap in the District Attorney’s office, he’ll tell you that I’m a dangerous antagonist but he doesn’t know very much about me.-Perry Mason self-description.
When an actor so well defines a character, it’s easy to forget the character predated him. Such is the case with Raymond Burr and Perry Mason. Before Perry Mason came to television, the character was in Erle Stanley Gardener’s novels and in six movies.
In their adaptations of Perry Mason for the radio, the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air seeks to faithfully recreate the novels from the 1930s rather than the Television program. The first to be released are Perry Mason and the Case of the Velvet Claws and Perry Mason and the Case of the Sulky Girl.
The Case of the Velvet Claws was the first of the Perry Mason novels. A woman comes to Perry under an assumed name to get him to stop a scandal sheet from publishing the fact that she was at a dive with a married congressman when a murder went down. She’s willing to pay $5,000 in blackmail money to keep it quiet.
When the newspaper’s editor wants $20,000, Perry focuses on funding the secret source of the magazine’s funding. Perry finds out the secret owner of the scandal sheet is a Mr. Belter. He confronts him and warns him in a very lawyerly way not to print the story as there will be consequences. Just then Mrs. Belter walks in and Perry’s surprised to find his client is Mrs. Belter.
Later that night, Mrs. Belter awakens Perry from his sleep to tell him her husband has been shot and asks for Perry to come right away to meet her. When Perry presses her for details as to what happened, she says that she heard a man arguing with her husband and that man was-Perry Mason.
Mason has to represent his client while she is all too willing to leave him hung out to dry for the murder rap he’s supposed to protect her from. Perry’s belief in never giving up on a client is severely put to the test as Mrs. Belter makes one for the most unsympathetic clients any detective or lawyer has taken on. We don’t get a courtroom drama in this episode, but we get to see Perry Mason at his best: resourceful, tough, and clever.
In Perry Mason and the Case of the Sulky Girl, a 23-year old spoiled rich heiress (Kimberly McCord) whose father left everything to her and put it in a spendthrift trust managed by her tightwad Uncle and with a prohibition on marrying before turns to Perry Mason to get help breaking the trust. Mason suspects that she’s not telling him everything and learns she’s been secretly married which could give her uncle reason to cut off the trust immediately and leave her with only $5,000. Without telling the uncle about the marriage, Perry tries to reason with him but to no avail.
Then, that same night, the uncle is murdered and his client lies to him and the police, giving her a false alibi. His client is charged with murder, along with her secret husband. Mason has to prove she’s innocent and find what really happened.
This was a very good murder mystery with a lot of twists and a focus that rested almost completely on Mason, who was in every scene.
Both mysteries were well-paced thrillers with a more hard-boiled portrayal than Burr. This Perry Mason does bend the rules. In some ways, his tendency is reminiscent of the various stunts pulled by Nero Wolfe. In Velvet Claws, Mason fights fire with fire by blackmailing the blackmailer editor of the scandal. In Sulky Girl, he has his client fake a nervous breakdown to send her to a sanitarium, so he can have time to plan. His client also stupidly took $38,000 off of her uncle’s body to pay off a blackmailing and to give Perry a retainer. Mason stuffs the $10,000 retainer in an envelope and mails it to a fictitious address.
However, Mason is in a tough game against lawyers who are very seedy. In Sulky Girl, The murderer makes a clumsy effort to frame a chauffeur who was passed out drunk by planting $2,000 on him. The chauffeur’s lawyer offers to get his client to plead guilty to manslaughter–in exchange for a $50,000 fee. Rather than the ethical honest Burger (who would not be introduced for four more novels), Mason draws the crookedest prosecutor around. To top it all off, in this case, the client is not forthcoming which means he has to find what she’s hiding from.
Against such odds, Robbins’ Mason is tough and smart, as he tries to represent the interests of his client. Robbins’ is supported by a solid cast, McCord in particular does a great job as the bratty heiress. The Courtroom scenes are slightly stiff by everyone but Mason, but I think this was to create a sense of realism.
This was a nice beginning to the series and I look forward to hearing the next installments.
5.00 out of 5.00 for The Case of the Velvet Claws
4.0 out of 5.00 for The Case of the Sulky Girl
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