Category: Golden Age Article

The Top Ten Perry Mason TV Movies, Part One

A version of this review was posted in 2012.

I grew up watching the Perry Mason movies, with new films being released every year. The films featured bearded former Judge Perry Mason fighting for justice for his clients. I began watching when Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) had moved to Colorado along with his secretary (Della Street) because filming costs were cheaper and young lawyer Ken Malnasky (William Moses) had replaced Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt) as Mason’s legman.

I’ve rewatched them all as an adult. Though the TV movies are not the equal of the original series, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale’s talents still made the films worthwhile and entertaining through each of the 26 installments.

10) Perry Mason and the Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)

Geraldo Rivera is perfectly cast as a trashy TV host who releases a memoir detailing his past escapades and dishing dirt on all of his lovers. It’s no surprise when he’s killed and suspects abound.

The mystery takes several turns with some great misdirection when Ken Malansky stumbles onto two suspects who are in the witness protection program, but everything wraps up quite nicely.

9) Perry Mason and the Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)

Perry usually doesn’t take the case of hardcore criminals, but he finds himself defending reformed mobster Johnny Sorento (Michael Nader), who has apparently settled down in legitimate business. There are quite a few red herrings in this one that throw the viewer off the truth, but the ending has an incredible twist, as the outcome can’t be exactly what Perry’s client was hoping for.

8) Perry Mason and the Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)

The movie begins with Perry giving an interview with a news co-anchor. The lead news anchor is on a power trip and kills the story, prompting an angry confrontation with his co-anchor. When the lead anchor turns up dead and the co-anchor is charged, Perry defends the co-anchor.

If there’s one theme that does recur in these movies, it’s that talented people who become the top dog and step on everyone else around them had better watch their backs. It’s rarely more plainly shown than in this installment.

This telefilm also includes more than your average bit of action as Ken Malansky has to go to more extreme measures than usual to corral a key witness.

7) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)

Speaking of Ken Malansky, The Lethal Lesson was where his involvement with Mason began. In this episode, he ends up as Mason’s client after he’s accused of murdering a fellow law school student.

This particular installment has a fun love triangle between Ken’s girlfriend (Karen Kopins) and his an ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Paul), who is telling everyone that she’s Ken’s intended. For the first half of the movie, you think Paul’s character is unbalanced, but by the end of the film, you’re given a surprise whammy in the payoff.

The story is solid with the usual tension between Perry’s friendships and his duty to his clients. But the introduction of Malansky makes this a fascinating study. With Malansky on board, the series was on its way to capturing some real magic in the chemistry between the cast and that alone makes this a worthwhile film.

To be Continued…Next Week

 

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Film Review: Death on the Nile (2022)

In Death on the Nile, a wealthy woman (Gal Gadot) is murdered on a honeymoon cruise down the Nile, surrounded by people who have reasons to want her dead, including the school friend she stole her new husband from. Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) tries to prevent the tragedy, but can only find out who actually did it.

Death on the Nile is actually my favorite Poirot story and so I had to see this most recent adaptation. Here are my thoughts on the film.

The Good

This is a visually beautiful film, particularly once you get on board the ship. The way the ship, its cabins, and all the aspects of it are shot is flawless. The visual direction is really superb throughout. There’s one scene of Poirot questioning a suspect that’s just a delight to watch.

Branagh is a very good actor and turns in a solid performance, with some great emotional moments. Gal Gadot was great as the murdered woman, showing her versatility as an actress. The rest of the cast is solid with not a bad performance among them.

While I’ll have plenty of critiques of changes to Christie’s story, one that I actually like is the change of Salome Otterbourne’s character from a writer of trashy romance novels to a blues singer. It’s not a pointless change. It works well for the film in that it adds some great moments of blues music to the movie’s background and gives it a very good sound.

The Bad

Much like the later episodes of the Poirot TV series, this film can’t seem to avoid tinkering with Christie’s plots in ways that just don’t work and aren’t consistent with Christie’s talent or style. Even if you hadn’t read the book, if you’d read any other Christie stories, I think you could tell which elements were originally Agatha Christie’s and which were tacked on, which is a sign of a weak adaptation.The movie has Poirot take on an investigation one couldn’t imagine him taking. Then we have the action-packed chase scene, and a ridiculous moment in the denouement in which everyone draws weapons.

Agatha Christie intentionally left much of Poirot’s history as a bit of a mystery. Fans are free to speculate and have their own “head canon” about it. However, if a film is going to broach the subject of Poirot’s past and give him more backstory, it has to be something that’s more interesting than the central mystery. The film fails in that. It attempts not only to deepen Poirot’s backstory, but to give us the origin story of his mustache. The beautifully black-and-white scenes of Poirot serving in World War I are problematic. It’s not just because it contradicts the first Poirot novel A Mysterious Affair at Styles, which had him as a Belgian refugee. Nor is it the fact that Death on the Nile was set in 1937, and therefore if Poirot had served World War I, he would be younger than he was in this movie. It’s that the six-minute scene isn’t that interesting and delays the start of the film. I would compare it to another much-maligned scene in a Gal Gadot movie, Woman Woman 1984. The film features a long scene of young Diana competing in Amazonian games. However, that scene, for all its faults, actually fits into the theme of the movie.

The film often has its 1937 characters behaving in a very modern way, which makes it not ring true.  One scene that sticks out is when Jacqueline “Jackie” de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) meets her old college friend and brags about how much sex she and her fiancé have been having, in the most awkward way possible.

In addition, while every adaptation has to pare down the massive cast of characters and plotlines Christie put in the original book, it felt like this film went just a little too far, to the point that it felt ever-so-slightly dumbed down.

Conclusion

Death on the Nile has good acting and is expertly shot, with some very clever visuals. It’s at its best when it’s telling Agatha Christie’s story. However, its mediocre add-on plot elements are often distracting, boring, poseurish, or cringe-inducing. The result is a mediocre and uneven experience that has doses of delight and frustration mixed in equal measures.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

As of this writing, you can watch the film for free on Hulu or HBO Max and it’s also available for purchase on Amazon.

If you don’t want to see the new film, you can watch the 1978 classic version on Freevee.

You can also read why I love the original novel of this story so much here.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Treason

Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Treason is an Audible original Audio Drama written by George Mann and Cavan Scott and starring Nicholas Boulton as Sherlock Holmes and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Doctor Watson.

Holmes is called in when Queen Victoria disappears from her rooms, threatening the stability of the British Empire. Can Holmes unravel the mysteries surrounding the royal household, and find the Queen and save her?

This is a very involved piece. Both Holmes and Watson are solidly cast. Holdbrook-Smith does seem a little a bit too into the buffoonish takes on Watson at times, though I think that’s more an issue of the script than anything else. The supporting cast is solid from the top to bottom, which is saying something, because this has such a huge cast of characters, with not many cases of doubling up. The sound design is also well put together and does a great job of recreating the feel of the late Victorian era.

What made me nervous about the release was the time of it – eight hours. That’s very long for an audio drama. I wondered if we’d get a GraphicAudio-style story with a lot of narration in-scenes, as if a novel is re-enacted word-for-word.

It wasn’t that. Mann and Scott are both talented writers and their core story is actually a compelling mystery with some very good twists included. It’s a story where you’d best be patient, because it can seem like they’re not being true to the characters, but it does come out mostly right in the end. Yet, eight hours is a long time. It’s enough for around three Big Finish Sherlock Holmes box sets or sixteen episodes of the Jim French Productions Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and not all that time is well spent. The plot can be a bit over-complicated at times, and include such diversions as a card game featuring radical labor leaders, an estranged relative, etc. The story starts out really slow, with events that are only tangential to the main plot. While all these are not bad, they feel very much like padding. The story could have lost two to three hours of runtime while still maintaining its core story and being better-paced.

Still, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan out for a long car ride, or who has a series of long commutes, this is not a bad listen. There’s a really compelling story at the heart of it and if you’re in for a more relaxed and leisurely pace to your adventure, this could be a worthwhile listen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Book Review: Dead Man’s Diary and a Taste for Cognac

Dead Man’s Diary and a Taste for Cognac collect two separate novellas featuring Britt Halliday’s private detective Michael Shayne. These sorts of collections were a fun aspect of mystery fiction up until the 1960s. Whether it was Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, or Philip Marlowe, it was great to see how a detective worked both in very involved mysteries or somewhat simpler short stories or novellas. So I was really eager to see how Michael Shayne performed in short stories.

In “Dead Man’s Diary”,  a wealthy man dies on a life raft at sea. A relative dies on land around the same time. Based on their respective wills, millions of dollars are at stake, depending on who died first. A man on the raft with the first man had tended the dead man and had kept a meticulous diary. He would be able to honestly establish who died first. However, the diarist is found dead and his journal is missing.

I was somewhat familiar with this story, as it was the basis for the 1950s Michael Shayne TV pilot. The story is better developed in the novella. There’s a lot going on to make this a really engaging story but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. It’s a very solidly plotted case with a solution that does take you by surprise but makes a lot of sense in retrospect.

In “A Taste for Cognac”, World War II is going on. Some men have to sacrifice their lives. Michael Shayne has to deal with domestic sacrifices, like the crummy excuse for cognac available, due to France being occupied by the Nazis, and the limited supplies of raw materials. However, Shayne stumbles into a former-speakeasy-turned-legitimate-bar and gets some good stuff, pre-War stuff that must have been smuggled in during Prohibition. Shayne sets out to discover where it came from, which inevitably leads to a mystery, murder, and a trail of bodies.

As a story, it’s not a bad little caper. But it’s not particularly memorable. It’s easily the lesser of the two stories, devolving more into hijinks than an engaging mystery.

It’s interesting to note that the first story in the book actually happens chronologically later. This is a creative decision that goes back to the original editions of this book, because “Dead Man’s Diary” is both a better story and a better title.

Overall, if you enjoy Michael Shayne novels or you like short fiction that leans to the hard-boiled side, this is worthwhile read.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Top Five Forgotten OId Time Radio Detective Programs

Listen to “The Forgotten Detectives of Old Time Radio” on Spreaker.

Last year, I created a podcast that collected all of our series that had few than ten episodes in circulation called The Forgotten Detectives of Old Time Radio. It contains 125 episodes from twenty-two different radio series. That’s a lot of shows, and it can be hard to know where to start. In order to help, here are my top five favorite forgotten detective programs:

5) The Adventures of Leonidas Witherall:

Leonidas Witherall is a character in a series of comedy mystery novels by Phoebe Atwood Taylor. He is a headmaster of a boys’ school and is known for his uncanny resemblance to William Shakespeare. The 1944 series starred Broadway star Walter Hampden and is a really fun listen with some really nice use of humor. If you’re looking for a light mystery series, this one is worth listening to.

4) The Defense Rests/Defense Attorney

Radio acting legend Mercedes McCambridge stars as Attorney Martha Ellis Bryant. Radio detective mysteries featuring attorneys as a lead are rare and so were mystery programs with a female lead, making this is a good find. But McCambridge’s award-winning acting is what really sells the series and makes it fun to listen to.

3) Easy Money

Larry Haines stars as a magician turned detective who dedicates his time to exposing various con games. While radio was full of murders and violent crimes, it was refreshing to have a series that turned to bunco scams. Easy Money does this with style, with smartly written scripts and solid acting and direction.

2) The Adventures of Bill Lance

Gerald Mohr, best-known for playing legendary hard-boiled private eye Philip Marlowe, stars in a very different series as Bill Lance, a piano player and tuner who gets involved in mysteries. Legendary character actor Howard McNear stars as Lance’s sidekick. The series makes good use of music in the story and manages to work in light continuity with minor characters from one episode to the next.

1)The Airmail Mystery

This 1932 serial follows Justice Department Investigator Irene Delroy as she seeks to uncover what’s behind a series of small plane crashes, assisted by her subordinate Fitz and reporter boyfriend Jimmy. The characters are a lot of fun, with Irene Delroy being a very ahead-of-her-time heroine. The mystery is pretty good with a lot of clues and exciting moments. The series was originally broadcast as thirteen fifteen-minute episodes. We featured the twelve surviving episodes in six episodes of the podcast. It’s a very fun, high-paced, and unique experience.

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 06: Steed & Mrs Peel

Big Finish’s latest release of the Avengers features three different comic strips from the Steed and Peel era of the 1960s television series starring Julian Wadham as Steed and Olivia Poulet as Emma Peel.

In “Seven Deadly…Assassins”, Steed and Peel are sent on a ship where they are charged with guarding a valuable jewel. However, they find themselves amidst a group of assassins themed around the seven deadly sins and with a grudge against them.

This is very much a typical Avengers story with themed villains, a fun location, the quips, etc. It does lack some of the punch other comic adaptations. As writer Roland Moore points out, this was from a holiday special without cliffhangers. Still, it’s a fun story, and it’s written with a good understanding of what to expect. The performances are good even with the archest and most on-the-nose characters. It’s a fun time, and hits the right marks, but doesn’t quite have the pizazz of the better stories.

In “Stand and Deliver,” Steed and Peel are invited to a Highwayman’s Ball at the house of a nobleman/scientist. It turns out the ball is a set up to find out who is a spy within the British Secret Service, and Steed is a suspect.

In the case of many stories with this sort of plot, it might be fair to complain about how convoluted the story is, but this is the Avengers, and no villain ever cares about doing anything in a simple, direct way. This story is a fun listen that has a lot of twists and turns, and combines elements of a few different genres to make for a good romp.

“You Won’t Believe Your Eyes” is a hard one to evaluate, owing mainly to the comic strip used, which writer John Dorney admits goes in some directions that are atypical for the Avengers. The beginning of the story is quite strong with the sudden appearance of polar bears and T-Rexes. Then, after we find out the source of these apparitions, the story loses some momentum. We’re given two very stereotypical Soviet spy villains that are far from the typical over-the-top Avengers villains we’re used to. The story picks up in the last few minutes when we get the final plot twist and the denouement. It’s helped by a good acting performance from Dorney.

It’s not a bad script but doesn’t quite deliver the level of fun you expect from an Avengers script, particularly with an opening like this one had.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether Big Finish is running out of good source material, particularly for the Steed and Peel era.
The stories in the six volumes have all been based on storylines from comic strips in TV and TV Action magazine, with Big Finish writers adapting the scripts and expanding on their ideas and concepts. In addition to the atypical finale, the opening story wasn’t a serialized story like all the others, but a self-contained story from an annual.
Overall, this box set was still a fun time. The production team at Big Finish does a great job making these as good as possible. I just sensed that due to the quality of the source material, there was more work needed to put out higher-quality episodes than on previous sets.If you love the TV Avengers or the previous box sets, it’s still worth checking out.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 6 is available on the Big Finish website.

Book Review: Deadly Image

Casey notices an old friend who manages his small investment getting uncharacteristically roaring drunk at a bar. The man’s wife asks for a ride home and Casey is asked to hold some film for another photographer, film that is going to be more than a bit dangerous for him. Before he knows it, the veteran crime photographer has a web of murder and blackmail to untangle.

This novel, featuring the character of Jack Casey, was published in 1962, well after the character’s heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet the writing of George Harmon Coxe, who’d written another photographer mystery series in the intervening years, remained exactly the same. In fact if you were to level a criticism of the book, it would be that it doesn’t feel like a book from 1962, with very few clues to its more recent vintage. The big one is that Casey has a small investment portfolio. It’s hard to imagine a hard boiled character in the 1930s investing in the stock market given how skittish people were after the Crash.

Beyond that, it’s a very well-written mystery with a lot of elements to it, more than you would expect for a book of its relatively short length. However, it’s easy to follow and the clues are all there if you’re paying attention. Casey remains the same honorable and decent guy he always was, and the story holds your attention throughout.

After reading three of his books, my opinion of Coxe as a writer is that he’s not one of those brilliant must-read writers of the classics of detective fiction like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. However, Coxe was talented and wrote diverting smart mysteries that are worth a look. I put him in the same category as Britt Halliday and plan on visiting some of his other works.

This was a fun book and it won’t be the last time, I read one of Coxe’s novels.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.