Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Ides of Perry Mason 16

The 15th of every month until I don't know when I will post a review of a Perry Mason mystery. For the hell of it.

Note: With HBO reboot of Perry Mason, cable TV has been airing the vintage show. Sundance shows two episodes on Thursday and Friday from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. MeTV shows an episode weekdays at 9 a.m. FETV shows on weekdays two episodes from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and another two from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Don't ask me why I know these things..

In Praise of Patricia Barry

This prolific actress played a femme fatale in three episodes of the Perry Mason TV series (1957 - 1966). After she graduated with a theater degree, she won a Rita Hayworth look-alike contest and landed a Hollywood contract in 1946, at the age of 23. With her little frame, glamorous poise, and saucy face, she played parts that called for a siren that lured men into awkward situations. A professional who loved acting, she never lacked for work on the silver screen and then television for about 50 years.

The Case of the Frantic Flyer (1960) ... Janice Atkins

Barry convincingly plays a schemer who connives with her lover to double-cross a louse she'd being leading on. Said double-cross would make them richer to the tune of $130K, which is about $1.1 million today. The aftermath of the theft also involves the murder of one guy whose wife is framed for the crime by Barry and her lover. These are not nice people.

But Barry’s Janice is the most not nice of the bunch. In every scene, she seems to be skulking behind her eyes, sizing up the situation in order cook up the most plausible whopper. When her louse unexpectedly re-appears after everybody thinks he’s been killed, you can see her adding machine brain calculating the best way to deal him out. Chaka chaka chaka ding! In an interview with a wily old prospector, she guardedly responds to all his questions with flat one-word questions. On the stand, under oath, she tells bald-faced lies, such that the viewer, having only experience telling white lies, is amazed at her audacity. 

The Case of the Grumbling Grandfather (1961) ... Dorine Hopkins

Barry's Dorine is married to a gambling junkie who extorts money out of her to feed his mania for the tables. To raise funds for him to meet his debts, she has helped herself to the money of two men of the Gideon family, Lucius (dead by his own hand at the start) and his nephew David, who’s no kid but not wise about avoiding married females. Dorine is alternately deceitful and vulnerable. She is abused by the chizzler hubby to the point that the viewer feels sorry for her and her black eye. But when the during the trial Mason gets to the truth. Dorine, taken by surprise at the revelation out of left field, stands up and screams like a fox desperate with pain and fear. It’s an incredible TV moment.

The Case of the Velvet Claws (1963) ... Eva Belter

The adaptation of the very first Perry Mason novel is a treat for the kind of discriminating Mason fans who read this blog. A freelance photographer gets a snap of would-be reformer Harrison Burke and a married woman, Eva Belter, as they escape a blind pig through an open window. In a tizzy, Eva tells Perry Mason that a scandal sheet called Spicy Bits is blackmailing her, which would probably cause her brute of husband to kill her. Because of the Spicy Bits angle, Perry is loaded for bear. It seems one of its scurrilous stories drove a friend of Mason’s to suicide after his reputation was besmirched. Perry wants to put them out of their dirty business.

Most of the characters in this one are as sleazy as buzzards. But Eva lies, boy does she lie. She lies with the sheer bravado of somebody well-practiced in lying about everything all the time. She even tries to frame Perry for the murder of her brute of a husband (an exercise fanatic before being one was cool). Della Street, Perry’s skeptical secretary, does not have many lines but her looking askance (a la Myrna Loy) speaks volumes. Perry puts up with Eva’s deceit because he wants to shut down Spicy Bits.

Perry Mason: Eva, some things a lawyer has to do aren't very pleasant. He takes his clients as they come. They're in trouble, so he can't always expect them to tell the truth.

Eva Belter: Oh! Oh, that. Perry, darling, I told you the other day I was terribly sorry about any untruths that I...

Perry Mason: He's a fool if he completely trusts any client, but that's beside the point. His job is to believe and to help them as best he can. The only times when he's really a fool is when he sticks by a client who won't trust him.

Lots of fans in Mason fandom detest this episode because they dislike the Eva character. But her over-the-top quality is just what they doctor ordered for Season 6, when the gears were starting to grind after 174 episodes. Eva’s oft-repeated “Perry, darling” is a hoot. Eva is decidedly not the usual Perry protagonist, such as the plucky working girl or dutiful daughter or drab wallflower or demure deb or stolid workingman in a jam. Eva is a force of nature, a monster of mendacity.

It's not like Barry ever hung up her Bad Girl shoes. Later in her career, at the age of 58, Barry played a mom who selflessly raised her adopted daughter while running an international drug cartel under the alias The Cobra on ABC's All My Children from 1980-81. On CBS' Guiding Light from 1984-87, Barry excelled as a conniving Southern belle. Barry lost her husband of 48 years when he died in 1998. They had two daughters. Patricia Barry passed away in 2016, at the age of 94.

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