Oh, I wrote a Bleat for today. It's about the troop surge and a Marine I met who accompanied a body back home and a book review about the imminent threat of Jebus-Nazis. I just can’t post it. Why? It’s a mess, and it’s full of links, and I’ve already written two pieces today and done a Diner (well, most of one; I had a spare hour, and the phone kept ringing, so I managed about 23 minutes of yakking & music) and I spent the night on the new book before heading down the kitchen table for some old-fashioned screed-whuppin', and frankly I’m too tired to figure out WHAT THE HELL I am talking about. There's a conclusion in there somewheres, but damned if I see it.. But! I just realized I have a piece in reserve: a DVD review intended for a job that went south. Here it is, all raw and unedited and messy. Since I’ll never publish it on paper, might well let it have its say.
It’s about him. The patron saint of the Bleat, the stoic bloke with the W-T-F gaze. Perry fargin’ Mason.
If your gift list includes a lawyer, don’t get them the new Perry Mason DVDs. Twenty episodes per volume – why, that’s thirty billable hours wasted. But anyone who remembers the show or wonders how the TV courtroom drama began will love these DVDs. Then again, it’s not necessary to buy them all. One will do. Every show, after all, was exactly the same.
The opening music sets the tone: the tremulous anxious strings, followed by chords that sound like law books dropped on a desk. Teeeee-deeeeee, DA DAH. In case you didn’t get the point: Teeeee-deeeeeee, Da DAH DAH. Then the main melody rose like a big man standing up, and it was cool, aloof, implacable. There’s not a trial lawyer over fifty who wouldn’t want this played at his funeral when the pallbearers walk the box to the hearse.
The premise: inflexible. The first act was devoted to murky upper-middle-class perfidy, a tangled stumble-footed mess that ended with a corpse on the potting shed floor. (Dressed in suit, face down.) This was your chance to pick a horse: was it the earnest plain wife, the scheming sister, the dull-eyed handyman, the oily blackmailer, the strange “Colonel Mustard” who said he had to fetch a candlestick from the conservatory? You’d never know who made the roscoe bark until the last scene, but one thing was certain: whoever went to Perry first was innocent. The very act of showing up in Perry Mason’s office bestowed absolution.
Mason took every case, providing they made it past Della Street’s intuitive guilt-filter. The only reason anyone cooled their heels in his anteroom was so Della could pick up the vibe. Once in the office, you were golden. You could push a heap of pennies across his desk and sob “it’s all I got, Mister Mason,” and he’d push it back. (We can assume Perry cleaned up on med-mal suits over the summer rerun season.) Once Perry was on the case, he brought in his trusted man: Private Detective Paul Drake, a man the hue of cigarette ash. He commanded an Army of Operatives – failed thespians, flat-busted grifters, confidence men with an angle, legit dicks angling to move up the chain. The Operatives had two jobs: find information which looked bad, which brought doubt to the first half of the drama, then scope the skinny that shed an entirely new light on the case, pointing to the gardener.
The adversaries: two good men hewn from different bolts. On the stuffed-shirt side you had Hamilton Burger (Apparently Franklin Furhter was too obvious). A District Attorney who never quite understood the power of the Mason Absolution Field, Burger suffered from severe short-term memory loss, and consequently never recalled that he’d lost a case to Mason for the last 284 consecutive weeks. The only thing he remembered was Mason’s flair for Turning the Courtroom Into a Circus, and he often said this with an expression of vague panic, as though trumpeting elephants would burst through the doors and defacate on the floor while clowns on unicycles hosed the jury with seltzer bottles labeled “Reasonable Doubt.”
And then there was Tragg. Lt. Tragg. Hunched little gnome, refugee from a Citizen Kane subplot, a gargoyle in a raincoat with a misanthrope’s leer. The name said it all: Traaagggg. You know he wanted to bust Mason, and bust him hard: eat wall, Bunny, it’s the bracelet hour. But he also had respect for Mason; the man had a gift, and in the end someone went to jail. No hard feelings. Given the number of cops and Das and attorneys in La, it was remarkable that the same three men tangled horns weekly, but it speaks to Tragg’s dogged enthusiasm: put him on a murder beef, tell him Burger’s the DA and perp’s already lawed-up with the Mason flavor, and he’d mash his hat on his head and head out to make the DA’s case. Again.
You knew they all respected one another, in the end. If Mason had come down with something terminal, Burger would have arranged the fund-raiser, approved the typeface on the invitations. Tragg would have been the guy who helped Perry walk from the party to the cab.
The trial? A parade of archetypes, pierced by Mason’s tunneling glare. They would stammer under pressure, or bark back some sass to throw off the scent, or just sit there in a sensible dress twisting a handkerchief while saying the things that sounded bad, but honest it wasn’t so, he didn’t mean to, he couldn’t. At some point it would Look Bad; Perry would tell Della to call Paul, and the army of operatives would shake loose one last telling fact that armed Perry for the final witness. So great by now was the Mason Absolution Field that he could actually project it out of the back of his head, and force someone in the spectator gallery to stand up and confess.
Yes, she did it! And she’s glad! Boo hoohoohohoo.
Conclusion: everyone’s in Perry’s office, enjoying the rich, mild taste of a Chesterfield. The accused is pathetically grateful; Perry gives the credit to Paul, who gives credit to Perry’s realization that the Venezuelan bonds were the key, and Della looks at both of them with disinterested amusement: neither of you will ever make a play for me, will you. Idiots. Credits roll over a stack of law books – which, for all we know, were zoning codes for Los Angeles County.
Sixty-three bucks a season. Worth every penny.