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When I sat down to watch this film, I wondered briefly how I would react to it. Raymond Burr’s portrayal of Perry Mason has become so iconic, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role(think Monte Markham). Warren William, in fact, was the first to take on the defense attorney made famous by Erle Stanley Gardner just the year before this film was made. Based on the fourth novel in the series, I haven’t yet read the novel(in fact will read it this week for a Reading Forgotten Books post Friday).

The Mason in this film is different from what I was used to in the books or television. He seems to have a large firm with a number of lawyers working for him who handle most of the pedestrian cases and an army of detectives to carry out his investigations(no Paul Drake in this first one, though he joins the films in the next one, reduced to the comic sidekick, Spudsy Drake). Not seen any other of the films in the series and from what I read, they descended into a string of one liners from Mason, more comedy than mystery(the Spudsy Drake character mentioned). William departed after four and two other actors took the role for the last pair of films.

A man named Cartwright wants Perry to handle his will, asking him a number of questions about making out a will, and please do something about that howling dog next door as well. He wants to leave his wealth to the woman living next door as Clinton Foley’s wife, though she wasn’t. He wanted to make sure it didn’t go to the real Mrs. Foley. He leaves a ten thousand dollar retainer, in cash, to Mason and departs.

The next day, Mason gets the will special delivery and changes have been made. The REAL Mrs. Foley has now been made beneficiary. Intrigued, Mason looks into it. Foley claims Cartwright has ran off with his wife and the dog, named Prince, has never howled in it’s life.

In the next few days, Foley is murdered, as well as his dog, the real Mrs. Foley(played by Mary Astor) ends up charged with the crime. But not before Mason has found her, thrown his usual monkey wrenches into things, and the case goes to trial. The murder weapon was bought by Mrs. Foley two days before the shooting of her husband, a fact she neglected to mention. A cab driver drove her to the house just before the murder. Foley’s housekeeper is suspicious, awfully young and attractive.

And the ending is a bit ambiguous. Did Bessy Foley murder her husband or not? She’s been found not guilty, but Mason has an awfully smug look on his face as he turns a police dog found in a nearby kennel that seems chummy with the widow as he tells her not to call him Prince.

One miscue that I caught early in the film was, on Cartwright’s initial visit to Mason, he complains about a dog constantly howling, Mason, on the excuse of getting an associate to hear his story, runs next door bring a psychiatrist in to check his sanity. Mason refers to the police dog story and for the rest of the picture, the dog is referred to in that manner.

Enjoyed this one. Surprisingly.

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