Tuesday, July 02, 2013

THE CASE OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP (1937)


Perry Mason takes a case from an Australian bishop (yes, the stutterer of the title). It's complicated: years ago, Ida Gilbert, daughter-in-law of the millionaire Brownley, was found guilty of manslaughter in a car accident. She fled to Australia and gave up her daughter to the bishop who placed her in foster care back in America. Now a young woman named Janice has shown up claiming to be the long-missing heiress and Brownley has taken her in. The bishop wants Mason to help Ida and her friend Stella look for the real Janice and convince Brownley that the one living in his house is a fake. Then the bishop vanishes, and Brownley is found dead, shot in his car by a woman in a white raincoat. There's also something a little fishy about Ida's buddy Stella. Can Perry, aided by his secretary Della Street and his assistant Paul Drake, sort out all the loose ends, bring the killer to justice, figure out who the real heiress is, and find out what happened to the bishop?

Of course he can, he's Perry Mason! The Mason movies aren't as placid as the Raymond Burr TV episodes—they're really just another 30s detective B-movie series like Philo Vance or Charlie Chan, and as such, they're enjoyable. As in the show, the climax here occurs in a crowded courtroom with a nice twist exposed in a dramatic fashion. When Warren William played Perry Mason, he was light and charming; here, Donald Woods is fairly drab and stoic but not without some appeal. It has been said that Woods came closest to approximating the original Mason from Erle Stanley Gardner's books, but since I’ve never read one, I can’' say. I liked Ann Dvorak as a sprightly Della, and I enjoyed seeing Craig Reynolds and Frank Faylan is small roles. The bishop's stuttering is simply a red herring. [TCM]

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