Top Cat

TV classics: Top Cat

USA 1961-62, one season, 30 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, ABC, color. Production Company: Hanna-Barbera. Voice Talents: Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield, Leo DeLyon, Marvin Kaplan, John Stephenson

Plot summary: He’s the boss. He’s the VIP . He’s a championship. He’s the most tip top – Top Cat.

Top CatReview: In 1961, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera brought a cat to life who was one of a kind. Top Cat and his gang, Benny the Ball, Brain, Choo Choo, Fancy Pants, and Spook. Set in Manhattan, the animated show felt like a mixture of The Phil Silvers Show and The East End Kids, a series of B pictures from the 1940s. TC (as Top Cat was called by his friends) was the perfect con-man. He always knew how to get the best for himself and his fellow alley cats. Charlie Dibble was their harmless enemy, a local policeman whose wit was no praise for the NYPD.

Like most Hanna-Barbera productions, Top Cat was not only directed at children and their parents but also at a general audience who loves to laugh. Following into the footsteps of The Flintstones, the show used pop culture references and adult topics in a fantastic world that followed its own rules. Unlike its predecessor, however, Top Cat only got a chance to shine for one full season. Since its cancellation in 1962, the show has lived on in comic books and reruns around the world, especially in the United Kingdom where the program is most commonly known as Boss Cat. Today, TV’s coolest cat is available on DVD. A wonderful treat for animation fans and geeks, or anyone else who enjoys the style and humor of TV’s Golden Age.

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The Case of the Curious Bride

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Curious Bride

USA 1935, 80 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros.. Director: Michael Curtiz, Written by Tom Reed with additional dialog by Brown Holmes, Based on the novel Perry Mason and the Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Warren William, Claire Dodd, Allen Jenkins, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Woods, Phillip Reed, Barton MacLane, Wini Shaw, Warren Hymer, Olin Howland, Charles Richman, Errol Flynn

Plot summary: Perry Mason is about to head off to China when he’s approached by an old lady friend of his who charms him into postponing his trip by neglecting a beaded purse that contains a gun.

Review: The Case of the Curious Bride was the second adaptation out of four Warner Bros. produced with Warren William as Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous lawyer Perry Mason. After a rather straightforward first adaptation of The Case of the Howling Dog, the second Perry Mason was spiced up with comedic elements and a platinum blond Della Street, dipping into the waters of box office sensation The Thin Man.

Although losing some of the original tone of the novel, The Case of the Curious Bride did not fail to introduce Mason’s favorite private eye Paul Drake. Renamed Spudsy to fit the lighthearted atmosphere of the detective flick, his role is a lot less feasible than in the book but entertaining nonetheless. Della Street, although not spoiled with too much screen time, was turned into a private secretary of sorts, one who never failed to insinuate that Perry only believed to be the boss.Her interaction with Perry is naturally quick-witted and hilarious at times, right down to the always included touch of romance.

All in all, The Case of the Curious Bride is a good eighty minutes of suspense, laughs and clever dialog. Warren William is a wonderful Perry Mason, gentlemanly, clever and quick on his toes. Claire Dodd is his darling girl Friday, reliable in her deliveries and a great joy to watch. If you’re looking for a light movie to make you smile, this 1930s Perry Mason will do the trick. Just don’t expect a complete realization of Gardner’s novel. It’s fair to say this adaptation is an interpretation of it and you either enjoy a decent cast of actors (including Errol Flynn) and an upbeat plot, or you don’t. But give it a chance. I am a big fan of the Perry Mason of the 1950s, and I greatly enjoyed this flick.

Available online.

The Case of the Howling Dog

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Howling Dog

USA 1934, 75 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros.. Director: Alan Crosland, Written by Ben Markson, Based on the novel “Perry Mason and the Case of the Howling Dog” by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Warren William, Helen Trenholme, Mary Astor, Allen Jenkins, Gordon Westcott, Grant Mitchell, Helen Lowell, Dorothy Tree, Russell Hicks

Plot summary: Arthur Cartwright complains to Perry Mason about his neighbor’s howling dog, a symbol for death in the neighborhood he believes.

Review: The Case of the Howling Dog was the first in a series of four Perry Mason adaptations immediately following the success of Erle Stanley Gardner’s first mystery novels in 1933. Starring Warren William as Perry Mason and Helen Trenholme as Della Street, the first movie picked up a lot of the whodunit’s original spice, including the tingling romance between the attorney and his confidential secretary.

Later rewritten as a Nick Charles character, this first Perry Mason is a lawyer who’s seriously committed to his clients as well as to the law. Although bending the law at times to solve his case, Mason is always a respectable character who likes to be one step ahead of the police and the DA. Although usually supported by his private investigator friend Paul Drake in the books, the film does not feature the entertaining sidekick character – a real loss to the story. However, Warren William’s performance is strong enough to make up for this oversight. His shyster attitude brings a lot of suspense and drive into a misty story that keeps Perry Mason as well as his audience on the toes until the very end.

He is supported by a loyal, reliable and earthy Della Street who tackles the right amount of sass and allure Gardner so beautifully describes in his books. Helen Trenholme is present and unobtrusive enough to give a convincing portrayal of Mason‘s confidante. Although meeting the original’s criteria, Miss Trenholme did not get a chance to breathe life into the tweaked version of Della in The Case of the Curious Bride one year later. She was replaced by platinum blonde Claire Dodd who brought her very own qualities to presenting a likable but somewhat quirked up version of Perry Mason‘s dedicated secretary.

All in all, The Case of the Howling Dog is a decent mystery movie from the 1930s: entertaining, thrilling and fun to watch. It is a treat for every Perry Mason fan who appreciates the books, radio plays and the iconic TV show from the fifties and sixties. It is a good adaptation, making the most of the original story in only 75 short minutes of film. Warren William offers an interesting take on Gardner’s character which may be of great interest to any Raymond Burr fan. The Case of the Howling Dog, when compared to the books and TV show, is probably the best of Warner’s four consecutive Perry Mason films. A gem that’s definitely worth watching.

Available online.

The Case of the Lucky Legs

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Lucky Legs

USA 1935, 77 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros. and First National Pictures. Director: Archie Mayo, Written by Jerome Chodorov, Brown Holmes and Ben Markson, Based on the novel “Perry Mason and the Case of the Lucky Legs” by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Warren William, Genevieve Tobin, Patricia Eills, Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins, Peggy Shannon, Porter Hall, Anita Kerry, Barton Mac Lane, Craig Reynolds, Henry O’Neill, Charles C. Wilson, Joseph Crehan, Olin Howland, Mary Treen

Plot summary: To save his client Margie Clune, Perry Mason investigates the murder of Frank Patton, promoter of the so-called Lucky Legs contest, and gets in trouble himself.

Review: Erle Stanley Gardner introduced the public to Perry Mason, attorney-at-law, in The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1933. Hollywood, always eager to jump on the bandwagon of success, first adapted Mason’s Case of the Howling Dog a good year later, then altered the hero to fit the contemporary stereotype of an investigator rather than Gardner’s depicted shyster. Warren William was cast to star in a total of four consecutive films, all based on original Mason novels.

The Case of the Lucky Legs was Warner Bros. third attempt at bringing Perry Mason to the big screen without really grasping the essence of the popular whodnit. In best mystery-meets-comedy tradition, the movie was meant to entertain and presented a slick version of Gardner’s famous lawyer, resembling a variety of other celebrated investigators such as The Thin Man‘s Nick Charles or The Falcon. Warren William did a fine job at meeting the standards of this altered Mason, but the character has next to nothing on the original lawyer described in Gardner’s books.

Della Street, Mason’s famed secretary, was also spiced up but less drastically so. Her job description still remained the same, at least until the adaptation of  The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1936. In contrast to her on screen boss however, Della was portrayed by three different actresses in Warner’s four adaptations. In The Case of the Lucky Legs, Genevieve Tobin got a shot at presenting an attractively cheeky Miss Street, a job she excelled at. It is due to Miss Tobin’s enjoyable depiction of Perry Mason‘s girl Friday that the film works. In best 1930s tradition, her character is a wonderful mix of charm, sass and class, and Genevieve Tobin knew how to create chemistry with her spotlighted co-star.

An unfortunate casualty of this adaptation is Gardner’s memorable character Paul Drake, Mason’s trusted P.I. Renamed Spudsy Drake in the movie, the character was reduced to a mere shadow of his literary self, a silly handyman to lawyer-gone-detective Perry Mason who was married off to a caricature of a bad tempered wife.

All in all, The Case of the Lucky Legs is a fun movie without the complexity of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels but a tonality of its own. The film is a comedy rather than a mystery and does not contain any courtroom scenes. It is funny on its own merit and lives on the scripted teasing between Della Street and Perry Mason, as well as on the beyond decent performances of Warren William and Genevieve Tobin. It is a must-see for any die-hard Perry Mason fan and a diverting classic for everyone else.

Available online.