The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

USA 1937, 70 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros. Director: William Clemens, Written by Kenneth Gamet and Don Ryan, Based on The Case of the Stuttering Bishop by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Donald Woods, Ann Dvorak, Anne Nagel, Linda Perry, Craig Reynolds, Gordon Oliver, Joseph Crehan, Helen MacKellar, Edward McWade, Tom Kennedy, Mira McKinney, Frank Faylen, Douglas Wood, Veda Ann Borg, George Lloyd, Selmer Jackson and Charles Wilson.

Plot summary: Perry Mason gets involved in a case of identity theft and ends up defending the possible heir to a murder victim’s fortune.

TCOT Stuttering Bisop 1937Review: As the sixth and last adaptation of Erle Stanley Gardner’s popular whodunits, Warner Brothers released The Case of the Stuttering Bishop in 1937 with Donald Woods as famed lawyer Perry Mason and Ann Dvorak as his faithful girl Friday Della Street. Based on Gardner’s ninth book, the film tried to turn a difficult plot into seventy minutes of entertaining noir, unfortunately another failed attempt at the box office. For Mason fans, the film may now be a gem to complete their collection, for a general audience, however, the film did not manage to live up to Gardner’s original story.

Although blessed with Donald Woods as yet another Mason, the film, once again, lacked the enticing chemistry between Perry and and his savvy secretary, an element the radio and TV show would get down to a T in the 1940s through 60s. Ann Dvorak, despite her decent lines, brief (book-inspired) action scene and physical presence, did not manage to shine as Della Street and Joseph Crehan did not get enough screen time to actually flesh out another pivotal character from the original books, private detective Paul Drake. Charles Wilson, though, as district attorney Hamilton Burger, met the rather unlikeable persona from Gardner’s novels and Edward McWade was a charming stuttering bishop Mallory. Together, they made the film an enjoyable hour of entertainment without living up to the story’s full potential.

Despite my bias for Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and their smash hit show from the 50s and 60s, I must admit, however, that Donald Woods did a fine job at breathing life into his very own Perry Mason. Of all the adaptations from the 1930s, The Case of the Stuttering Bishop may even qualify as my favorite, although each of the six films had its beauty and strengths. As a Mason fan, I’m grateful either way for Warner’s decision to release all of the first Mason films in one boxset on DVD – it sure made the best early Christmas gift I gave myself this year.

The Falcon in Hollywood

Talkie of the Week: The Falcon in Hollywood

USA 1944, 67 minutes, black & white, RKO. Director: Gordon Douglas, Written by Gerald Geraghty, Based on the Falcon character created by Michael Arlen. Cast: Tom Conway, Barbara Hale, Veda Ann Borg, John Abbott, Sheldon Leonard, Konstantin Shayne, Emory Parnell, Frank Jenks, Jean Brooks, Rita Corday, Walter Soderling, Useff Ali, Robert Clarke

Plot summary: The Falcon is on vacation in Hollywood and stumbles into murder case on the Sunset studio lot which seems to be linked to a raising starlet and her ties to the local mob.

Review: In his third consecutive adventure from 1944, Tom Conway returns to the silver screen as The Falcon in Hollywood. Officially on vacation, the famous urban detective finds a new case at a horse race where he meets a young lady who has trouble written all over her face. Chased by the police, she uses the Falcon as her cover only to take flight from him as well. Going after his accidental date in a cab, he makes the acquaintance of another young lady who’s as feisty in her pursuit of him as she’s reckless at driving. Together, they reach the lot of Sunrise Pictures where the Falcon stumbles right into a murder scene.

Like in his previous adventures in 1943 and ’44, Tom Conway did a beautiful job playing the charming sleuth who has a way of attracting women to his cases, as helpers or murderesses. He was supported by a hilariously feisty Veda Ann Borg as witty cab driver Billie Atkins whose tongue was sometimes quicker than her mind and a lovely but tough Barbara Hale as Peggy Callahan. The Falcon in Hollywood was Ms. Hale’s second stint on the popular franchise in which she played an actress who got her first shot at the movies. Slowly landing bigger parts for herself as one of RKO’s promising starlets at the time, Barbara Hale showed yet another side of her natural talent as a versatile young woman who’s smart and quick on her feet. She was an entertaining riddle for Tom Conway’s Falcon, her motives, background and ambitions almost as shadowy as her alibi.

Shot primarily on the actual RKO lot, The Falcon in Hollywood combined a suspenseful story with a glimpse into the actual world of the studio with its college campus atmosphere (as Barbara Hale once so sweetly put it) and numerous sound stages. Today, it is a wonderful look back at a place and era that’s long gone. The film is funny, diverting and very L.A. – a true gem for anyone who appreciates the style and humor of the Tinseltown’s Golden Age.

Available on DVD.