Director: Tim Van Patten
Cast: Matthew Rhys, Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk
Much like Arthur Conan Doyle, who created and recreated the memorable detective, Sherlock Holmes, through four novels, including The Hound of the Baskervilles and many, many short stories, Erle Stanley Gardner invented Perry Mason, the lawyer, who invariably won legal battles for his clients. Holmes never stepped inside a courtroom, but Mason was not just an ace lawyer, shrewdly intelligent, but also a fantastic detective. Mason believed that a good advocate must also be a good sleuth. And Gardner's 20 years as a lawyer in California came in very handy for his Perry Mason novels – which hinge on points of law, forensic medicine and other forms of science. Though considered pulp, Gardner's work was nonetheless appreciated as much as Doyle's.. And now Disney+Hotstar has brought us a television series ,Perry Mason, helmed by Tim Van Patten. The first episode was aired on Monday, and the rest (seven to come) would follow every Monday.
The first episode is a story which is based in the darkest days of post-depression era in Los Angeles, and given the current Coronavirus pandemic, one wonders whether the world will once again hit the same bleak patch.
As the first few minutes of the episode roll by we are given a peek into the gruesome kidnapping and murder of a one-year-old baby. Its parents are ordered to pay USD 100,000 as ransom. The kidnappers get the money all right, but the child is delivered dead with its eyes stitched wide open!
This scene cuts into one in which we see Mason (played brilliantly by Matthew Rhys) and his assistant, Pete, Strickland, spy on a movie star to get some juicy gossip that will help the lawyer earn extra bucks. And he needs it. Mason is divorced, but adores his nine-year-old son, and we see his disappointment and frustration when he is not allowed to talk to him over the telephone on New Year's eve.
Asked to solve murder of baby Charlie Dodson, Mason walks into a morgue to check on the corpse. As seven more episodes will be telecast in the course of several weeks, we would get to find out how Mason cracks the case.
Perry Mason is beautifully shot and recreates the 1930s Los Angeles, and through light and shade, darkness and despair, the lawyer-detective goes about his case. There is utter cruelty, almost devilishly so, as there is wit and humour to lighten the gruesomeness of the plot. We see how incompetent the cops are as Mason probes with his little camera, keen eye for detail and brilliant mind. We have seen in Gardener's books how Mason had the habit of putting the villains on the witness box and finally extracting a confession from them.
And Perry Mason, now being aired, will probably follow the same path to justice.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
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