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Videodone MOD Movies: Warren William is the original screen 'Perry Mason'

Before Raymond Burr, William created a sassy, sophisticated version of the legendary litigator

By SeanAx Dec 2, 2012 1:25PM

"Perry Mason: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection" (Warner Archive) –Raymond Burr may be the definitive screen incarnation of Perry Mason but decades before his small screen debut in the iconic TV series, Warren William played the legendary lawyer in a series of big screen movies in the thirties.


William was the silver-haired wolf of some of the great Warner Bros. pre-code movies, adept at playing corporate sharks with ruthless business instincts, suave manners, and an eye for younger women. In "The Case of the Howling Dog" (1934), his Mason is a lawyer right out of the pre-code sensibility: cavalier with professional ethics, obstructing justice to protect a client, flamboyant in the courtroom, where his style is filled with dramatic, showboating tactics. You'd never recognize the character if all you know is Burr's measured, low-key, serious incarnation. This Mason is quite the dapper bigwig, the star attraction of a big legal firm in an art-deco skyscraper office, and it takes a challenge to get him to personally take a case. Or maybe the appearance of Mary Astor as the mysterious woman in black.  


Alan Crosland directs his debut but things get livelier in his second appearance in "The Case of the Curious Bride" (1935), directed by the great Michael Curtiz, who kicks things off with a breakneck montage and introduces Mason as flamboyant character with high class style and epicurean tastes (he cooks his own meal in a high-end restaurant, with the blessing of the chef), and friendships throughout the city that pay off in his investigations (the "Welcome" mat at the morgue is a sardonic touch, but it's true in Mason's case; the coroner is a drinking buddy). Warner company player Allen Jenkins, who played a police detective in the first film, gets promoted (sort of) to play Mason's investigator Spudsy (kind of a comic Warner wise-guy version of Paul Drake). If Mason played fast and loose with the law the first time out, he even more shamelessly skirts it this time around.

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