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The Morally Fuzzy Territory of Film Noir Lurks in the Shadows of 'Perry Mason: Season 5, Volume 2'

These stories are full of old fools, imperious matriarchs, women in love, and swindling business partners.


Perry Mason: Season 5, Volume 2

Cast: Raymond Burr
Directors: Various
Release date: 2010-11-16
Amazon

Perry's usually saddled with clients who don't tell him the whole truth about something, and that tradition continues in this batch of stories. In "The Case of the Counterfeit Crank", his client is even pretending to be insane. That's written by Robert Leslie Bellem, whose novels also have eccentric characters. Another eccentric novelist, Jonathan Latimer, contributes "The Case of the Borrowed Baby", in which the "client" is an infant left in the office. Both stories are about rich old people and who gets to inherit their estate. In fact, all these stories are full of old fools, imperious matriarchs, women in love, and swindling business partners.

Some episodes reveal uncanny ways in which something can have two different realities, such as a gun that both is and isn't the murder weapon (two guns have been pieced together), or a location that varies between being a cluttered crime scene and an ordinary place, so that a witness may be discredited.

Novelist Robb White, who scripted several of William Castle's gimmicky horror films, gave Perry an unusual client in "The Case of the Melancholy Marksman". The teaser shows the client planning to kill his wife with a rifle from the roof next door. He makes two attempts and concludes that he's not really a killer, yet perhaps the reason he doesn't succeed is that he's woozy and befuddled from poison. The drug might also have affected his reasoning and could be partly responsible for his actions. Still, the almost-guilty client moves this episode a little closer to the morally fuzzy territory of film noir.

An important fact about swanky legal-beagle Perry Mason: At his most devious, he not only analyzes and deduces, he throws dust into the eyes of the police and district attorney by pulling shenanigans that put him continually at risk of getting arrested and/or disbarred. For example, there was a case where his client took a cab from the scene of the crime and was afraid she might be identified. Perry told her to wear a scarf and sunglasses and request the same cabbie at the same location to carry her and a friend who does all the talking, and get a receipt. Then Perry asked the cabbie if he was positive he'd seen the client on that day instead of the next day. When the cabbie answered with certainty, Perry produced the receipt, causing much confusion. At another time, he delivered a duplicate gun to the location of the murder weapon in order to throw off the investigation, but that plan backfired, as it were.

These tricks were more common in earlier seasons but they still show up. There's an example in "The Case of the Mystified Miner", a relatively unusual story based on one of Erle Stanley Gardner's novels, The Case of the Spurious Spinster. It's not structured like most of the episodes, with an obnoxious person making enemies throughout Act One until their decorous corpse is discovered and it's eventually revealed that everyone in the cast showed up at the murder scene within five minutes of each other, and they were all concealing something in a web of convoluted cross-purposes, so that how Perry explains it all without getting dizzy is one of the show's cool efficiencies. No, this is slightly different. It's structured as a series of surprises that keep the viewer off guard, really a plot based on masquerades and double-bluffs that still makes a fresh plot today. Nobody dies until later than usual, and then it's a decidedly minor character. Perry's disreputable stunt involves messing up the fingerprints on a rental car.

This episode and "The Case of the Angry Astronaut", with James Coburn as the kill-worthy victim, are directed by Oscar-winning editor Francis D. Lyon.

"The Case of the Absent Artist" is another puzzle about false or multiple identities, something about a comic-strip artist, a modern painter, and a corpse transported hundreds of miles. Several scenes are memorably stolen by character actors. Arlene Martel, who often played exotic or vaguely ethnic roles, makes a mark as the slinky beatnik babe Fiona. Heavy, drawling Victor Buono plays a scruffy sculptor whose favorite word is "repudiate." Near the end of her long career, the fluttery, tic-happy Zasu Pitts plays the landlady of the den of artists. Another old-time comic actor, El Brendel, shows up with his Swedish accent in a similar role in "The Case of the Borrowed Baby", but it's an eyeblink part, not a scene-stealer.

Several cases are about artists, and two in a row are about actors. "The Case of the Ancient Romeo" has a down-at-heels repertory company staging Romeo and Juliet when, in a rewrite of Shakespeare, the aging Romeo dies in the duel with Paris. Perry convenes the hearing on the actual stage and re-enacts what happened, leading to a deliberately hammy confession as the culprit literally take center stage. The director cuts to a high longshot of the scene, as though from a balcony, so we can understand how courtroom theatrics, this series, and Shakespeare all drink from the same well. Scriptwriter True Boardman was an actor and the son of actors.

"The Case of the Promoter's Pillbox" brings murder to the world of TV show pilots. An aspiring writer's idea for a series called Mr. Nobody, which seems to be a variant of The Millionaire, has been stolen by a producer who's stringing everyone along. His secretary declares him to be no worse than most in the business. Rod Serling's name is dropped more than once; he's supposedly a friend of Perry. This show seems to be the only credit anywhere for writer Peter Martin. Is he a pseudonym or, like the aspiring writer in the episode, was this his one big idea? We can't help wondering if it's in any way autobiographical. You'd think these actorly cases might have been penned by series writer Bellem, whose fiction specialized in Hollywood murders.

The season finalé, "The Case of the Lonely Eloper", is also notable and slightly unusual. It opens almost as an old-dark-house story with its heroine sleepwalking. This turns out to have nothing to do with the rest of the plot. The accused heroine, an heiress just turned 21, seems backward and immature, verging on unhinged, and this makes her a curiously unnerving client. Her dissipated reprobate of an uncle lives next door. He's played by John Dall, whose character was a kind of smirking, slightly effeminate fellow that Dall could do in his sleep. For example, that's how he plays the villain in Atlantis the Lost Continent, though he should be best remembered for the classic Gun Crazy.

The cast remains Raymond Burr as phlegmatic and cagey Perry Mason; Barbara Hale as faithful and dapper secretary Della Street, with no more visible free time or private life than her boss; William Hopper as cigarette-smoking and sports-jacketed private detective Paul Drake; and William Talman as eternally wrong D.A. Hamilton Burger, who keeps thinking he's got it in the bag just because Perry's client had motive and opportunity, made public declarations of intent to kill, and left fingerprints all over the weapon.

Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins) appears infrequently now, often replaced by Lt. Andy Anderson (Wesley Lau) and once by Sgt. Ben Landro (Mort Mills). Law student David Gideon (Karl Held), seen in the first half of the season, is dropped after the initial episode here and never mentioned again. Either he graduated or flunked. At three cases each, Willis Bouchey, S. John Launer, and Kenneth MacDonald are the most frequently seen judges. Burt Reynolds, Jeanette Nolan, Everett Sloane, Allison Hayes, William Schallert, Jesse White, Connie Hines, John Marley, Hugh Marlowe, Otto Kruger, Jeff Morrow, Harry Von Zell, Geraldine Brooks, and Linden Chiles are among familar faces in guest roles.

There are no extras with this DVD.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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