Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)

Warren William stars as crime-solving attorney Perry Mason in THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934).

A very nervous man (Gordon Westcott) walks into Mason's office and offers to pay a $10,000 retainer if Mason will help him with his will and, more importantly, deal with the howling dog next door. Mason is baffled, even has a psychiatrist (Frank Reicher) from down the hall sit in on an interview with the new client, but ultimately takes the case.

Shortly thereafter, the man disappears...and Clinton Foley (Russell Hicks), owner of the howling dog, is murdered. Foley's wife Bessie (Mary Astor) is charged with the crime, and Mason decides to represent her.

The plot wasn't as hard to follow as yesterday's FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943), but it got fairly close, with a real wife, a fake wife, one dog being impersonated by another, Della Street (Helen Trenholme) impersonating Bessie, and so on. Truly one of those movies where you need a scorecard to help lay out who's doing what to who where. One wonders if the screenwriters of such mysteries became confused themselves!

What made the film worthwhile was the inimitable William, who's always such fun to have on the screen. He's charismatic and watchable even as the plot spins out of control.

Perry has a romantic relationship with Della in this, which makes it interesting; it's initially subdued but becomes more apparent as the film goes on.

Helen Trenholme, the Canadian actress who plays Della, was in only one other movie, which was not a Perry Mason film. It's a shame, as I enjoyed her. Claire Dodd would play Della in two of the later Warren William Perry Mason films, with Genevieve Tobin taking over the role for a single film.

Of course, Astor is always good to watch, and it's also fun to see Allen Jenkins turns up as a police detective.

When the camera pans the reporters in the courtroom, don't blink or you'll miss a shot of Gordon "Wild Bill" Elliott in one of his many bit roles of the '30s.

The cast also includes Grant Mitchell, Addison Richards, Dorothy Tree, and Harry Tyler.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG was directed by Alan Crosland and filmed by William Rees. It runs 74 minutes.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG is part of the six-film, three-disc set Perry Mason: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection, from the Warner Archive. The first four films in the set star Warren William, with one starring Ricardo Cortez and one starring Donald Woods. The trailer is included on the disc.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG was worth seeing for the cast but could have been more interesting. Hopefully the next film in the set will be stronger.


Blogger Bill O said...

Earl Stanley Gardner sold Perry to the movies in hopes of presenting a lawyer who was above temptation, as solid as the law itself. After these films, he withdrew the movie rights, and personally cast Raymond Burr against type as the image he wanted.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for adding that detail, Bill! Interesting background.

Curious to check out more of this set soon --

Best wishes,

9:52 PM  
Blogger A said...

I adore Warren William. Any film he's in is fabulous.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

He makes any film better, Amanda!

Best wishes,

1:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On screen, I'm only familiar with Raymond Burr as Mason. However, if you read the early books by Gardner, like this one for example, then it's harder to imagine Burr in the role - he's more like the character of the later books (I guess Gardner was writing them that way by that stage) but the early novels have a harder edge to them.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very interesting feedback. I've only seen a tiny bit of Burr in the role so in a way this is my introduction to the character. I'll have to make it a point to watch some of the TV series later on to compare.

Thanks, Colin!

Best wishes,

10:55 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Ironically, even Burr didn't see himself as Mason. He'd auditioned for DA Hamilton Burger.

11:12 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Burr did indeed see himself as Mason. The production wanted him to read for Burger and he agreed on the condition he could get a crack at Mason.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

In his own and in the public's mind, Burr was a great noir "heavy". Producer Gail Patrick and Gardner saw the potential that he did not. And actors, even well known ones, don't set "conditions" for their auditions.

8:57 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I don't want to belabor the point, but no -- and there is documentation all over the place confirming my point. Out on this.

9:45 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

In 1974 the people at Paramount wanted Natalie Wood to screen test for Daisy in their production of The great Gatsby. Natalie was interested in the part, but not the audition process and refused, so in that way, actors most certainly control the audition process. Also, well documented as was Burr's Perry Mason audition.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Daisy Buchanan was intended for Ali McGraw, then married to the head of the studio. Natalie Wood refusing to do the screen test is not the same as an actor controlling an audition. In any sense.

Burr intended to, and did, audition for Burger. I doubt getting the lead even entered his mind - not after years of supporting villainy.
He happened to project the kind solid image for which the producers were looking.But he would've had no idea he projected that quality.This info is included in both his bio and the show's dvd commentary.

2:49 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Refusal is the ultimate control.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

A film over 80 years old certainly prompted a vigorous discussion! Hope to see another Warren William Mason film soon...and eventually also some of Burr as Mason, which sounds worth seeing regardless of how his casting came to be. :)

Best wishes,

3:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great to see other Warren William fans! Be sure not to miss 'Employee Entrance' (1933), in which William plays an absolute scoundrel and has a great time doing it.
He takes over a failing department store and fires many employees. After one longtime department head is fired he commits suicide. After William is told "After a man outlives his usefulness he ought to jump out of a window."

2:10 PM  

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