Cinema Sleuth  – The Case of the Black Cat

For reviews of all movies and tv shows surrounding Perry Mason and actors / actresses who played in Raymond Burr version of Perry Mason: go here.

Stars:  3 / 5

Recommendation: Legal mystery with a touch of comedy that is far more different that what you are used to with Perry Mason with Raymond Burr in it. 😉

Before Raymond Burr made his mark as the legendry criminal defense lawyer in the TV adaptations of the works of Erle Stanley Gardner with Perry Mason as the central character, Warner Bros had made six Perry Mason films in the 1930s. This 1936 American mystery film The Case of the Black Cat was the fifth of the series where Ricardo Cortez played the part of Perry Mason while June Travis as his confidential secretary Della Street.

The film is based on the 1935 novel The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat written by Erle Stanley Gardner. Perry Mason is summoned to the Laxter mansion for changing the will of invalid Peter Laxter (portrayed by Harry Davenport). However Peter dies in a fire, Mason steps in to investigate and defend the accused.

This is the first film where William Warren didn’t play Perry Mason. In the previous and fourth film the 1936 The Case of the Velvet Claws Perry and Della get married, which is a deviation from the traditional Perry Mason characters. In this film they are unattached again with no indication that they were married at all bringing them back to how Gardner had envisioned them.

Originally directed by Alan Crosland and later took over by William McGann when Alan was killed in an automobile accident during the filming. Screenplay was written by F Hugh Herbert, Produced by Bryan Foy and released by Warner Bros. Pictures Inc. This film was part of Warner Bros. Clue Club under which twelve films were released between 1935 and 1938.

Erle Stanley Gardner did not approve of Ricardo Cortez as Perry Mason. Hence he was replaced by Donald Woods in the sixth and final movie The Case of the Stuttering Bishop released in 1937 Ironically Cortez fit the best as Perry Mason than anyone else until Raymond Burr. Also Cortez’s portrayal of Mason has more tough texture than the comedy side that Warren showed as Mason, making the character closer to what we read in the books.

June Travis as Della Street doesn’t have a prominent role as Claire Dodd in the first four films or as Barbara Hale in the later TV series. She almost seemed like an afterthought, which is the only aspect that disappointed me in the movie.

Gary Owen portrays the role of Paul Drake, the investigator that Perry hires for his cases. This character was called as Spudsy Drake in the predecessor movies of the series.

Guy Usher plays the role of District Attorney Hamilton Burger. This is the first film that Burger is actually seen in this series, but he becomes a prominent character in the TV show Perry Mason with Raymond Burr as Mason.

Jane Bryan portrays the role of Wilma Laxter. This is her film debut.

The promotional material for this film connects it to Edgar Allan Poe and made it look like a horror-film. But it is a fast-paced murder mystery, make no mistake in that. This film has no bearing to Poe’s 1843 short story The Black Cat.

The titles show live-action stars with their character names listed below their names for the lead cast as it was then. The rest of them are shown on a slide that has a black cat statue displayed.

The story retains the mystery that usual comes with any Perry Mason case where the murderer is revealed at the end, making it really hard for anyone to guess. If fans thought it was a horror movie, then they would be disappointed But for all the mystery buffs, seeing Ricardo in Mason’s role will be a real treat.

Spoiler Alerts:

  1. Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
    1. The cat in the film is a gray brown calico cat. There is no black cat in the film. Hence they should have kept the working title “The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat” as is. Perhaps because the film was released around Halloween, the powers that be must have changed the title to “The Case of the Black Cat” instead. Doesn’t make sense for me though.
    2. Drake tells the minister that Perry will be back in a couple minutes. Closed captioning says “a few minutes.”

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