[phpbaysidebar title=”Related eBay Goods:” keywords=”Warren William,Patricia Ellis,Lyle Talbot,Genevieve Tobin,Allen Jenkins” num=”5″ siteid=”1″ category=”45100″ sort=”StartTimeNewest” minprice=”19″ maxprice=”500″ id=”2″]Warren William returns for his third go around as Perry Mason in Warner Brothers’ The Case of the Lucky Legs, an all-out screwball affair this time around but with perhaps the most intricate of cases solved by William’s Mason.
When we meet Perry this time around he one-ups Nick Charles’ chronic sousing when Thin Man alumni Porter Hall enters Mason’s office to find Perry passed out on the floor behind his desk. Hall’s Mr. Bradbury, called alternatively by Perry: Mr. Bradbottom; Mr. Bradington; Mr. Braddock; Mr. Bradley; etc; in a running joke, plays straight-man to William’s Mason in a scene not just introducing the Lucky Legs version of Mason but narrating the after-math of the Lucky Legs contest we’ve just been shown in the opening scene.
In that scene Bradbury awards the Leg Easy Hosiery Company’s $1,000 Lucky Legs prize to Patricia Ellis’ Margie Clune, the best, I guess in 1935-terms at least, of a long line of somewhat chunky gams passing blind from the waist up under a curtain before the occasionally hootin’ and hollerin’ audience. Frank Patton (Craig Reynolds), the Leg Easy representative, immediately arouses our suspicions when upon congratulating Margie he explains that he didn’t carry the cash prize along with him because, well, it’s a lot of money and you know, it could be dangerous.
Bradbury congratulates Margie and reiterates a standing marriage proposal while doing so. Margie has better prospects than middle-aged Porter Hall though and drifts over to her doctor fiance, Bob Doray, played by the much more age appropriate Lyle Talbot, who turns out to be stiffer than the corpse we eventually encounter: “I’ve resorted to gate-crashing,” Dr. Doray disdainfully pipes, Talbot’s voice seemingly escaping his turned-up nose. He’s entirely disgusted to find his Margie being “judged like a prize heifer.” Margie’s co-worker and jealous rival Eva Lamont (Anita Kerry) chimes in, “Yeah, she does look like a heifer, doesn’t she?” just one of Lucky Legs’ long list of comic lines. When Margie explains they really could use the money, Doc Doray storms out basically convinced that winning the contest is more or less akin to taking up work on a street corner.
Meanwhile outside Leg Easy’s Frank Patton is halted from his hasty retreat by Thelma Bell (Peggy Shannon), a Lucky Legs winner from nearby Wayneville, who’s still waiting to be paid her prize money and ready to squeal to the cops if she doesn’t get it.
So this is a Perry Mason movie, we’ve already met a long line of suspects before Perry’s even peeled himself off his floor, and we don’t even have a body yet. Bradbury is impressed by Mason’s skills, despite his disgust for his comportment and demeanor, and hires him on to discover what happened to Patton and the Lucky Legs money. Mason, intrigued by a photo of Margie’s winning legs, is on the case.
Bradbury doesn’t escape Mason’s office at this initial encounter without first meeting Dr. Croker, ironically referred to by Mason as the mortician’s friend–Croker is played by Olin Howland who was previously Perry’s coroner buddy Wilbur Strong in The Case of the Curious Bride, released earlier that same year. Croker is all wisecracks and talks just as fast as Perry, examining him on the fly and taking the harsh step of putting Perry off booze and restricting his diet, a recipe for even comedy throughout Lucky Legs. When Croker suggests milk as Perry’s new alternative to whiskey, Perry croaks, “You mean that unpalatable byproduct of the cow?”
Allen Jenkins returns as Spudsy apparently having lost several points off his I.Q. since Curious Bride. Rather than verbally sparring with Mason this time around Spudsy’s here to be made a fool of by Mason, who throws him into fits of laughter by tickling him on more than one occasion and repeatedly warns him to duck when in the presence of his wife who typically argues by means of hurling pots and pans in Spudsy’s direction. A nice touch is Mary Treen as Spudsy’s wife as it was Treen who played the Telegraph Operator Spudsy hit on in the previous entry, Curious Bride. Could she be reprising her role and have married Spudsy in the meantime? Probably just coincidence.
As usual the police are on Perry’s tail throughout Lucky Legs as Mason is discovered in several sticky spots including the murder scene not soon after we land ourselves a victim. It’s no mystery that Lucky Legs deadbeat Patton is the corpse, but just about everyone else is suspected at one time or another with evidence of the murder weapon, a surgical tool, pointing most rigidly at Talbot’s Dr. Doray. Mason spars more with the lower level police this time around, led by Joseph Crehan’s Detective Johnson and his underling, dimwitted Officer Ricker (Charles Wilson), while previous Mason foil Barton MacLane still plays it straight-laced as Detective Bisonette, but is overall much looser with Mason than his previous incarnation as Chief Detective Lucas in Curious Bride–Mason even affectionately calls him Bissy throughout Lucky Legs. The D.A., Manchester, is played by Henry O’Neill, who’s fine as usual in his usually small part.
In a humorous sequence Mason charters a plane to track down Margie, who’s fled out of town. When he tells the pilot he’s hoping to go to Summerville, the pilot enthusiastically replies, “Oh Summerville. I think this crate oughta make that,” to which Mason wisecracks, “Well that’s encouraging. Let’s try it.” Once they land Mason is punch drunk and rubbing at his mouth as though he’s just been sick. He comes to the Summerville hotel where he expects to find the recently arrived Doray and says to the clerk “The last plane brought in a man that was pretty air sick.” The clerk takes one look at reeling Mason and says “I see.”
Inside the hotel he taps lightly at the door of the Bridal Suite to find Doctor Doray but no Margie. Mason cracks “Where’s the curious bride?” a direct reference to his previous outing. When Margie does arrive the police are not far behind so Mason concocts a ruse where he plays a doctor to Margie’s suffering patient, complete with pencil sticking out of her mouth in the guise of a thermometer. Luckily it’s yet another dopey cop whom Mason encounters and he manages to secure a ride out of town with Margie, a chief murder suspect, in a police ambulance which races them back to the airfield where they depart just ahead of some of the forces brighter bulbs.
In my Case of the Curious Bride review I referred to Claire Dodd, a personal favorite, as the best of William’s Della Street’s. Well, my memory may have failed me as I really loved Genevieve Tobin, who’s usually anything but a personal favorite, as Della in Lucky Legs. At the least I’d call the Dodd vs. Tobin match-up a draw. Tobin, who’s previously driven me crazy in Goodbye Again (1933), a pre-code Warren William title I’ve yet to cover, among a handful of other films, takes the patrician accent that usually just kills her presence for me and spins it as naturally as possible throughout Lucky Legs where she finally seems down to earth. Whether alone in a shot, as she often is during periodic phone calls from Perry, or sharing the scene with Warren William and others, she’s intelligent, witty, and funny and even tossed out a few lines in reference to encounters with Perry which left me wondering how they flew past the Production Code. Tobin has great chemistry with William and just does a wonderful job throughout Lucky Legs.
Perry lays out the details of the case for the benefit of all over the last 12 minutes of Lucky Legs with Dr. Croker squeezing in his final examination throughout Perry’s tale which moves from Mason’s own office over to Croker’s and back to Mason’s, with practically everybody mentioned except Talbot’s Doray and Parker’s corpse following along with Mason’s intricate telling.
I was ready to pick the case apart, not recalling the details at this viewing and expecting the typical heapings of circumstantial evidence to lead the killer to crack under pressure and give himself away. Not so this time. The clues fit together and while we’d seen most of the story Mason tells unfold throughout the picture he brings an order to it that enlightens everybody else in on the case, including us, to what we’d missed. A very satisfying ending, especially when you recall the type of unsatisfying solution I’d just mentioned and remember that it’s what was used in The Thin Man.
Warren William plays Perry Mason of Lucky Legs for heavier laughs than ever before with those lines that aren’t funny on their own benefiting from a rather biting sarcasm that William as Mason is smart enough to pull off. William also seems to bring more of a musical quality to his delivery in his comic outings stressing words in a way that would make most anything he says funny. That said I could see if someone said this was just too much–the New York Times period review did, calling him “just a bit too antic”–but I can’t imagine someone saying that who’s already a Warren William fan. If you are, and I assume you are since you’re here, William’s Mason of Lucky Legs just more William.
Despite thinking William over the top, the Times did give Lucky Legs a glowing review on the whole calling it “a gay, swift and impertinent excursion into the sombre matter of murder … at once the best of the Erle Stanley Gardner collection and deserves being rated close to the top of this season’s list of mystery films.” The Times awards much of its praise to screenwriters Brown Holmes and Ben Markson, and also save extra praise for Tobin’s performance as Della.
Directed by Archie Mayo, who’d previously worked on other Warner’s fast-paced favorites such as The Mayor of Hell (1933) with James Cagney and Bordertown (1935) starring Paul Muni with the classic The Petrified Forest (1936) to come soon after, Lucky Legs keeps as quick a pace as any of those others. Mayo had previously worked with Warren William in Under 18 (1931) a film from William’s first year in Hollywood in which he had a key part supporting Marian Marsh, who’d previously starred for Mayo opposite John Barrymore in Svengali (1931).
I’ll be back much sooner next time around with my coverage of Warren William’s final Perry Mason flick, The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936), though I may squeeze in one non-Mason review prior to that just to change things up a little. Following are the previous entries in this series: