Saturday, December 03, 2005

Perry Mason in The Case of the Lucky Legs

One of the reasons I watch old movies is that even with faintly-remembered, mildly-OK films, you can often get interesting glimpses into a time that you've had no first-hand experience with. Products, technology, and everyday-life stuff that have been forgotten over the decades, but are most easily observed through classic Hollywood films.

Which brings me to The Case of the Lucky Legs. Released in 1935, it was one in a series of Perry Mason mysteries that starred Warren William.

Think of Warren William was sort of a B-version of John Barrymore. His career specialty was in playing upper-class manipulators and cads. In this film, he's the famous hero/lawyer on a case that involves a thousand-dollar "Beautiful Legs" competition, and a dead body on a bathroom floor. It's a fairly standard 30's murder mystery, brightened by wry banter between Perry and his secretary, and culminating in a roundup of all the characters as Perry adds everything up, forcing the murderer to implicate himself. This final scene is no ordinary one though, in that the dialogue happens in Perry's office (then moves to his doctor's office), all while he's getting a physical examination.

At the doctor's office, the suspects, and various other characters are treated to Perry getting an x-ray from his doctor, who's decked out in goggles, a lead vest, and heavy gloves.

As Perry continues to regale the audience (one of whom IS the killer), the doctor swings out the x-ray machine viewscreen...
He shuts off the lights, and gives the audience a more personal view of our famous lawyer.

I had never been exposed to the way that x-rays used to be done, except through the occasional Bugs Bunny cartoon (usually Bugs vs. some sort of mad scientist), but I had always thought that the depiction of x-ray machines in these cartoons was creative exaggeration.

It's interesting to see how casual the treatment of low-level radiation was. Of course it was a time when it wasn't unusual to see one of these at your neighborhood department store. A time when people thought nothing of putting little Timmy's feet in a large wooden box to see if the bones in his feet were getting squished by his new Buster Brown's.

To be honest, now people are maybe just a little too worried about such things. Well, the pendulum swings.

One last thing; the man playing Perry's doctor would later play an important role in history when, while admitted into the alcoholic's ward of an LA hospital, he tipped off the authorities to the wherabouts of the queen's nest, during the Giant-Ant Crisis of 1954.

Giant ants, created by heavy doses of...radiation.


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