First up is The Case of the Howling Dog (1934), Perry’s screen debut, and the first of three films starring Warner Brothers stalwart Warren William. That same year, William also appeared as Philo Vance and Julius Caesar, and later starred as “Ted Shane” (a Sam Spade stand-in in Satan Met a Lady) and the dashing d’Artagnan. William’s portrayal of Mason is a far cry from the character in the Gardner novels, and an even farther cry from the Raymond Burr version, but mighty watchable just the same.
At the time this film was made, Perry’s character was only a year old, so moviegoers’ image of him was likely not too well-formed. The first two Mason books, The Case of the Velvet Claws and The Case of the Sulky Girl, were published in 1933, followed by TCOT Lucky Legs and TCOT Howling Dog in 1934. That’s when the Warner Brothers movie machine sprang into action, releasing this film before year’s end.
The Della-Perry relationship is a bit uneven, and I suspect the filmmakers were making it up as they went along. Though she always addresses him as “Mr. Mason” or “sir,” she sometimes seems like a slightly privileged employee, sometimes like an investigative partner, and sometimes almost a love interest. But come to think of it, that’s sort of the way she comes across in the books, too.
In the female arena, Della, (Helen Trenholme, left) wins hands down.
Being 1934, this one is without a soundtrack, but with the swift action and snappy dialogue, it’s hardly missed. When music is actually needed, someone conveniently turns on a radio.
Here's William/Mason with Sergeant Holcomb (Allen Jenkins, center) and Mary Astor.
D.A. Claude Drumm (Grant Mitchell) looks on from background, right.
The plot is a good ‘un, involving two millionaires squabbling over two wives and the issue of whether a German Shepherd does or does not howl in the nighttime. It builds to a murder, of course, and a courtroom scene, where Perry pulls a particularly satisfying rabbit out of his hat.
“You’re a cross between a saint and a devil,” Della tells him at the end. And that sums up William’s portrayal of our hero pretty dang well.
More Overlooked Films, as always, at SWEET FREEDOM.