5 October 2010 | tedg
Success by Negation
This film is interesting not for what it is, but its place in a the scheme of things. By itself, it is dreadful, every bit of it. Taken alone, there are inherited characters played by actors who were accidents. There is an attempt to play with a formula that got worn out, so there is a hipster detective and a couple car chases. The "77 Sunset Strip" model is followed here, I think because the original series competed with it (and its ilk). The formula that worked before was scrambled here, but in the later episodes of this second time around, they got better as they went back to basics.
The thing is worth considering because of the stage of evolution it represents.
The detective story was a great invention, a big step forward in narrative types. It was followed by the mystery novel, where the reader and writer engaged in a tussle for control, sometimes (in the later form) complicated by a detective who has as much control as the writer. This was high art, in fact still is in some form in literature.
Film picked it up and evolved the noir form, perhaps the greatest American invention.
In written fiction, the standard model is based on the reader trying to determine the murderer by assembling causal dynamics. Erle Stanley Gardner changed the formula in a clever way. He wrote tons of Perry Mason stories from his "fiction factory," using a very strict formula. In his stories, it is impossible to guess the murderer (or sometimes two) by understanding cause. Instead, you eliminated all that could have done it, because the solution is the least likely. Gardner in his day was the most popular author in the English language.
So while film took the mystery form and evolved it into noir in amazing variety, TeeVee picked up this strange deadend on the evolutionary tree. The stories were imported wholesale, with the characters modified significantly. Perry was less a playboy and Della was not his lover. No big deal. I think the long run of this show established the form of the detective story we have today when it is distinct from noir: viewers don't want to work at figuring things out. They just want to collect all the pieces as the movie proceeds and see how they assemble at the end, the assembly done for them.
When Perry went off the air, it was a sad end to the more pure negated form (negated because of that "least likely" business). So when he came back with this relatively long form, it was hugely anticipated. I recall this. And I recall how we celebrated the show and its successors, not because they were good but merely because they existed. Again. This negated the negation of the negated form.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.