By J. Madison Davis.
First appearance: World Literature Today, November 1, 2012.
Article (4 pages as a PDF).
Online at The Free Library (HERE).
". . . authenticity is mostly a question of seeming so. A courtroom battle in reality is usually a dreadful bore. As a fellow juror once whispered to me, 'It ain't exactly Matlock, is it?'"In addition to Perry Mason's career, our author gives us more than the usual dope on Erle Stanley Gardner's life and times, a man whose early history would never indicate he'd be destined for fabulous fame and fortune.
Davis also makes a crucial point about the appeal of a court trial being very similar to a tried-and-true detective fiction trope:
". . . if a courtroom can be made tolerably convincing for an audience, it has all the elements for exciting drama. There are two worthy opponents doing battle over something of great consequence. One side is usually the under-dog—Perry Mason defends the debutante found holding the murder weapon,
or a prosecutor goes after an evil mastermind who looks to outwit the legal system again. A fictional trial also provides a steady diet of revelation similar to the traditional gathering of suspects in the dining room by Hercule Poirot and his ilk. The suspects are all present and the case is reviewed clue by clue until the malefactor is exposed, though courtrooms tend, I think, to greater drama than dining rooms, in which the solution is explained by the detective rather than revealed by the process."
- We like to think of Ben Matlock as the anti-Mason: short-tempered, prone to error, often quite contentious in court, and much more humorous; see Wikipedia (HERE) and (HERE) for run-downs on both TV series:
"[Matlock's] format is similar to that of CBS's Perry Mason (with both Matlock and the 1980s Perry Mason TV movies created by Dean Hargrove), with Matlock identifying the perpetrators and then confronting them in dramatic courtroom scenes. One difference, however, was that whereas Mason usually exculpated his clients at a pretrial hearing, Matlock usually secured an acquittal at trial, from the jury."
HERE), leaving it to the prosecution to cinch the case:
"Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in any court in the United States. Criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
- TV Tropes has good summary articles about Matlock (HERE), Perry Mason (HERE), and "Hollywood Law" (HERE). (WARNING: Following all of the available links at TV Tropes is guaranteed to chew up a large chunk of your day.)
- See the GAD Wiki (HERE) for a comprehensive article about Erle Stanley Gardner.
- We last heard from J. Madison Davis (HERE).