There is a lot wrong with this episode. Much of it has to do with the acting, but also the story is pretty awful too. Everyone seems to be trying to get the camera's attention. Instead of listening to one another and reacting, the actors are all grandstanding, gesturing wildly, yelling, and/or making nuisances of themselves.
Let's start with Ms Davis. A multi-Oscar-winning actress who did a few episodes of television, probably to prove she could. However, she was pretty awful in this episode. Not sure why the makeup artist allowed that awful wig and crooked lipstick. Both were very distracting and unappealing. Maybe Bette insisted upon doing her own hair & makeup. Her acting came off wooden, as though she were reading her lines. Based on what we know of the rapid shooting schedule for PM, it's very possible she WAS reading her lines from cue cards. Her character was supposed to have compassion for Cal, but none of that came through. Based on what we saw of Cal, it's not hard to see why. There was supposed to be a sense of urgency when she starts to uncover the case, but Bette behaved as though she was sleepwalking. Her voice had an air of resignation like she was over the entire experience. The look she gives Cal when she revealed the murderer reminded me of an old vaudeville star mugging for the audience. It was beyond embarrassing.
Some actors who are very good in movies just cannot do television. Sharon Stone did a 4 episode arc on Law & Order SVU. Her acting toggled between phony hysteria and yelling at everyone to show she was tough. Needless to say, her performance was panned for good reason. Similarly, Bette was unable to show her depth as an actress on PM. If you analyze her best performances, they were in films that were character rather than story-driven. Her style of acting requires the kind of character development that you can only get in a 2 hour film. PM was not the right fit for her and this episode suffered for it.
Then let's take the actor playing Cal Leonard AKA Montgomery James Clift Dean. The kid seemed to relish sharing the screen with an actress of Bette's caliber. You could almost see him saying to himself, "this is my big chance!" He chewed up the scenery from the first moment he appeared on screen. Method acting was still relatively new in movies and film. There were very few actors who could do it properly without coming off contrived and forced. Clift Dean was not up to the challenge. He was so concerned with doing something, ANYTHING to get attention that his reactions didn't make sense to the character. If you read the script on its own, you see that the lines did not require his character to go from angry to kind in mid-sentence. He could have brought some humanity to the character, which might have made the audience sympathize with him. Unfortunately, he was so self-involved that he blew his big chance. Good acting is about listening and reacting to your scene partner. Neither Bette nor Monty Jimmy did that. Bad acting was apparently contagious because the murderer's reaction when she/he was exposed was phony and unrealistic. Hysterical is putting it mildly. The camera just lingered on this awful reaction which made it very uncomfortable.
Then there's the story. If Constant Doyle was her husband's partner as she claimed, wouldn't she have the same access to his files? Constant was probably not handling the day to day since most of these corporations did not seem to want to work with her (we can see the reason why throughout the show.) But couldn't she have looked at the Otis file once she had decided to take Cal's case? In this case, her blindness in court had nothing to do with the state hiding anything and everything to do with her own incompetence and laziness. Yes, the file was tampered with, but if she had done her homework at the outset, she would not have been taken by surprise. But perhaps the most egregious part of the story was the way the murderer was revealed. Though Perry often comes up with the chain of events seemingly from nowhere, we are usually privy to how he got there. However, Ms Doyle had shown none of PM's intelligence, ingenuity, or lawyerly know-how. So when the murderer is revealed, it truly did come from nowhere. Part of me wondered if Perry had given her clues during the part of their brief phone conversation we didn't hear.
The directing on this episode was also pretty clunky. In the beginning, Cal fights with the guard and then suddenly stops and lets himself be caught. We are supposed to believe it's because his friends drove away. However, an elderly guard would never have been able to keep up with a virile young delinquent. If you were upset enough to commit battery, wouldn't you at least TRY to run away? Then later Cal breaks into the office to steal a file, but inexplicably throws it down before leaving. The whole thing was just strange. Even Burger seemed unusually sensitive to Mrs Doyle's feelings, which is totally out of character for him. He mentions taking the case personally to put the nasty rumors about Mr Doyle to rest. He treated Mrs Doyle with kindness and sensitivity, which never ever happens. Her husband was a corporate lawyer so it's not clear WHY everyone is so concerned about preserving his legacy. It felt like everyone was trying to be on their best behavior because the great STAR Ms Davis was there. This episode was definitely one of the worst of the series. Submitted by DellaMason 11/26/23
There is some uncertainty why Burr was “missing” from this episode and the following three. The Perry Mason TV Show Book (1987) says he was “in the hospital for minor dental surgery.“ The Ona L. Hill biography Raymond Burr (1994) says “he went into the hospital on December 10, 1962 for major surgery.” She goes on to say, “He had been diagnosed with potentially cancerous intestinal polyps, which turned out to be benign. A part of his intestines was cut away and a Dacron tube inserted.” I recall hearing from somewhere that, in later years, Burr denied cancer rumors about himself. Perhaps this explains the differing stories? The Hill story is supported by newspaper articles of the time. However, one article (Newport, R.I., Daily News, Feb. 11, 1963) says Burr “has been quoted as saying that they [the polyps] were cancerous.” It goes on to say “he has declined any further statements beyond declaring that he was fortunate in all regards.” Does anyone have any additional information? Submitted by daveb, 6/28/09.
+ Yes, but not reliable. Burr appeared on a later talk show and, while demurring at specifics, stated he had a physical difficulty which, while not serious, prohibited him from being able to stand or move comfortably. Not much help, is it? Submitted by CGraul, 9/5/2011.
These four "guest lawyer" episodes were the only episodes from the first six seasons not available in the original 195-episode syndication package of the 1970s. Other episodes not available were all but 4 episodes of the 7th season ("Deadly Verdict" was not shown), the entire 8th season and 16 episodes of the final season ("Dead Ringer" and "Twice-Told Twist" weren't shown but "Final Fade-Out" was). It wouldn't be until the mid-1980s until the other 76 episodes would be shown when TBS bought the rights. Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 6/15/12.
Disappearing Station Wagon, Opening Scene. Just before Cal climbs the fence to get out of the Otis Industries compound, a '63 Buick station wagon is prominent in the background inside the fence. However, when Cal lands outside the fence the station wagon is gone, leaving a '63 Buick Convertible foremost in the background. The positioning & identity of the cars can be understood by observing the shadows cast on the wall to their Right in the first shot. I suggest:
- The scene was filmed at the studio lot, where the new Buicks for this and the next few episodes had recently been parked.
- The first shot with the Watchman and the Street Rod approaching the gate had been filmed before someone noticed that it didn't make any sense for the car cast as Constant's to be shown inside the Otis compound.
- Constant Doyle's station wagon was then moved, leaving the Convertible foremost for the subsequent filming.
Unfortunately, the final version has ended up with consecutive shots showing a change to background cars (drawing attention to the original slip-up). Added by Gary Woloski, 8/10/13.
The only episode I recall in which Paul’s T-Bird is seen with the top up. DOD 01/06/21
Constant's Address, shown on her Car Registration as "104 Cheviot" is reminiscent of the address "104xx Cheviot Drive" shown on the Car Registrations of previous characters John Addison (ep#9), Edward Garvin (ep#68) and Donald Evanson (ep#95). I believe that the only "Cheviot" residential street in Los Angeles is "Cheviot Drive". Street numbers on Cheviot Drive run from 10000 to 10600, so "104 Cheviot Drive" would apparently be bogus. The full 5-digit street number for Addison and Evanson can be seen on the videos. The significance of the address is revealed in Ep#188. Added by Gary Woloski, 8/10/13.
Possible Perry Mason connection. It is a well known fact that in the mid 1930's, Bette Davis was dissatisfied with the mediocre roles offered to her by Warner Brothers. She turned many of them down. I read once (but can't find it now) that one of the roles offered to her, and refused, was that of Della Street in the Perry Mason movies! Bette as Della??? More research needed. Submitted by Bill-W2XOY on 08/15/2013..
On the 50th Anniversary Edition the second part (non-actor credits) of the closing credits are missing from this episode (also on The Case of the Bountiful Beauty). Also the title is mis-identified as The Case of the Constant Doyle. Were these errors repeated in the season sets? Submitted by Wiseguy70005, 12/15/13.
+ On the Season 6 Vol 2 set, the second half of the end-credits for this episode is missing (they end after "Watchman.....GIL PERKINS") but the title in the opening credits is correct: "The Case of CONSTANT DOYLE". Gary Woloski.
++ The Comcast preview guide today also misidentified the episode as "The Case Of The Constant Doyle". jfh 24Dec2019
Strange Business: Miss Givney left the office during Cal's visit without telling her boss. When the phone rang Mrs. Doyle answered by saying "Yes?" instead of with the business name. Miss Givney and Mrs. Doyle were both out of the office when Cal "borrowed" the car keys and went through the files. Miss Givney knew about the deal with Otis Instrument Company and Mrs. Doyle didn't. No wonder companies severed their relationship with the firm. Did Mrs. Doyle have any clients of her own? She didn't seem to have worked closely with her husband. What was in all those file cabinets? Submitted by H. Mason 1/15/15
This episode seems a little different in production quality and it may have been rushed but just a guess. The editing is not the usual style with continuity between some cuts with loss of continuity. Also, the camera "crosses the line" like in the jail sequence when the jumps between both sides of the line. In my opinion, Betty Davis did not age so well and her acting harsh and forced. I had admired her early work in 30's and 40's. She seemed to be a chain smoker too. The ending scene was interesting as she swats him as they leave for a big steak dinner. Submitted by Perry Baby 5/20/16
If Davis was born in 1908, then she would have been 55 in this episode, but she looks older, IMHO. I couldn't stop staring at her uneven bangs--like she trimmed them herself as she left her dressing room to head to stage. I did not like her acting, and Cal's actions were strange--angry then friendly. I did not enjoy this episode and had no sympathy for Cal. And the overcoat clue was a little far-fetched. If you just killed someone would you pay any attention to how you closed the overcoat? --yelocab 01MAY19
+ I concur with 'yelocab': of the six surrogate PM's this is my least favorite. The problems with this episode manifest themselves from the very beginning - literally: not only is this one of (only) three eisodes to not have "the" in them, it's the only one to simply bear the name of a person; why was this done ?? One obvious explanation is in recognition of Miss Davis, who was - far and away - the most famous actor to ever appear on the show. And although this casting may have been successful insofar as generating interest, IMHO it was detrimental with regard to the actual product: PM succeeded by having talented - but relatively unknown - character actors playing various "types"... having a "star", particularly one with a distinctive voice and mannerisms, disturbed this successful formula. Notcom, 053019.
+ The year before for Bette Davis explains a lot. From Jan - April, 1962, Bette was in the Broadway play "Night of the Iguana" before she abruptly quit. According to the excellent Tennessee Williams biography by Lahr, Bette was a total nightmare to work with: she would not take direction, and viciously berated her co-stars. Her stardom however made the play a smash success. If you know of her famous ad in '62 asking for work, her last line was "Has had Broadway." I suspect her terrible attitude continued into PM. IMHO the reason the editing is so choppy is to try to repair the show from her erratic acting. Right afterwards though she starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and got an Oscar nomination. Movies are home for her I guess. Rick P 10/2/21
++ replying to yelocab 's comment above, "And the overcoat clue was a little far-fetched. If you just killed someone would you pay any attention to how you closed the overcoat?", that was the whole point, the things we do without conscious thought are sometimes the things that give us away. jfh 24Dec2019
+++ I've always felt Davis' hair in this episode looked like a bad wig -- and was a much too juvenile cut for a woman of her years. OLEF641 5/21/21
I like the overcoat clue. There’s something rather Agatha Christie-ish about it, and it ties in neatly with the idea of a woman attorney. DOD 01/06/21
+ The clew here bears more than a passing resemblance to one in the Columbo episode "An Exercise in Fatality". There, the crucial point is that a person would tie another's shoelaces differently than their own because they are facing them; so the question should be asked here: "even if women button their coats differently than men, does this transfer to buttoning the coast of another?" And how did the clue lead to a specific woman ?? No real explanation was offered...a remarkably poor showing, even by the permissive standards of proof we sometimes allow. Notcom 052121.
To me Cal's over-the-top emotional reactions (eg, angry outbursts) are odd and distracting. It makes me think Michael Parks fancies himself the next James Dean. Kilo 2/10/2020.
At times, especially in her scene with Neil Hamilton about 45 minutes in, Bette Davis's voice is obviously strained - decades of heavy smoking taking their toll? The closing scene suggests a spin-off series with Davis and Parks may have been contemplated. Interesting to contrast Michael Park's method acting style with the more traditional acting of the rest of the cast. DOD 12/11/18
I agree with comments above about the oddness and unevenness of this episode, which winds up being all about ultra-big star Bette Davis having descended from Hollywood Olympus to briefly grace the small and unworthy TV screen. Each of her scenes wind up being about her, and the oddly twisted plot details and other characters seem beside the point. Her mannered acting style from an earlier era is in direct conflict with Michael Park's over-the-top method acting (which he himself doesn't seem very comfortable with). And Davis as a lady lawyer taking on a troubled kid's problems and defending her late husband's name doesn't fit her very well--shouldn't she be playing a calculating, ruthless rich woman (or movie star) who's cleverly trying to get away with murder? It's pretty funny watching poor Burger having to button up this woman's coat as she lies on a courtroom table (watch those hands, Hamilton!). ckbtao 7/19/20