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21Apr/120

The Top Ten Perry Mason TV Movies, Part Three

Previous: Part Two and Part One

3) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988)

Okay, it's not by Raymond Chandler but for a Perry Mason film, this one has got some nice twists. First of all, Perry's Client is an ex-tennis player who is accused of killing his rich heiress wife played by none other than David Hasselhoff.

This is one of Perry's more complex cases. It's not just a matter of this current murder, but a twenty year old kidnapping plays a big role as well. The movie was the last for Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt) and Michael Reston (David Ogden Stiers) and its certainly a memorable one with a big twist on the usual Mason ending.

2) Perry Mason and the Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)

A horror writer invites famous guest to a hotel he owns after having written a novel where he obviously based characters on the guests and portrayed in an unflattering way. He calls them there ostensibly to sue for peace, but instead pulls a series of cruel practical jokes on them that bring up painful memories. For Publisher Jordan White (Robert Stack) this includes a reminder of the death of Jordan's son in a swimming pool.

It surprises no one when the writer turns up murdered, thrown from the top of the Hotel and Perry's hired by White to defend him. Paul Drake, Jr. is investigating. A witness who heard the dead man's last word and saw him fall to his death is seemingly beset by supernatural occurrences, apparently being haunted. In what amounts to one of the most inexplicable scenes in all the movies, Perry impeaches the poor woman's testimony. Decency aside, there was no real reason for this and it made Drake's job harder.

However, the solution to the mystery, the story's dramatic conclusion, and a spell-binding performance by Dwight Schultz make up for these little wrinkles.

1) Perry Mason and the Case of the Desperate Deception (1990)

Perry Mason takes on Nazi War Criminals. This is the basic plot of the story. His client his young Marine attached to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The young officer is searching for the concentration guard that devastated his family during the Holacaust. He is led to believe he found the ex-Nazi at a health club. However, when the ex-Nazi is killed, suspicion points to the young officer who faces Court Martial.

Perry Mason heads to Paris to head up the defense. He and Ken Malansky find intrigue around every corner. Mason finds ex-Nazis, traitors, and Nazi hunters roaming Paris. Perry has to sort through more than four decades of deception to find the truth, not only to acquit his client but to bring long overdue justice to the perpetrators of heinous war crimes. A goal worthy of one Perry Mason's top cases.

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14Apr/120

The Top Ten Perry Mason TV Movies, Part Two

Continued from Part One

6) Perry Mason and the Case of the Avenging Ace (1988): Prior to the first movie, Perry Mason had been elevated to appellate court judge. In this film, he revisits a case he'd heard on appeal and declined the Defendant's appeal because the trial was fear. But when the convicted murdered (an Air Force officer) has a new witness come forward, Mason steps in to help clear the man.

This case is far more complicated than that.  The witness changes his testimony at the last minute so it no longer helps the convicted man and Perry's client apparently escapes, and is set up to take the fall when the wavering witness is murdered. This movie takes Perry Mason to a different: A lot more action, suspense, and intrigue than usual. In addition to this, the Producers take full advantage of the Colorado location to produce some great scenic shots.

5) Perry Mason and the Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991) : Perry is in New York and this time he defends a long time friend (Diane Muldaur) of Della's who is accused of killing the editor of a rival fashion magazine.

This episode has a lot going for it. Ken Malansky finds himself dealing with the mob when a relative of the head of the family is killed before he can reveal vital information to Perry.  He finds a mob tough guy assigned to "help" him investigate, but how far can Malansky trust him. This works out to a lot of excitement in New York City.

This movie also features a rare prosecutorial highlight with the appearance of Scott Baio in his first post-Charles in Charge appearance as Assistant DA Peter Whelen. Baio makes a solid competitor for Mason as the young upstart New York D.A. You knew he wasn't going to win, but he made it interesting for a while.

The episode ends with an emotional punch and a murderer you'd never guess.

4) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lost Love (1987):

Perry's old flame  (Jean Simmons) is being appointed to a vacant United States Senate seat, but it's all put at risk when her husband is accused of murdering a man who knew a secret that could have destroyed her political career.

The chemistry between Simmons and Raymond Burr is incredible. The mystery is well-plotted and we're left with a powerful and very surprising ending as Mason faces one of his most unpleasant tasks.

Continued...Next Week

To be Continued...Next Week

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7Apr/121

The Top 10 Perry Mason TV Movies, Part One

Having recently watched all 26 of the 1980s-90s Perry Mason Revival movies, I've decided to make a list of the best of them.

While these movies are not the equals of the original series, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale's talents still made the films worthwhile and entertaining through each of the 26 installments.

Without any further adieu, here's my top 10 list:

10) Perry Mason and the Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)

Geraldo Rivera is perfectly cast as a trashy TV host who releases a memoir detailing his past escapades and dishing dirt on all of his lovers. It's no surprise when he's killed and suspects abound.

The mystery takes several turns with some great misdirection when Ken Malansky stumbles into two suspects who are in the witness protection program, but everything wraps up quite nicely.

 9) Perry Mason and the Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)

Perry usually doesn't take the case of hardcore criminals, but finds himself defending reformed mobster Johnny Sorento (Michael Nader) who has apparently settled down in legitimate business. There are quite a few red herring in this one that throw the viewer off the truth, but the ending  has an incredible twist as the outcome can't be exactly what Perry's client was hoping for.

 8) Perry Mason and the Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)

The movie begins with Perry giving an interview with a news co-anchor. The news anchor is on a power trip and kills the story, prompting an angry confrontation with his co-anchor. When the anchor turns up dead and the co-anchor is charged, Perry leads in the defense.

If there's one theme that does recur in these movies, it's talented people who become the top dog and step on everyone else around them. It's rarely more plainly shown than in this installment.

This telefilm also includes more than your average bit of action as Ken Malansky has to go to more extreme measures than usual to corral a key witness.

 7) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)

Speaking of Ken Malansky, The Lethal Lesson was where his involvement with Mason began. In this episode, he ends up Mason's client after he's accused of murdering a fellow law school student.

This particular installment has a fun love triangle between Ken's girlfriend (Karen Kopins) and his an ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Paul) who is telling everyone that she's Ken's intended. For the first half of the movie you think Paul's character is bonkers, but by the end of the film you're given a surprise whammy in the payoff.

The story is solid with the usual tension between Perry's friendships and his duty to his clinets. But the introduction of Malansky makes this a fascinating study. With Malansky on-board, the series was on its way to capturing some real magic in the chemistry between the cast and that alone makes this a worthwhile film.

To be Continued...Next Week

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7Jan/120

Perry Mason’s Final TV Cases

With the impending departure of Starz programming including the 1980s and 1990s Perry Mason Telefilms, I've been watching all 26 of these last films with the aging Raymond Burr. My thoughts on the first 9 films (i.e. the Paul Drake, Jr. era) are here.

After the 1988  Movie, "The Lady in the Lake," William Katt departed the cast and Paul Drake, Jr. was replaced by lawyer Ken Malansky, played by William Moses. The Ken Malansky era was the one I grew up watching, but Malansky wasn't all these other films had to offer.

Ken MalanskyKen Malansky: The change from Drake to Malansky seemed to recapture some of the old Perry Mason Magic. The way that Perry Mason had worked in the 1950s was in establishing a family atmosphere on the team between Perry, Della, and Paul Drake. With Raymond Burr and Della Street much older, they needed a dutiful son-type rather than a brother-type as the original Paul Drake had been  For me, Ken Malansky gelled better in that capacity.  This, despite the fact that Katt was actually Barbara Hale's real life son.

Unlike Drake, Malansky wasn't a detective. He was a fully licensed member of the bar (after his first appearance when he was a law student accused of murder) who did the work of a private investigator. While he struggled with cases, and finding his man he was far more competent than Drake, Jr.

It did take them a while to get the Malansky character just right. The first three movies with Malansky in 1989 featured Alexandra Paul as his eccentric on-again/off-again fiancee'. They took the quirky character and tried to make her into a detective in training. It didn't work and by the next season she'd disappeared into the memory hole that had swallowed TV characters such as Chuck Cunningham. From then on, Malansky was paired with a different (usually female) sidekick each movie, often against his will.

Over the course of the seventeen films, Moses grew increasingly comfortable in the role and his role in Perry's office grew. In early episodes, Perry declined to have the green young attorney as co-counsel, but later he was introduced as Perry's associate and in one of the final movies as his partner.

Overall, the family dynamic had gelled very well by the time the last few Mason films would air.

Lt. Brock: The latter films featured a lot more of James McEachin as Lieutenant Brock. McEachin had appeared in the second Perry Mason film as Sergeant Brock in The Case of the Notorious Nun. McEachin returned in another role, In the Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel in 1987, before finding his way back for 13 more episodes as Sergeant and later Lieutenant Brock including 12 of the Malansky era Masons.  McEachin had a folksy and convicing manner that almost sold you on whatever slim circumstantial case he'd gotten against Perry's clients. As I watched a lot of these movies in a row, one thing that did begin unbelievable is his extreme confidence that there was just no way, Perry Mason was going to get his client out of this one. "Unlike the last eleven times I said this, Mr. Mason, there's no way your client will ever be acquitted."

Yeah, right. See you in court.

The Prosecutors: After the departure of David Ogden Stiers in 1988, the prosecution table became a smorgasboard of forgettable performances. The prosecution was so inconsequential that in one episode, the writers didn't bother to name her, having the judge address her only as, "Madam prosecutor."

One exception to this was, "Perry Mason and the Case of the Fatal Fashion" which featured Scott Baio as the opposing counsel. This was actually Baio's first role since the end of Charles in Charge and he acquitted himself well as a hotshot young attorney who admires Perry Mason and dreams of besting the great man in court.  While he doesn't end up doing it, he probably came closer than anyone else, and made a nice bright spot in these bleak catalog of unworthy prosecutors.

A Little Padding: Some of the Perry Mason films came off as padded to fit timeslots. Perhaps, the worst example of this is the obligatory scene where the prosecutor asks the arresting officer about finding the murder weapon. When Mason cross-examines, this makes sense. When he says, "No questions," as he does a few times, it seems like a waste of the audience's time as it reveals no new information.

Exit Raymond Burr: Of course, these are minor points. Whatever flaws or logical inconsistencies can be found in Perry Mason's TV movies, over the course of 26 films, the highlight is still the opportunity to see Raymond Burr in his most memorable role just one more time. While some other parts of the show disappointed in terms of acting, writing, or pacing, Burr remained the consumate professional and delivered solid performances to the end, including his last performance before his 1993 deat in, "Perry Mason and the Case of the Killer Kiss." Lawyers had long been a joke and despised, but Burr succeeded in creating an attorney who was beloved for his pursit of justice.

Burr's death left the network on the hook to produce 4 new Perry Mason films, but without the definitive Perry Mason. Rather than trying to cast another actor as Mason, the Network opted to bring in Paul Sorvino and then Hal Holbrooke as friends of Perry filling in. I may watch those films before they disappear from Netflix. I barely remember them from when they aired. The main thing I remember about Sorvino and Holbrooke is that they were no Raymond Burr.

Then again who was?

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27Nov/111

Radio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Curious Bride

 

In The Case of the Curious Bride, awoman comes to Perry Mason for legal advice on behalf of "a friend" and aska a series questions.  The questions revolve around the ins and outs of what happens when a husband is declared legally dead and the legality of a subsequent marriage if the presumed dead spouse returns.

Mason clearly sees that: 1) these are questions that can't be answered with generalities and 2) that the woman calling on him is asking for herself. When Perry calls the woman on, she leaves the office. Perry feels almost instantaneous regret for pushing too hard and seeks to find out who the woman is and what her problem is.

After some investigating, Perry finds the truth: the woman was married, her husband presumed dead, but in reality, he's alive and blackmailing her after her second marriage to a weakling son of a wealthy man. Perry gets her to promise to think things over and not do anything until talking to him in the morning.

However, Perry wakes up the next day to find her first husband has been murdered and its only a matter of time before the police put their finger on her. Perry has to clear his client and represent her interests against non only prosecutors but a resentful father-in-law.

In this installment in the Perry Mason series, Mason is less crime-solver than troubleshooter. His goal is not to catch the killer, but to get his client off, whatever it takes. In The Case of the Curious Bride, Mason is reminiscent of what Jim Rockford would be like had he ever been admitted to the bar than the 1950s respectable Perry Mason that had evolved from later books. Mason cons his way through his initial investigation and then tricks the prosecuting attorney into shooting himself in the foot. In addition, Mason makes a rare foray into family law to achieve justice for his client.

Colonial Radio Theater has really gotten into the rhythym of these early Mason stories and they once again have a great period feel to them, even working in a good vintage radio pun when Perry Mason is telling Paul Drake about someone who was following his client.

Mason: Then there's this matter of the shadow.
Drake: Lamont Cranston?

Jerry Robbins turns an another dynamic performance as the fast-talking Perry Mason. 

Overall, with great sound quality and dogged dedication to the original story, Perry Mason and the Curious Bride makes a great buy for fans of classic mysteries.

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 Note: The Author of this piece received a review digital copy of this drama.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser

3Oct/111

Michael Reston: The Washington Generals of Prosecuting Attorneys

With the end of Starz's relationship with Netflix, the Perry Mason TV movies are set to disappear off the Instant Watch. I've set the goal of seeing all the 1980s-90s Mason TV films before they disappear.

So far, I've seen nine of them which encompasses the Paul Drake, Jr. era.  Some observations so far on these Perry Mason mysteries:

D.A. Michael Reston's amazing prosecutorial road show:  The first Perry Mason movie, Perry Mason Returns featured a generic prosecutor.  For the second Mason film, The Case of the Notorious Nun,  Michael Reston (David Ogden Stiers, M*A*S*H*)  took over the role of prosecutor for the next eight movies.  Reston is moderately competent, prone to cockiness no matter how many times Mason hands Reston's head to him, Reston is always ready to tell Mason that this time he's picked a loser.

Perry Mason  has never been a "by the book"  legal procedural, but Reston may have been the show's biggest legal plothole. In his first appearance, Reston is the prosecuting attorney  as Mason represents a nun in California. The next movie, Perry Mason is in New York and defends a TV star accused of murder in The Case of the Shooting Star and once again, inexplicably, Reston is the prosecutor.  Perry Mason's next case is in Denver, where he defends the hushband of a woman likely to be appointed to the United States Senate. Reston is once again the prosecutor and this time explains that due to the politically charged case, Reston was called in as a special prosecutor. The series then settles down in Denver with Reston having apparently moved to Denver along with Perry Mason, so that he could at irregular intervals, lose court cases. Or perhaps, he thought eventually, somewhere, he could beat Perry Mason. It's reminiscent of the Washington Generals who travelled the world  for decades losing thousands of games in a row to the Harlem Globetrotters.  Reston's final case has him prosecuting a case, not in Denver, but in a rural county in Colorado.  I'll definitely miss Reston's presence in future films, but at least he got to settle down.

Paul Drake, Jr: I didn't really get into watching the Perry Mason movies until the 1990s, so prior to my recent spree, I'd only seen one of the episodes featuring Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt, The Greatest American Hero.)  When Perry Mason Returns aired in 1985, the writers dealt with the death of William Hopper (who played Paul Drake in the original series) by introducing Drake. Jr. as a free spirited young private eye who had pared the once-powerful Drake Detective Agency to just a one man operation, so he could pursue his other interests.

In this case, the resemblance between father and son ended at the name. Drake Jr. more often than not, comically stumbled through his cases, habitually just missing leads and losing suspects.  He was likable, but I definitely prefer William Moses' performance as Ken Malansky.

Perry Mason and Della Street:  One thing, I've found astonishing, reading through fan reviews of the various Mason Telefilms is the complaints about Raymond Burr's poor health> Some even suggested that show producers should have required Burr (who was 68 when the first film was made and 76 when the last one was completed) to lose weight for the role.

Such thoughts never occurred to me, either when watching Perry Mason as a child, nor watching the movies now. It's true that Burr has to use a cane in many episodes, but he was still Perry Mason, and while Perry was not in his physical prime, he was just as sharp, shrewd, and dangerous of an adversary as he'd been in the 1950s. Raymond Burr's voice, his presence, and his great chemistry with Barbara Hale made even the weaker entries worth watching, even all these years later.

Suspending Disbelief: Watching these Perry Mason movies, I'm constantly struck by how much suspension of disbelief is required for some of the courtroom scenes, and I'm not referring to the trademark courtroom confession.  I'm struck by some of the utterly amazing lines of questioning that the lawyers ask for soeemingly no good reason. In one movie, Perry impeaches the credibility of a witness when it will do absolutely nothing to cast a reasonable doubt on his client's guilt.  In another movie,  Reston  challenges Della's character testimony on behalf of a client by making he radmit she'd been briefly engaged several decades ago to the Defendant's brother. I'm reminded that Perry Mason was practically a courtroom fantasy and to properly enjoy it, you have to forget, at least temporarily, how real courts work.

The Best So Far: Of the first nine Movies in the Drake. Jr.-Reston era, I'd say the three best so far  would be:   Perry Mason and the Case of the Lost Love which featured an intricate mystery, the solution to which put Perry in a very difficult position. I also liked the twists in Perry Mason and the Case of the Sinister Spirit and Perry Mason and the Case of the Lady in the Lake. The weakest was  Perry Mason and the Case of the Murdered Madam.

I hope to see the remaining 17 Perry Mason Movies before they disappear from Netflix. The Ken Malansky (William Moses) era of the movies were the ones I remember best.

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