Barbara Parkins

Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986, Ron Satlof)

So Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun. It’s not good. It is not a good TV movie. Even if the writing were better, Satlof is a lousy director. And Héctor R. Figueroa’s photography is quite bad. The lighting in the courtroom finale changes between shots. The editing is already graceless–more because of Satlof’s weak composition and blocking than the editors–and the lighting just kills it.

But the real problem is something else entirely–Joel Steiger’s teleplay is bad. It’s kind of ambitious, but it’s bad at it. The design of this Perry Mason is as follows, there’s Raymond Burr doing stuff, there’s William Katt doing stuff, there’s Barbara Hale sometimes doing stuff with Burr but not really anything consequential except provide emotional support to Michele Greene (the titular Notorious Nun), and Green’s crisis about taking her final vows. Steiger gives all the character development to Greene and it’s awful. Greene tries with it too. She really does try to make this material work and maybe if Satlof weren’t terrible, it’d go better.

Then there’s the guest stars. Timothy Bottoms as an honest, priest stud. Jon Cyphers as an arrogant doctor. Tom Bosley as a sweet priest. Arthur Hill as a prick lawyer. Not much inventive casting, but sturdy acting. Of those caricatures, Cyphers does the best. He has the most to do. Decent villain in Hagan Beggs. He gets a lot of Dick DeBenedictis’s craziest thriller music. Can’t forget to talk about the music.

But real quick on the cast–David Ogden Stiers as the D.A., James McEachin as the cop. These character slots aren’t really important–McEachin does get to show some personality opposite Katt, but none in the expository-only scenes. And Stiers is competent but the material’s bad. You watch him and wonder if he knows his legal reasoning lines are stupid.

Burr’s fine, of course. Katt’s a little bit too much of a jackass this time out. And Hale really doesn’t have enough to do.

Oh, right, the music. Dick DeBenedictis does some crazy music for this thing. Slasher movie, gothic horror synthesizer music for the main cast’s theme, melodramatic tripe. It’s all over the place and occasionally awesome.

There’s not a good reveal at the end, which is all a Perry Mason needs to be a success. Steiger backloads the thrills and it ruins to momentum. It’s a TV movie, it’s got to keep you occupied through commercials, only Steiger and Stalof haven’t got any momentum. Only DeBenedictis does. And the cast could be charming with better material. But it’s still not successful, not at all.



Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Joel Steiger, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Héctor R. Figueroa; edited by George Ohanian and Robert L. Kimble; music by Dick DeBenedictis; production designer, Richard Wilcox; produced by Barry Steinberg; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Michele Greene (Sister Margaret), James McEachin (Lt. Ed Brock), David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston), William Prince (Archbishop Stefan Corro), Timothy Bottoms (Father Thomas O’Neil), Hagan Beggs (Richard Logan), Jon Cypher (Dr. Peter Lattimore), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Monsignor Kyser), Edward Winter (Jonathan Eastman), Barbara Parkins (Ellen Cartwright), Tom Bosley (Father Chris DeLeon) and Arthur Hill (Thomas Shea).

The Deadly Trap (1971, René Clément)

It would be nice to have one positive thing to say about The Deadly Trap. Clements’s direction is so odd, Paris doesn’t even look good. Clements barely shows it; he tries hard to stylize–extreme close-ups on random objects, no establishing shots.

Actually, wait, Andréas Winding’s photography isn’t bad. It’s the only competent technical effort present. Gilbert Bécaud’s music is hilariously bad, but given when Clements utilizes it, it might be intentional. Also terrible is Françoise Javet’s editing. Again, it’s probably to fit Clements’s vision.

But what’s that vision? It changes from minute to minute. The film’s supposed to be a thriller, but Clements makes everything as obvious as possible, which kills any suspense. The scary music during these painfully boring scenes doesn’t help.

Trap opens with a pretentious existential monologue from Faye Dunaway but Clements isn’t even willing to commit to that device. Then, twenty or so minutes in, the audience finds out Dunaway has psychological problems and is being treated for them. Suddenly the opening monologue no longer makes sense since Trap‘s not from her perspective.

It’s also not from Frank Langella’s perspective. He plays her overworked jerk of a husband. One has to assume the two took the roles for the Paris shooting location. There’s no other reasonable explanation.

Both are lame, though Langella’s weaker (he fails miserably at essaying a disinterested father). Dunaway’s okay opposite the kids, but awful with Langella.

The Deadly Trap is atrocious. It’s hard to imagine how it could be worse.



Directed by René Clément; screenplay by Sidney Buchman and Eleanor Perry, based on an adaptation by Daniel Boulanger and Clément and a novel by Arthur Cavanaugh; director of photography, Andréas Winding; edited by Françoise Javet; music by Gilbert Bécaud; produced by Georges Casati, Robert Dorfmann and Bertrand Javal; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Faye Dunaway (Jill), Frank Langella (Philip), Barbara Parkins (Cynthia), Karen Blaugueron (Miss Hansen), Raymond Gérôme (Commissaire Chenylle), Gérard Buhr (The Psychiatrist), Michele Lourie (Cathy), Patrick Vincent (Patrick) and Maurice Ranet (Stranger).

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