Patty Duke

Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988, Christian I. Nyby II)

Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace is a domino effect of lame. Lee David Zlotoff’s script is really bad, but director Nyby is also really bad, and then some of the performances are really bad. Some of the performances a Perry Mason TV movie needs to be okay aren’t okay here. Avenging Ace is relentlessly tepid.

Zlotoff’s plot construction is a departure from the series norm, with Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale around from the beginning. Only Hale doesn’t have anything to do and Burr’s got maybe eight minutes before any character development is halted again. And not just because of the script, but because Nyby doesn’t handle the transition well. There are few good performances in Avenging Ace; Burr is one of them. He manages to rise above the incompetencies. Pretty much no one else succeeds at it.

Poor Hale has maybe six lines. She doesn’t even get to sit at the counsel table for most of the trial, which is the worst written part of the whole movie. Not to get off track, but Zlotoff’s trial scene is awful. Burr just yells at people and David Ogden Stiers looks scared. Stiers doesn’t do well this time around. His performance is weak. The writing’s weak, but he doesn’t put anything into it. Same goes for William Katt. He’s charmless. With a mullet. He’s so bad, it’s hard to remember him being likable before. And a lot of it is Nyby’s direction. Sure, David Solomon’s editing plays a part, but it’s Nyby. He can’t direct actors. Or action. Or suspense. Or intrigue.

Erin Gray’s Katt’s love interest for a while, but then she disappears. She’s established as a badass Air Force captain and then gets reduced to Katt yelling exposition at her. Then she gets dropped for a while, though coming back just in time for some romantic suggestion. Between her and Katt, of course, who have absolutely no chemistry together whatsoever. If I could fit more negative adjectives in that sentence, I would. It’s so weak.

Larry Wilcox is fine. Charles Siebert, James Sutorius. Fine. Gary Hershberger is awful. Richard Sanders would be perfectly good if Nyby had any idea the tone Ztoloff’s going for in the dumb script. Instead, Sanders is just weird. He gives a weird performance. Not a successful one either, which pains me to say. Patty Duke’s okay. Sort of. She gets a pass. James McEachin’s returning cop is kind of weak. Nyby apparently directed him to appear like a jerk in court.

Avenging Ace is a tedious, mind numbing experience. Not even Dick DeBenedictis’s music is any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Lee David Zlotoff, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by Carter DeHaven and David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Peter Katz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Erin Gray (Captain Terry O’Malley), Larry Wilcox (Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Parks), Charles Siebert (Jason Sloan), James Sutorius (Mark Egan), Patty Duke (Althea Sloan), Arthur Taxier (Frank Johnson), James McEachin (Police Sergeant Clifford Brock), Richard Sanders (Chester Lackberry), Gary Hershberger (Lieutenant Wilkins) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).


The Swarm (1978, Irwin Allen), the director’s cut

I had the misfortune of trying to watch Irwin Allen’s director’s cut of The Swarm. As I understand it, Allen’s director’s cut simply adds a half hour of terrible dialogue, completely overshadowing the killer bee aspect of the film.

I’m not sure how much better a shorter version of the film would really… ahem… be, given Allen is still directing it and Michael Caine is still the star.

I’m fairly sure I’ve called some terrible director or another the worst Panavision director ever–not counting anyone who made a film after 1994 or so–but Allen might be the new king of terrible Panavision direction. He doesn’t waste the wide frame, however; no, Allen doesn’t understand the concept of head room. I kept waiting for someone to hit his or her head on the top of the frame.

Caine’s “performance” is a particular gem. It might actually be (sorry) Caine’s worst performance and given Caine’s tendency to give awful performances, it’s an achievement.

The supporting cast has high and low points. Anyone good is visibly embarrassed, anyone bad is just bad. Except Ben Johnson. He somehow is both good and earnest.

Katharine Ross is particularly mortified, while Richard Widmark’s performance suggests he’s really looking forward to the swimming pool his paycheck is buying.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is awful, maybe some of the worst earlier Goldsmith I can remember. Lots of The Swarm, including that score, make it seem like a really bad TV movie.

A cheap one too. The sets are awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Irwin Allen; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by Arthur Herzog Jr.; director of photography, Fred J. Koenekamp; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Stan Jolley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Michael Caine (Brad Crane), Katharine Ross (Helena), Richard Widmark (Gen. Slater), Richard Chamberlain (Dr. Hubbard), Olivia de Havilland (Maureen), Ben Johnson (Felix), Lee Grant (Anne MacGregor), José Ferrer (Dr. Andrews), Patty Duke (Rita), Slim Pickens (Jud Hawkins), Bradford Dillman (Maj. Baker), Fred MacMurray (Clarence) and Henry Fonda (Dr. Walter Krim).

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