Raymond Burr

A Cry in the Night (1956, Frank Tuttle)

If it weren’t for the cast, there’d be very little to distinguish A Cry in the Night. John F. Seitz’s black and white photography is often–but not always–quite good, though director Tuttle struggles with the composition. He composes for the squarer Academy ratio, not widescreen. Cry in the Night is widescreen.

And David Buttolph’s music is all right. It never quite lives up to the promise of the opening title music; it’s still all right. It rallies at the end for the showdown.

Of course, maybe the title not having any bearing on the film should be an indicator of the inevitable problems–the source novel has a different title. There is no cry in Cry in the Night. Sure, Natalie Wood screams when Raymond Burr kidnaps her. He’s a peeping tom who assaults Wood’s fiancé, Richard Anderson, after Anderson confronts him. Then Burr grabs Wood and drives off in Anderson’s car. Wood screams, but since they’re at a makeout point, the other youngsters who overhear it just yell back to hit her some more; girls like it.

Cry in the Night has a lot of gross moments; that one is probably the worst. The film’s opening narration focuses on what those teenagers are doing all by themselves on makeout points throughout the country, but the film never actually blames Wood (or Anderson) for poor judgment. It lays the blame some other places, not necessarily better, but never there.

Anderson gets hauled in by the cops, who don’t care he’s bleeding and confused. They think he’s a drunk. Luckily there’s a saintly doctor (Peter Hansen) who has to argue with the cops to reexamine the concussed man. The movie runs seventy-five minutes yet is full of treading water moments like police captain Brian Donlevy whining at Hansen about reevaluating Anderson only for Donlevy to immediately change his mind when it’s time for the next scene.

Wood is a cop’s daughter. Not Donlevy, who’s stiff but lovable compared to her dad, Edmond O’Brien. O’Brien isn’t stiff. He’s wild, desperately in search of something to chew on for his part. He’s an overbearing, overprotective, insensitive misanthrope control freak. He’s got constant energy. Only there’s nothing much to be energetic about. Certainly not when Tuttle is shooting in his boring, ubiquitous middle two shot. The actors are slightly angled in profile. They talk to each other, standing just to the left of center. Over and over again, the same shot, no matter the location, no matter the actors, no matter the scene content. By the time the film gets to the third act and Tuttle doesn’t use it as much–there aren’t the same opportunities for two shots–it’s an actual shock. About the only one in the film.

Half the movie is Donlevy, O’Brien, and Anderson looking for Wood (and the identity of her kidnapper), half the movie is Wood trying to survive Burr’s attention. He takes her to his lair in a deserted factory; it’s where he hides from his overbearing mother (Carol Veazie). David Dortort’s screenplay is never more godawful than when dealing with the mental conditions of Burr and Veazie. It’s painful at those times.

Wood tries reasoning with Burr, she tries escaping him, she tries confronting him. Even though O’Brien has explained he raised her to know what to do in crisis situations, turns out she doesn’t, because then there wouldn’t be a movie. She’s a damsel in distress, nothing more, which is an utter waste of Wood’s performance. She gets squat to do in the opening scene–really, after she watches Burr lay out Anderson she’s really going to go over and ask why Burr did it–before Burr knocks her out. She faints later on too, when Dortort can’t think of any reason to keep her awake.

The movie keeps it moving until the finale, when it just doesn’t go anywhere; O’Brien has a rude awakening about his controlling behavior from the other women in his life–wife Irene Harvey (who’s so much better than the material) and spinster sister (because O’Brien drove her suitors away) Mary Lawrence. Lawrence gets a crap scene but she’s not better than it. Cry in the Night goes into the finale following the film’s worst scene.

Donlevy’s stiff but fine. Who knows how his performance would’ve played if Tuttle weren’t so dedicated to those lousy medium two shots. O’Brien and Wood just needed better material. Anderson’s fine. Burr’s a lot scary before he starts talking. Veazie is creepy, which is an achievement given her scenes are terribly conceived, written, and directed.

The attempts at making the investigation seem ultra-modern with the constant radio calling around the police precinct are also goofy.

Director Tuttle and screenwriter Dortort sink A Cry in the Night. They make a narratively inert kidnapping thriller; the film’s set over what ought to be four or five unbearably tense hours. And they flush all the potential the material gives the actors. It’s a waste.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Tuttle; screenplay by David Dortort, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Folmar Blangsted; music by David Buttolph; production designer, Malcolm C. Bert; produced by George C. Bertholon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Natalie Wood (Liz Taggart), Richard Anderson (Owen Clark), Raymond Burr (Harold Loftus), Edmond O’Brien (Capt. Dan Taggart), Brian Donlevy (Capt. Ed Bates), Irene Hervey (Helen Taggart), Mary Lawrence (Madge Taggart), Peter Hansen (Dr. Frazee), Charles Kane (Sam Patrick), and Carol Veazie (Mrs. Mabel Loftus).

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

Rear Window is an absurdly good time. It’s breathtakingly produced and the set is a marvel on its own, but it’s also an absurdly good time. You’ve got Thelma Ritter chastising James Stewart not just for peeping, she also chastises him for not being serious enough about Grace Kelly. How could it not be an absurdly good time.

So the film is simultaneously Hitchcock the popular filmmaker–enjoy these stars in these performances–it’s Hitchcock the technical filmmaker. The first half of the film, maybe even longer, is usually Hitchcock showing off what he, cinematographer Robert Burks, editor George Tomasini, and uncredited(!) sound editor Howard Beals can do. What they do is transport the viewer into a New York apartment, staring out at the world, with Stewart around to play tour guide for a while. Rear Window isn’t just the story of Stewart healing from a broken leg or deciding whether or not to settle for Grace Kelly or even solving a murder–it’s all the little stories going on around. It’s the care screenwriter John Michael Hayes takes in how Stewart’s interpretation of these stories comes through. It’s delicate and deliberate and just part of that breathtaking production. Rear Window takes itself very seriously. You have to take yourself seriously if you’re going to have Jimmy Stewart complain Grace Kelly is just too perfect for him. You need Thelma Ritter there. With Rear Window, there can be no substitutions. Everything is just so.

After setting up the murder mystery–which brings Wendell Corey into the film and apartment as Stewart’s old war buddy now copper–Rear Window still takes its time. Hitchcock and Hayes play around with the mystery plot line, really changing up the pace of the film. It takes place over less than a week, with the initial nights really emphasized. The repetitive effect, with the occasional car horn and steady rainfall, brings the viewer in. Rear Window enthralls, quite intentionally. The last act is real time, neither the viewer nor the narrative able to handle much more. Hitchcock has a great sense for when he’s going too far, asking too much. He guides it beautifully.

All of the performances are great. Ritter’s hilarious, Kelly’s too perfect, Stewart’s–Stewart. Stewart is immobile, but always active. He’s simultaneously the viewer’s guide and de facto view finder and protagonist. He doesn’t get a lot of protagonist help from Hayes’s script after a while, just because there’s too much going on, but Stewart makes it happen. In fact, he’s almost good enough for it to be believable he’s closer in age to Kelly than he is to Ritter. The chemistry between the actors is just too good. Rear Window’s got a lot of dialogue and it has to be done just right, not only for exposition, but to cultivate that chemistry. Hitchcock knows without it, Rear Window would be too voyeuristic.

Wendell Corey’s a lot of fun too as the straight man. It’s a hard part because everyone wants there to be a crime, everyone wants there to be a mystery. Except Corey. He wants to go home, so the viewer’s inclined against him. Hitchcock and Corey play with that hostility. Because it’s a smart movie.

Rear Window’s all-around awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Franz Waxman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (L.B. Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Wendell Corey (Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), and Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald).


Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)

Right off, the big problem with Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin is clear. Maybe not altogether clear in the first scene, but certainly when director Nyby gets around to having to try to do a suspense sequence. He bungles it. But while he’s bungling the action, he’s also bungling the direction of the actors, which proves to be rather unfortunate this time out.

With the exception of the velvet-tongued and insincere performance from Pernell Roberts, everyone in the supporting cast on All-Star is ready to do the work. Deirde Hall looks positively excited to have scenes with Raymond Burr. She’s trying to act opposite him, Nyby bungles it. Shari Belafonte’s okay, but should be better. Why? Nyby bungles it. Same goes for Jason Beghe, who’s always trying to do something to hold attention; Nyby bungles it. Neither Bruce Greenwood or Julius Carry have much of that energy, but even they end up trying to show some enthusiasm. Nyby bungles it. While All-Star doesn’t have a good teleplay, the cast occasionally excels at it. They just need some support from Nyby, who’s nowhere to be found, at least not at a conscious level.

Robert Hamilton’s teleplay has a subplot about Alexandra Paul being a would-be gumshoe. Boyfriend William R. Moses brings this movie’s case to Burr, Paul is along for the ride. She’s third-billed after all, All-Star ought to use her. Hamilton’s solution is to make her an annoying nitwit. Moses is an abusive jerk to her–but then completely removed (and not bad) the rest of the time. It’s a terribly written part. Hamilton should be ashamed. It’s not like Paul’s great–or good–but she’s been on the Perry Mason TV movie boat a couple times before and this part isn’t what she’s in the movie for.

Daniel McKinny’s photography is serviceable most of the time, but he’s too flat for the courtroom stuff.

Wait, I just thought of something nice to say about Nyby. Even though the courtroom reveal is ludicrous and dumb, Nyby makes it seem less so. He’s not paying attention, but it’s finally the right time not to be paying attention.

I had high hopes for this one, based on the cast, but All-Star doesn’t deliver for anyone involved. Except maybe Beghe, who probably got some great reel footage from his performance, and whoever played the court clerk; the actress rolls her eyes when Valerie Mahaffey’s D.A. bosses her around. It’s awesome and obvious Nyby has no idea it’s going on. Because he bungles this one. Worse than he usually bungles Perry Mason.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Robert Hamilton, based on a story by Dean Hargrove, Joel Steiger, and Hamilton, and characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Daniel McKinny; edited by David Solomon and Carter DeHaven; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Peter Katz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William R. Moses (Ken Malansky), Alexandra Paul (Amy Hastings), Jason Beghe (Bobby Spencer), Deidre Hall (Linda Horton), Bruce Greenwood (Stewart Horton), Shari Belafonte (Kathy Grant), Julius Carry (Temple Brown), S.A. Griffin (Richards), Valerie Mahaffey (D.A. Barbara August), James McEachin (Lt. Ed Brock) and Pernell Roberts (Thatcher Horton).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)

Raymond Burr does a fantastic job in Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder. He’s got it down. He even sells some of the sillier one liners in George Eckstein’s teleplay. At times, it seems like Eckstein is trying to goof on the idea of a Perry Mason TV movie. Or maybe he’s sincere and Nyby’s just so inept at directing it, it comes off as self-parody.

Technically, a lot of Murder is awful. Arch Bryant’s lighting doesn’t match between shots and the editing in the scenes between Debbie Reynolds and Burr seems off. Like David Solomon and Carter DeHaven couldn’t decide who should get more time staring at the camera, Burr or Reynolds. And Burr manages to survive those moments. It’s a good performance. Like, yes, he’s just playing Perry Mason but he’s hitting all the moments with no help from the director or the script. I mean, it’s not like he has any meaningful character interactions.

Supporting cast is okay. Not really. It seems okay because William R. Moses is okay and a couple of the actors have good moments on the stand. Not Reynolds though. She’s terribly directed in Musical and her performance suffers for it. She’s got a nice musical number at the beginning though–Nyby for some reason can better direct the scenes at the theater than he can anything else. Jerry Orbach and Raymond Singer are the ones with the good court moments. Terrible directed, of course, but still well-acted.

Dwight Schultz is terrible.

Valerie Mahaffey is good as the D.A. She has almost nothing but manages to infuse it with a nice implication of depth. Same goes for Philip Sterling. Rick Aiello is a fine thug; not so much good as convincingly dangerous. Jim Metzler’s affable as the defendant. Not good though. I’m disappointed given Metzler’s a fine actor; the part’s severely and noticeably underwritten.

Barbara Hale doesn’t get anything to do. She’s probably in Musical for a grand total of seven minutes. She just leaves and comes back with information. While she’s gone, Burr banters at a suspect. And the awkward part is how well the arrangement seems to be working for Burr’s performance. He’s relaxed but enthusiastic.

Musical Murder does have some notable moments. A late eighties Debbie Reynolds dance number, Dwight Schultz badly playing an Italian tough guy Broadway director, an early annoying Lori Petty turn as an annoying shop girl. It’s just not any good. It weathers a lot successfully, but it’s still not any good, which is kind of the Perry Mason rut.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William R. Moses (Ken Malansky), Debbie Reynolds (Amanda Cody), Jerry Orbach (Blaine Counter), Dwight Schultz (Tony Franken), Jim Metzler (Johnny Whitcomb), Raymond Singer (James Walton), Philip Sterling (Mel Singer), Alexa Hamilton (Kate Ferrar), Mary Cadorette (Leslie Singer), Valerie Mahaffey (D.A. Barbara August), Rick Aiello (Parker Newton), Lori Petty (Cassie), Luis Avalos (Judge Robert Morano), James McEachin (Lt. Ed Brock) and Alexandra Paul (Amy Hastings).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)

The Case of the Lethal Lesson is a very strange Perry Mason TV movie. Not just because director Nyby actually doesn’t do an atrocious job, but also because Robert Hamilton’s teleplay is a jumbled mess. Lethal Lesson introduces two new regulars to the main cast, with one of them being the person on trial this time. It screws up the weighing of the plot to say the least.

Worse, Hamilton really pushes for having everyone participate. The supporting cast isn’t just vague suspects, they have subplots with one of the main characters. Sort of. The subplots are often undercooked and don’t stand up to any examination. No spoilers on the finale, but any thought starts to break it down. Hamilton–and director Nyby–bet it all on the charm between those two new regulars, played by Alexandra Paul and William R. Moses.

Here’s how their charm works. She’s rich and flighty. He’s poor and stable. She drives him nuts, but he can’t resist her. Oh, and he’s the one on trial. Even if Paul weren’t annoying, there’s no chemistry between her and Moses. Even if there were chemistry, Moses doesn’t do the sincerity well. He spends most of the movie trying to get away from Paul to hook up with Karen Kopins. Kopins is another of the suspects, sort of, because Hamilton contrives a way to make all of the characters suspects. Everyone is in Raymond Burr’s law school class.

I’m not mentioning Raymond Burr until the end of the third paragraph because he barely has anything to do with the movie. Somehow, even when he gets to the truth at the end, it’s more about the stupid law school romance stuff. Hamilton tries to go with vague innuendo every time, which isn’t just lazy, it’s boring. There’s never any explicit innuendo of the amusing variety, just director Nyby inexplicably perving on Paul for a bit. It’s before her part as screwball detective is established, it’s just a TV movie shower scene. Like some NBC executive said they needed to sex it up but keep it wholesome. Making Paul act like a moron half the time seemingly keeps it wholesome.

Anyway, Burr’s actually great when he gets the stuff to do in the front. He’s good as the teacher, he’s good opposite Brian Keith–old friend and father of the deceased–he’s good with Barbara Hale. She has one scene with enough material for her. Just the one.

Lots of weak support–like miscasting weak–from Brian Backer to Mark Rolston to Charley Lang. Kathryn Christopher is terrible as the judge. Nyby should’ve somehow fixed that problem, but he just exacerbates it.

Kind of weak editing from David Solomon; it’s Nyby, so maybe there just wasn’t coverage. Dick DeBenedictis’s score plays up the romantic chemistry of Paul and Moses and it’s just as annoying in its ineptness to create any chemistry.

Lethal Lesson isn’t actually terrible, it just isn’t any good whatsoever.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Robert Hamilton, based on a story by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger, and characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by 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 R. Moses (Ken Malansky), Alexandra Paul (Amy Hastings), Brian Keith (Frank Wellman Sr.), Karen Kopins (Kimberly McDonald), Brian Backer (Eugene), John DeMita (Scott McDonald), Charley Lang (Travis Howe), John Allen Nelson (Frank Wellman Jr.), Leslie Ackerman (Miss Lehman), Richard Allen (Jeff), Albert Valdez (Paul Roberti), Raye Birk (Sam Morgan), John LaMotta (Bartender Al), Mark Rolston (Vic Hatton), Marlene Warfield (Prosecutor), Kathryn Christopher (Judge Hoffman).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988, Ron Satlof)

There are many things wrong with Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake, starting with the title being a little long followed by the first red herring in the movie, which is in its first scene. Then the next red herring is in the second scene and so on and so on. Actually, I don’t think I really noticed it as the movie was playing out because so much else is bad about it, but the way screenwriter Shel Willens perturbs the plot is something awful. It’s too functional and too dismissive. Lady’s script is impatient, which is simultaneously good and bad.

It’s good because so much of the acting in the movie is terrible. David Hasselhoff, John Beck, Doran Clark, John Ireland, and Liane Langland are all bad. I even wanted to cut Beck some slack and it’s just not possible. He’s just bad. Hasselhoff’s terrible and he’s trying, which makes it even worse. Doran Clark’s weak. John Ireland’s weak but it doesn’t matter because he disappears. He’s just there to bring Raymond Burr into the story.

As for Burr, he’s great. It’s a terrible courtroom sequence in this one but Burr plays the hell out of it. Even David Ogden Stiers gets going as the district attorney. For some reason, even though the script is bad, it gave its capable actors opportunities. Of course, poor Barbara Hale gets jack to do in this one. Except to solve the case for Burr and set William Katt up on a blind date. And Katt’s pretty good. He’s better than he’s been in the last few Mason movies anyway.

So what else is wrong with it? The direction. Satlof does a bad job. He never establishes a tone–it’s even comical when Katt finds himself in trouble, if only because of Dick DeBenedictis’s weird score–and he’s crap with the actors. Really bad photography from Arch Bryant this time out; he’s shot the entire series and I’ve never mentioned him before because he’s fine. Only not here. It’s like Lady is cursed.

There’s some decent location shooting and some of the action sequences might work if it weren’t for Satlof’s quirky tone.

Oh, and George DelHoyo is fine. He plays Hasselhoff’s scumbag brother. Terrence Evans is good as the sheriff, but only because he’s clearly not taking it too seriously.

The only standout (who knew Lake could have one) is Audra Lindley. She’s excellent. She’s so much better than almost everyone else in the Lake; she understands this bad of a script requires an actor to bring their own dignity to the part, because it’s not coming from the script, it’s not coming from the director.

Anyway, Lady in the Lake is quite bad, but the regulars are professional enough to muddle through it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Shel Willens, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by 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.), Doran Clark (Sara Wingate-Travis), David Hasselhoff (Billy Travis), John Ireland (Walter), Liane Langland (Lisa Blake), John Beck (Doug Vickers), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Chaney), George DelHoyo (Frank Travis), Darrell Larson (Skip Wingate), Terrence Evans (Sheriff Ed Prine) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).


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).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987, Christian I. Nyby II)

Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel is a bit disappointing. It’s got a really lame script from Anthony Spinner. Spinner doesn’t have a good mystery, he doesn’t write characters well, he writes dialogue something awful. So there are no expectations from the script. However, Scoundrel has a great cast. A great cast who often can even get water from the stony script.

So it’s a bit disappointing. It’s kind of pleasant to watch, mostly because Barbara Hale has this secret admirer C plot and it gives her something to do. And Raymond Burr’s got some fine moments. Director Nyby doesn’t direct the scenes well–Burr’s fine moments, I mean–but he’s not disruptive. Burr still gets the moment, just not as effectively as he could have.

And some of Nyby’s direction is solid. If it’s interiors and not back and forth dialogue, he does some pretty darn good work for a TV movie. Everything else is a bit of a mess. Not always a big mess, but definitely some kind of one. He shoots terrible coverage.

Now, the cast. William Katt’s romancing defendant Susan Wilder. She’s not good, but she’s not bad. Morgan Brittany is bad. Other than those two performances, everything is great. Yaphet Kotto’s an ex-army general, Wings Hauser’s his sidekick. They’re both good, but Hauser’s actually awesome. Good enough even Nyby figured out how to direct his scenes. George Grizzard’s Brittany’s suffering husband. He’s good. René Enríquez’s a corrupt banker. He’s good. Robert Guillaume’s a loathsome tabloid king. He’s not so much good as it’s really cool to see him play loathsome. He revels in it. And Eugene Butler is excellent as Guillaume’s sidekick. Lots of sidekicks in Scoundrel, probably because Spinner’s quite bad at plotting out a mystery.

Not a great hour for David Ogden Stiers. He and Burr don’t have any actual rapport, which just makes it seem like Stiers is a buffoon. It’s also a little strange to see James McEachin showing up as a dimwit instead of his regular cop part. It’s like there’s some joke and the viewer is left out.

Technically it’s fine, other than a weak score from the usually solid Dick DeBenedictis.

Scoundrel has a lot of good actors giving good performances from a terrible script. It’s engaging so long as the actors are weathering that script well. And Nyby certainly doesn’t help things. The handful of well-directed scenes can’t make up for the rest, especially not with the dumb script.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Anthony Spinner, 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.), Susan Wilder (Michelle Benti), Robert Guillaume (Harlan Wade), Eugene Butler (Nick Moretti), George Grizzard (Dr. Clayman), Morgan Brittany (Marianne Clayman), René Enríquez (Oscar Ortega), Wings Hauser (Capt. James Rivers), Yaphet Kotto (General Sorenson) and David Ogden Stiers (Michael Reston).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987, Ron Satlof)

I’m going to say something I never expected to say. Ron Satlof does a good job directing Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam. He’s a regular director on the series and he’s never directed one as well as this one. The showdown between Raymond Burr and guilty party is fantastic. Satlof does well, editors Carter DeHaven and David Solomon do well, composer Dick DeBenedictis does well. Satlof’s got some awkward moments throughout, but between the finale and some of the thriller sequences, Murdered Madam is perfectly acceptable. Often effective.

Occasionally the cast helps with the effective, occasionally not. Ann Jillian’s okay; she does great in the thriller stuff, so Satlof basically just has to showcase her and he does. Barbara Hale gets a little more to do this time. She’s good. James Noble’s a good suspect. Richard Portnow’s a good vile criminal. Jason Bernard’s all right. Doesn’t get enough to do, but he keeps things together as the police detective. And Daphne Ashbrook’s a fine female sidekick for William Katt.

I just said all the nice things because now it’s time for the not nice things. Vincent Baggetta gives a really strange and bad performance as Burr’s client. There’s a real disconnect between how he portrays the character and how the character’s supposed to connect with the viewer. It’s Perry Mason, we’re supposed to like the defendant because they’re innocent. Baggetta’s clearly innocent but it doesn’t matter. He’s kind of a tool. And Bill Macy’s weak as another suspect. He’s annoying in such a way it breaks the flow of the movie as much as the commercial breaks.

Finally, at least as the acting goes, David Ogden Stiers is getting way real bored. He doesn’t even seem to be trying anymore. He’s opposing council and just comes off as a stooge. It’s because he doesn’t get enough material.

Other than not evening out material correctly, Patricia Green’s script is okay. It’s a little too cute at times, but the actors often can pull it off–especially when it’s Hale and Burr–and there’s a strange lack of tension throughout. Maybe because Baggetta’s such a tool; he’s got nothing to do with his own case. Burr and company aren’t so much defending him as uncovering multiple conspiracies.

What Murdered Madam lacks in specific amusements, it makes up for with its adequateness. I’m sort of more impressed now than when I finished watching it; even if his direction isn’t great, I’m impressed with what Satlof did here. It’s kind of messy and he does succeed in giving it flow.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Patricia Green, 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.), Vincent Baggetta (Tony Domenico), Ann Jillian (Suzanne), Daphne Ashbrook (Miranda Bonner), Jason Bernard (Sergeant Koslow), Anthony Geary (Steve Reynolds), Bill Macy (Richard Wilson), James Noble (Leonard Weeks), John Rhys-Davies (Edward Tremaine) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987, Richard Lang)

The Case of the Sinister Spirit has some problems. Mostly in the cast, some in the story. And cinematographer Arch Bryant really doesn’t make the haunted hotel sequences scary. There’s some okay lighting at times too–in the haunted hotel–but it’s never scary. Lang’s direction is trying for scary, Dick DeBenedictis’s music is going for scary. Even David Solomon’s editing is going for scary. But it doesn’t come off well enough.

It does, however, come off as unsettling. Unsettling isn’t bad for a TV movie, especially not as genial a TV movie as Sinister Spirit. There’s not a lot of danger in it, just supernatural intrigue. It opens with Raymond Burr having a nightmare because of some novel he’s reading by a Stephen King type. Turns out someone kills the author. Burr’s got to defend his old pal, Robert Stack, and all the other suspects are staying in the haunted hotel. It’s a great–completely absurd–plot device from writer Anne Collins. Sinister Spirit spends at least the first half constantly putting one character or another in danger, though it’s usually Kim Delaney, which is fine because she’s good.

So the good supporting performances–Kim Delaney, Leigh Taylor-Young. The bad one is Dwight Schultz. No one else is particularly good–I mean, Stack is phoning it in so much he’d probably give a better read for a Mentos commercial, but he’s not terrible. Schultz is terrible. He sometimes affects an accent, then changes it, then drops it. It’s a bad performance. The other performances are about par for a TV movie.

As far as the regulars go, Burr’s got quite a bit to do since he, Barbara Hale and William Katt are all staying at the haunted hotel too. Burr does all the investigative interviews while Katt flirts with Delaney. While she’s good and he’s amiable, Katt looks bored. And, as usual, Hale doesn’t get anything to do. She and Burr have a couple nice moments together but she does absolutely nothing except tell him what’s what when they’re getting ready for court.

Everything gets rocky in the second half, then worse in the courtroom reveal. It’s a little much, but there’s enough goodwill–and a last minute restock of Delaney likability–to get Sinister Spirit to a satisfactory conclusion.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lang; teleplay by Anne Collins, based on a story by Dean Hargrove, Joel Steiger, Glenn M. Benest and Timothy Wurtz and characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Barry Steinberg; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Robert Stack (Jordan White), Dwight Schultz (Andrew Lloyd), Kim Delaney (Susan Warrenfield), Dennis Lipscomb (Michael Light), Jack Bannon (Donald Sayer), Leigh Taylor-Young (Maura McGuire), Matthew Faison (David Hall) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).


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