Robert Stack

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.



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).

Caddyshack II (1988, Allan Arkush)

Now it makes sense–Rodney Dangerfield was originally going to come back for Caddyshack II, but then fell out over script disputes and Jackie Mason came in, persona in hand, to fill in. I kept wondering who writers Harold Ramis and Peter Torokvei envisioned in the lead role while writing the script.

My history with Caddyshack II is probably more amusing than the movie itself (not really–it’s a dumb movie, but it’s got a bunch of funny stuff in it). When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to see R rated movies, so instead of Caddyshack, I watched Caddyshack II. If I remember the first one correctly, they’re about on par with each other (no pun intended).

What Caddyshack II has going for it is the performances. Mason’s effective and often funny. He’s not a good actor, but he’s doing his schtick and it works. He’s so amusing, it’s believable when Dyan Cannon finds him beguiling. It shouldn’t work–I mean, Dyan Cannon was married to Cary Grant (which may or may not be part of the joke)–but it does.

The movie opens, rather smartly, with its younger cast though. Chynna Phillips, Brian McNamara, Jessica Lundy and Jonathan Silverman are all in the opening scene. I’d forgotten how appealing Silverman could be in his young everyman performances. It’s a solid opening–even after the menacing “An Allan Arkush Movie” credit a few moments before–almost entirely based on Silverman’s appeal, Phillips’s fantastic bitchiness and Lundy’s somewhat disguised warmheartedness. McNamara is okay in these opening scenes, maybe some of his best stuff in the movie, given he’s usually the butt of the jokes.

Throughout the film, these established personas for Phillips, Lundy and Silverman create frequent genial amusement. They never–except maybe Phillips–get the laugh-out-loud jokes, but they’re solid throughout. Silverman went on to some–very measured–success, Phillips did the music thing and Lundy disappeared for a while. The three of them ought to do some kind of a reunion (I think McNamara’s gone on to better performances).

The older actors–Robert Stack, Dina Merrill, Paul Bartel–are fine. Actually, Merrill’s great. Stack’s funny in the “I’m watching Robert Stack do this or that” and Bartel’s solid as always in his small role. He’s funnier rolling his eyes than most people are slipping on banana peels. Cases in point, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Marsha Warfield. Warfield’s the only one in the entire movie I feel bad for–it’s one of her few film credits and it’s a lame performance. It’s stunt casting. Chase is a lot better than Aykroyd and Chase is still terrible–Aykroyd’s beyond bad, constantly upstaged by the animatronic gopher. Admittedly, the gopher effects are pretty good and the little rodent is always getting into amusing situations–but still. Aykroyd bases his whole performance on what someone foolishly thought was a funny voice.

The movie falls apart a little halfway through–there are so many narrative jumps, I wonder what they cut–when Mason turns the golf course into an amusement park… but whatever. It’s not supposed to be good… it’s supposed to make you laugh for ninety minutes and smile afterwards. It probably succeeds.

And the less said about the desperately unfunny Randy Quaid, the better.



Directed by Allan Arkush; screenplay by Harold Ramis and Peter Torokvei, based on characters created by Brian Doyle-Murray, Ramis and Douglas Kenney; director of photography, Harry Stradling Jr.; edited by Bernard Gribble; music by Ira Newborn; production designer, William F. Matthews; produced by Neil Canton, Peter Guber and Jon Peters; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jackie Mason (Jack Hartounian), Robert Stack (Chandler Young), Dyan Cannon (Elizabeth), Dina Merrill (Cynthia Young), Jonathan Silverman (Harry), Brian McNamara (Todd Young), Marsha Warfield (Royette), Paul Bartel (Mr. Jamison), Jessica Lundy (Kate), Chynna Phillips (Miffy Young), Randy Quaid (Peter Blunt), Chevy Chase (Ty Webb), Dan Aykroyd (Capt. Tom Everett), Anthony Mockus Sr. (Mr. Pierpont) and Pepe Serna (Carlos).

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