The most impressive technical contribution to Perry Mason Returns has to be Dick DeBenedictis’s music. He lifts thriller style music, some horror, some whatever, then applies it to this somewhat bland TV movie. Albert J. Dunk’s photography is too muted and director Satlof, though very capable of setting up sequences, is mediocre (at best) at the talking heads and he doesn’t do the courtroom scene.
It’s Perry Mason Returns. Raymond Burr barely does anything for the first hour of the movie except be a jerk to William Katt for being not being miserable and consoles Barbara Hale. Hale’s on trial for murder. Hence the importance of a well-directed courtroom sequence. But Satlof tanks it. Dean Hargrove’s teleplay isn’t exactly outstanding, but the reveal is fairly solid. Satlof tanks it. The entire finale is a disaster. While Burr stalls in court, Katt has to reason with evil rednecks.
There’s some solid acting–Kerrie Keane, Holland Taylor, James Kidnie. There’s some not so solid acting. It’s a TV movie. Burr and Hale are likable. Katt’s sort of a dork, but Hale seems to like him so why not give him a chance, wasn’t he in Carrie? But Burr and Hale have undeniable chemistry and Burr’s best scenes are his moments with her. He’s the title character and he barely figures into the narrative. It’s the last scene before he finally shows some personality. Satlof’s inept direction of Burr’s scenes hurt Burr’s performance.
It’s a really lazy script though. Katt doesn’t even do the private investigator bit, he just inexplicably annoys cop Paul Hubbard into doing all the work. Katt’s probably got the most screen time in the movie too; it’s boring Glen A. Larson TV show p.i. action. Katt’s maybe likable as a sidekick to patient and older Burr and Hale, not as a lead. He’s not unlikable, but he’s clearly out of his depth. Because dumb writing and bad direction.
Still, it’s a good reveal, the principals are likable, Keane’s good, Taylor’s good. It’s just a poorly directed Perry Mason TV movie, it doesn’t have to do much but divert.
Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Dean Hargrove, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Albert J. Dunk; edited by Edwin F. England and Robert L. Kimble; 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.), Patrick O’Neal (Arthur Gordon), Holland Taylor (Paula Gordon), James Kidnie (Bobby Lynch), Richard Anderson (Ken Braddock), Kerrie Keane (Kathryn Gordon), David McIlwraith (David Gordon), Roberta Weiss (Laura Gordon), Lindsay Merrithew (Chris), Al Freeman Jr. (Lt. Cooper), Paul Hubbard (Sgt. Stratton), Cassie Yates (Barbara Scott), Kathleen Laskey (Luanne) and Charles Macaulay (Judge Whitewood).