blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

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.

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