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.
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).