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.
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).