There are many things wrong with Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake, starting with the title being a little long followed by the first red herring in the movie, which is in its first scene. Then the next red herring is in the second scene and so on and so on. Actually, I don’t think I really noticed it as the movie was playing out because so much else is bad about it, but the way screenwriter Shel Willens perturbs the plot is something awful. It’s too functional and too dismissive. Lady’s script is impatient, which is simultaneously good and bad.
It’s good because so much of the acting in the movie is terrible. David Hasselhoff, John Beck, Doran Clark, John Ireland, and Liane Langland are all bad. I even wanted to cut Beck some slack and it’s just not possible. He’s just bad. Hasselhoff’s terrible and he’s trying, which makes it even worse. Doran Clark’s weak. John Ireland’s weak but it doesn’t matter because he disappears. He’s just there to bring Raymond Burr into the story.
As for Burr, he’s great. It’s a terrible courtroom sequence in this one but Burr plays the hell out of it. Even David Ogden Stiers gets going as the district attorney. For some reason, even though the script is bad, it gave its capable actors opportunities. Of course, poor Barbara Hale gets jack to do in this one. Except to solve the case for Burr and set William Katt up on a blind date. And Katt’s pretty good. He’s better than he’s been in the last few Mason movies anyway.
So what else is wrong with it? The direction. Satlof does a bad job. He never establishes a tone–it’s even comical when Katt finds himself in trouble, if only because of Dick DeBenedictis’s weird score–and he’s crap with the actors. Really bad photography from Arch Bryant this time out; he’s shot the entire series and I’ve never mentioned him before because he’s fine. Only not here. It’s like Lady is cursed.
There’s some decent location shooting and some of the action sequences might work if it weren’t for Satlof’s quirky tone.
Oh, and George DelHoyo is fine. He plays Hasselhoff’s scumbag brother. Terrence Evans is good as the sheriff, but only because he’s clearly not taking it too seriously.
The only standout (who knew Lake could have one) is Audra Lindley. She’s excellent. She’s so much better than almost everyone else in the Lake; she understands this bad of a script requires an actor to bring their own dignity to the part, because it’s not coming from the script, it’s not coming from the director.
Anyway, Lady in the Lake is quite bad, but the regulars are professional enough to muddle through it.
Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Shel Willens, based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Arch Bryant; edited by 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.), Doran Clark (Sara Wingate-Travis), David Hasselhoff (Billy Travis), John Ireland (Walter), Liane Langland (Lisa Blake), John Beck (Doug Vickers), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Chaney), George DelHoyo (Frank Travis), Darrell Larson (Skip Wingate), Terrence Evans (Sheriff Ed Prine) and David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston).