Tag Archives: Raymond Burr

Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)

The Case of the Lethal Lesson is a very strange Perry Mason TV movie. Not just because director Nyby actually doesn’t do an atrocious job, but also because Robert Hamilton’s teleplay is a jumbled mess. Lethal Lesson introduces two new regulars to the main cast, with one of them being the person on trial this time. It screws up the weighing of the plot to say the least.

Worse, Hamilton really pushes for having everyone participate. The supporting cast isn’t just vague suspects, they have subplots with one of the main characters. Sort of. The subplots are often undercooked and don’t stand up to any examination. No spoilers on the finale, but any thought starts to break it down. Hamilton–and director Nyby–bet it all on the charm between those two new regulars, played by Alexandra Paul and William R. Moses.

Here’s how their charm works. She’s rich and flighty. He’s poor and stable. She drives him nuts, but he can’t resist her. Oh, and he’s the one on trial. Even if Paul weren’t annoying, there’s no chemistry between her and Moses. Even if there were chemistry, Moses doesn’t do the sincerity well. He spends most of the movie trying to get away from Paul to hook up with Karen Kopins. Kopins is another of the suspects, sort of, because Hamilton contrives a way to make all of the characters suspects. Everyone is in Raymond Burr’s law school class.

I’m not mentioning Raymond Burr until the end of the third paragraph because he barely has anything to do with the movie. Somehow, even when he gets to the truth at the end, it’s more about the stupid law school romance stuff. Hamilton tries to go with vague innuendo every time, which isn’t just lazy, it’s boring. There’s never any explicit innuendo of the amusing variety, just director Nyby inexplicably perving on Paul for a bit. It’s before her part as screwball detective is established, it’s just a TV movie shower scene. Like some NBC executive said they needed to sex it up but keep it wholesome. Making Paul act like a moron half the time seemingly keeps it wholesome.

Anyway, Burr’s actually great when he gets the stuff to do in the front. He’s good as the teacher, he’s good opposite Brian Keith–old friend and father of the deceased–he’s good with Barbara Hale. She has one scene with enough material for her. Just the one.

Lots of weak support–like miscasting weak–from Brian Backer to Mark Rolston to Charley Lang. Kathryn Christopher is terrible as the judge. Nyby should’ve somehow fixed that problem, but he just exacerbates it.

Kind of weak editing from David Solomon; it’s Nyby, so maybe there just wasn’t coverage. Dick DeBenedictis’s score plays up the romantic chemistry of Paul and Moses and it’s just as annoying in its ineptness to create any chemistry.

Lethal Lesson isn’t actually terrible, it just isn’t any good whatsoever.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Robert Hamilton, based on a story by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger, and 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 R. Moses (Ken Malansky), Alexandra Paul (Amy Hastings), Brian Keith (Frank Wellman Sr.), Karen Kopins (Kimberly McDonald), Brian Backer (Eugene), John DeMita (Scott McDonald), Charley Lang (Travis Howe), John Allen Nelson (Frank Wellman Jr.), Leslie Ackerman (Miss Lehman), Richard Allen (Jeff), Albert Valdez (Paul Roberti), Raye Birk (Sam Morgan), John LaMotta (Bartender Al), Mark Rolston (Vic Hatton), Marlene Warfield (Prosecutor), Kathryn Christopher (Judge Hoffman).


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Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988, Ron Satlof)

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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988, Christian I. Nyby II)

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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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).


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Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987, Christian I. Nyby II)

Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel is a bit disappointing. It’s got a really lame script from Anthony Spinner. Spinner doesn’t have a good mystery, he doesn’t write characters well, he writes dialogue something awful. So there are no expectations from the script. However, Scoundrel has a great cast. A great cast who often can even get water from the stony script.

So it’s a bit disappointing. It’s kind of pleasant to watch, mostly because Barbara Hale has this secret admirer C plot and it gives her something to do. And Raymond Burr’s got some fine moments. Director Nyby doesn’t direct the scenes well–Burr’s fine moments, I mean–but he’s not disruptive. Burr still gets the moment, just not as effectively as he could have.

And some of Nyby’s direction is solid. If it’s interiors and not back and forth dialogue, he does some pretty darn good work for a TV movie. Everything else is a bit of a mess. Not always a big mess, but definitely some kind of one. He shoots terrible coverage.

Now, the cast. William Katt’s romancing defendant Susan Wilder. She’s not good, but she’s not bad. Morgan Brittany is bad. Other than those two performances, everything is great. Yaphet Kotto’s an ex-army general, Wings Hauser’s his sidekick. They’re both good, but Hauser’s actually awesome. Good enough even Nyby figured out how to direct his scenes. George Grizzard’s Brittany’s suffering husband. He’s good. René Enríquez’s a corrupt banker. He’s good. Robert Guillaume’s a loathsome tabloid king. He’s not so much good as it’s really cool to see him play loathsome. He revels in it. And Eugene Butler is excellent as Guillaume’s sidekick. Lots of sidekicks in Scoundrel, probably because Spinner’s quite bad at plotting out a mystery.

Not a great hour for David Ogden Stiers. He and Burr don’t have any actual rapport, which just makes it seem like Stiers is a buffoon. It’s also a little strange to see James McEachin showing up as a dimwit instead of his regular cop part. It’s like there’s some joke and the viewer is left out.

Technically it’s fine, other than a weak score from the usually solid Dick DeBenedictis.

Scoundrel has a lot of good actors giving good performances from a terrible script. It’s engaging so long as the actors are weathering that script well. And Nyby certainly doesn’t help things. The handful of well-directed scenes can’t make up for the rest, especially not with the dumb script.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christian I. Nyby II; teleplay by Anthony Spinner, 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.), Susan Wilder (Michelle Benti), Robert Guillaume (Harlan Wade), Eugene Butler (Nick Moretti), George Grizzard (Dr. Clayman), Morgan Brittany (Marianne Clayman), René Enríquez (Oscar Ortega), Wings Hauser (Capt. James Rivers), Yaphet Kotto (General Sorenson) and David Ogden Stiers (Michael Reston).


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