Featured TV on DVD Review: Perry Mason: Movie Collection: Volume 2
May 24th, 2014
Perry Mason lasted for nine seasons starting in 1957. After nearly two decades off the air, the show returned, this time in the form of a series of TV movies. Volume One came out last December, and unfortunately I wasn't able to get a screener to review. More recently, Volume Two came out, and while the screener arrived late, I finally got to the review. So how do the TV movies compare to the original series?
Before I get into the individual episodes, I should talk about the general changes and holdovers from the TV show to these movies. Raymond Burr returns as Perry Mason, as does Barbara Hale as Della Street. Sadly, both William Hopper (Paul Drake) and William Talman (Hamilton Burger) passed away shortly after the series ended. In the movies, we have William Katt playing Paul Drake, Jr. and David Ogden Stiers playing Michael Reston, the new D.A. for a few of the movies in this volume.
The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel
An editor of a tabloid newspaper, Harlan Wade, has made a lot of enemies, including a general he has accused of war crimes during Vietnam, a banker he says has dealings with drug cartels, and a doctor and his wife going through a very messy divorce. One of these is Michelle Benti, an ambitious journalist who wants to cover real news stories and make a name for herself. When she's fired for not bribing a doorman to manufacture evidence, she drives to his home and yells at him. After she leaves, he's found dead and she is the obvious suspect. Fortunately, she was dating Paul and the newspaper was making trouble for Perry Mason, so she has a motivated defense team.
The Case of the Avenging Ace
This one starts out with Perry Mason as an appellant judge, who along with his other judges strike down an appeal of a conviction of Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Parks. There just isn't enough new evidence to warrant a new trial. However, he doesn't think there was enough evidence to convict in the first place. We then flash forward 18 months when Perry Mason is back as a defense attorney and when a new witness is found, Perry Mason helps the defense. However, when the new witness takes the stand, he refuses to co-operate and shortly after that, he's murdered. Perry Mason takes over the case and with some help from a fellow member of the military, Captain Terry O'Malley, they try and find out what this case is really about.
The Case of the Lady in the Lake
Many years ago, two young sisters, Amy and Sara Wingate, were taken on a lake by someone they didn't know. Amy and the man got into a fight and Amy was thrown overboard and drowned. Years later, Sara married Billy Travis, who tries to help her get over her fears by confronting them by going out on a boat on the same lake. It seems to work and it even strengthens their marriage. However, not everyone is happy with their marriage. Sara's family think Billy married her for her money. Her cousin, Skip, is particularly annoyed, because he was sponging off the family money. When Sara disappears in the same lake that claimed her sister, Billy is the obvious suspect, especially given the circumstances of the disappearance. The town turns on him, even though there's no body, but fortunately Perry Mason comes to his defense.
The Case of the Lethal Lesson
Before we get to the plot of this movie, this is the first movie with William R. Moses as Ken Malansky, who replaced William Katt. Alexandra Paul also joined the regular cast as Ken's girlfriend / investigative partner. However, she left after just three movies to do Baywatch.
The episode has Perry Mason teaching a course at a law school and observing a moot court. Two of the participants are Frank Wellman Jr., a rich kid whose powerful father got him out of trouble more than once, and Ken Malansky, who is Frank's rival, of sorts. Ken is also having trouble with Kim (Karen Kopins) who may or may not be his girlfriend. They've been having problems. Ken finds out that Frank got Kim alone under the pretense of the Moot court and attacked her and tried to rape her. When Ken finds out, he goes to confront Frank, only to find him dead. ... dead with his knife sticking out of his back. He's been framed good. Fortunately, Perry Mason believes Ken is innocent. Unfortunately, the father of the victim, Frank, Sr., is an old friend of Perry Mason's. Awkward.
The Case of the Musical Murder
This movie begins with a stage show in which Amanda Cody and the rest of the cast are a smash hit. At least the audience thinks so. The director, Tony Franken hates the show and makes unreasonable demands on the cast and crew. One of the crew members, Johnny Whitcomb, has enough and attacks Tony. That night, Tony receives a call and is told he needs to come to the theater right away, because there's an emergency. However, when he gets there, he's shot. Johnny is the obvious suspect, but he has an alibi, Perry Mason! So why isn't the case dismissed right away? Because at the time, Perry Mason was in the hospital for knee surgery and was under medication, so his testimony isn't reliable enough for the court. It does give Perry Mason extra motivation to defend Johnny in court.
The Case of the All-Star Assassin
Thatcher Horton is the owner of a Colorado sports area, as well as a basketball team and a hockey team. He also has a couple of lawsuits headed his way, one from Cathy Grant, a tennis pro, and the other from Bobby Spencer, a hockey player. Ken Malansky is helping Bobby with the negotiations, but negotiations end when Bobby loses his temper. That night Thatcher Horton has a creepy and threatening conversation with his wife and shortly after that is killed. Bobby is found with the murder weapon on him, but the evidence suggests this was a professional hit. Professional hits are particularly hard to crack, but Perry Mason is on the case.
So overall how are these six TV movies? They are mostly good with the usual strengths the Perry Mason TV series had. The mysteries are engaging and the acting is great. There are plenty of good guest appearances, including Jerry Orbach. The way Perry Mason cracks the cases makes sense and there are less of the guy just cracking while watching the case unfold in the courtroom. The movies aren't perfect. For instance, part of the plot of The Case of the Avenging Ace involves Paul and Captain Terry trying to track down a man, who they don't realize is wearing a disguise. This disguise includes a beard so fake that it would have looked more realistic if he had used a marker to drawn on a beard. It would have looked more realistic if he had used a marker to write "FAKE BEARD" on his face. Yet no one realizes it's a fake beard when they see him.
Overall, I would say they are on par with the average episode of the Perry Mason TV series, so if you liked the show, you will likely enjoy these movies as well.
There are no extras on the three-disc set.
If you are a fan of the Perry Mason TV show and picked up the episodes as they came out, then the Movie Collection is also worth picking up However, I would watch before buying Volume 2. The three discs from Volume One are coming out separately, and they are cheaper than buying the box set. Perhaps it is best to wait to see if these will be cheaper.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review