Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion
I never saw an single episode of the old Perry Mason TV show until within the last couple years or so when MeTV started airing reruns. Before that, I only knew Raymond Burr from the great Hitchcock movie Rear Window. I like the show well enough, though I can't say I'm a devoted fan- oftentimes I just have it playing in the background. But I guess it can be an entertaining distraction, which is about the same as how I feel regarding these TV movies that came out of the 80s and early 90s. MeTV has been airing one a night all this past week, so I've just been watching one after the other.
The TV show followed a pretty standard formula and the movies don't veer too far from that formula, except they're longer and have more guest stars. This one features Valerie Harper, Scott Baio (Bob Loblaw), Ally Walker (on whom I may have had a crush when she starred in the series Profiler) and Diana Muldaur, whom I know best from her various Star Trek roles and as the voice of Leslie Thompkins on Batman: The Animated Series.
Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin
Peter Scolari (who, according to imdb, did a couple guest voices on Batman: The Animated Series and also played the Atom/Ray Palmer on Batman: The Brave and the Bold) plays a stage magician who cheated on his wife with one of his assistants during a momentary moral lapse and now she's blackmailing him. When she dies during his act, he's charged with murder and Perry defends him.
SPOILERS: It turns out that several years previously, the dead assistant killed a woman in a hit and run accident, but her corrupt and wealthy father covered the whole incident up, so she was never brought to justice. When Perry's assistant Ken Malansky goes to the woman's hometown to dig up information on her, the thuggish locals attempt to bump him off several times on the orders of her father. The murderers are revealed to be the daughter and husband of the woman who was killed in the hit and run. I really can't blame them for what they did. If their scheme hadn't involved the unnecessary framing of an innocent man, I wouldn't have minded if they'd gotten away with their crime; they could have just made it look like an accident. What really irks me about this movie is that as far as we know, the rich father of the murder victim is not made to pay for his crimes, nor do the thugs he got to do his dirty work. What is this, Chinatown?
Now that the hit and run incident is out in the open, one might hope that charges will be brought against him, but no mention is made of it. Instead, the epilogue reveals that the magician's wife was absent from court because she was picking out a couple special needs kids for them to adopt.
I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure the adoption process is a lot slower and more complicated than that. Shouldn't both spouses be involved in the process? It's not the kind of thing you just spring on the husband after the fact. Sure, the husband was kind of tied up in court, but that raises another point. I somehow doubt the adoption agency would be cool with just handing over a couple kids, especially when one of the prospective parents is on trial for murder. Was Raymond Burr involved in some charity for special needs kids? 'Cause they just feel shoehorned into the story.
Oh, yeah, Kate Vernon has a guest starring role in this. I know her best as Ellen Tigh from BSG. She was pretty hot in the early 90s when this was filmed and she still is not bad looking today.
Perry Mason: The Case of the Heartbroken Bride
I'm staring to notice some recurring themes in these Perry Mason TV movies. Once again, Malansky is nearly killed by a couple thugs working for a crime boss. A review I saw on imdb called him a human punching bag. At least the two thugs are apprehended this time around, even if their boss isn't.
In this installment, Perry Mason goes to the wedding of his niece (actually, the daughter of an old friend) and ends up having to defend her when she's accused of murdering an obnoxious wedding crasher. The weird thing about this movie is that I thought I was picking up some hints that Perry's niece is actually his illegitimate love child in the beginning, but forgot about it because the idea seems to be entirely dropped until the very end when it becomes pretty obvious that that's exactly what they were implying, even if it's left somewhat ambiguous. However, despite the fact that this girl is on trial for murder, the movie doesn't focus on her all that much, which seems like a wasted opportunity given what we're apparently supposed to be led to believe about her parentage. They could have mined some more drama out of the situation, making it stand out a bit more from these other mystery movies of the week.
There's also a courtroom scuffle in the last couple minutes where Perry hurts his shoulder and quickly exits the scene, and then he's got his arm in a sling in the final scene. That also felt strange. I can only assume that Raymond Burr got hurt during filming and they quickly wrote his injury into the scene.
Paul Dooley plays the prosecutor in this one. I know him from various things, but the roles I remember most fondly are Wimpy from Popeye and Enabrin Tain on Deep Space Nine. He also once did a guest voice on what used to be one of my favorite episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss
Once again, Perry has to defend a woman with whom he feels a paternal bond, but in this case, it's a little more on display than the last time Also, once again Ken Malansky finds himself getting roughed up by some thugs and then running afoul of a corrupt and powerful individual in a hick town and nearly getting murdered.
Harley Quinn herself, Arleen Sorkin, is in this one! As I know her mostly as Harley, I recognized her from her voice at first rather than her appearance. I also know she was on Days of Our Lives, which is appropriate for this movie, seeing that she's playing an avid soap fan who teams up with Ken to prove her favorite star innocent of murder. There was a soap opera actor in the last movie as well, so that's one more example of how certain themes keep echoing through these things.
Sadly, Raymond Burr suffered a worse health complication than an injured shoulder this time around, as he found out during the filming of this movie that he was dying, so this turned out to be the last outing as Perry Mason.
Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake
I've noticed Raymond Burr walking around with a cane in most of these films. In the last one, he spent pretty much the whole thing standing behind objects he could lean on or sitting, apparently because he was having difficulty remaining upright at the time. I could be wrong, but I always assumed that the main reason his character was in a wheelchair in the TV show Ironside is because he was having mobility issues even back then. This might very well be the first time Perry Mason is seen using a cane, because a character asks him about it at the beginning and he says it's because he hurt himself in a skiing accident. I don't know why they felt the need to invent some bogus excuse; Raymond Burr was obviously getting older and was not in great shape; it's not surprising that he'd need a cane.
Anyway, David Hasselhoff plays a former tennis player who is accused of drowning his wife in a lake where her twin sister drowned years earlier when they were kids during a failed kidnapping plot. The plot of this story actually strays a bit from the standard Perry Mason recipe as the alleged murder victim is actually a nice person. Almost always, the murdered party is some asshole that the viewer won't shed any tears over. You'll note I call her an "alleged murder victim"; this is because if the deviation from formula wasn't eyebrow-raising enough on its own, I immediately found it suspicious that no body was found. If you're like me, you may be able to at least partly guess how things turn out.
While there are a couple predictable things about the ending, out of the five Perry Mason movies I ended up watching this week, this was the one I found the most engaging. Also, I've never really watched any of his shows, but I have to say, David Hasselhoff is actually not a bad actor; I couldn't help feeling for his character.