After appearing for nine years as America’s most famous defense attorney Perry Mason, Raymond Burr went on to other TV series both successful and unsuccessful, made sporadic appearances in TV-movies and feature films and TV miniseries, but he couldn’t resist the lure of returning to his most famous role. In 1985, he and former co-star Barbara Hale appeared in a made-for-TV film Perry Mason Returns which was so successful that it began a continuing series of TV films featuring the two of them once again as wily lawyer Mason and his trusted executive secretary Della Street. Perry Mason Movie Collection Volume 1 collects the first six made-for-TV films in a set for the first time. Fans of the character often favor the original series over the specials though they certainly have their champions. Watching them again reveals that most of the films don’t really give the audience much of a chance for solving the crimes themselves, and there is more than a little formula at play in some of these first efforts.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 9 Hrs. 31 Min.
Package Includes: DVDthree Amray cases in a slipcase
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/31/2013
We learn in Perry Mason Returns that Perry (Raymond Burr) has been an appellate court justice in the years since he gave up his practice, and Della Street (Barbara Hale) is now the executive assistant to a manufacturing mogul (Patrick O’Neal). When he’s murdered on the eve before changing his will and cutting out his entire family from his massive fortune, suspicion falls on Della Street since the murderer was outfitted in a dress and shoes exactly like those belonging to Ms. Street. The viewer is allowed to see that the murderer was actually a man dressed in women’s clothes who leaves one of Ms. Street’s earrings at the scene of the crime which helps implicate her. Mason resigns his judgeship and returns to defend Della from the murder charge. With the death of Mason’s investigator Paul Drake, they call on his investigator son Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt, Barbara Hale’s real-life son) to do the legwork. This first return case, a familiar domestic murder mystery with a slew of suspects all part of the family either by blood, marriage, or business ties, is a good one and makes it understandable why it drew such high ratings and a clamor for more Mason adventures.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
How disappointing, then, that the follow-up, The Case of the Notorious Nun, formulaically copies many of the tropes of the previous story: a disguised killer seen by the viewer who implicates an innocent party (this time a nun) and who is later rubbed out by the unrevealed person who hired him, an embezzlement subplot which forms part of the basis for the murderer’s motive, an affair taking place among the suspects one of whom is married, and Paul Drake’s last minute discovery of a vital clue that cracks the mystery and allows Mason to win his case. As the weakest of the mysteries in the box, the pacing seems long, many of the suspects insufficiently viable, and the mystery less involving than the others.
Tighter and more imaginative plotting occurs in the next two stories: The Case of the Shooting Star (a famous talk show host is shot live before an audience of forty million people, and Perry is persuaded to defend him in a seemingly unwinnable case) and The Case of the Lost Love, the lost love in question being a beloved woman (Jean Simmons) thirty-five years from Perry’s past whose husband is accused of murdering a blackmailer who is trying to prevent her from being appointed to a highly coveted senate seat in Colorado. This second case gives the viewer the best chance of the six included movies of adding up the clues and arriving at the killer’s identity before Perry reveals all in court.
Things really percolate in the box’s last two items. The Case of the Sinister Spirit is unquestionably the most atmospheric and suspenseful of the six films in the set and the one which contains the best constructed mystery with the most startling denouement. It involves the murder of a Stephen King-like author and takes place in a sinister hotel filled with macabre booby traps and an air of real tension. Almost as good is The Case of the Murdered Madam as a former brothel manager (Ann Jillian) newly married and away from the life holds a surveillance audio recording on four men planning a bank fraud. She turns up dead killed with her husband’s gun and naturally he’s implicated, but it’s actually the four men at the meeting who are the prime suspects in the case, any of whom might be the killer.
Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale may have gained a few pounds and lost a step or two in the nearly two decades since they last played the intrepid counselor and his formidable assistant, but their relationship is even warmer and more involving than in the original series, and it’s always a pleasure to see them work together, even though Burr is saddled with a bothersome knee injury for several of the films and must use either a cane or crutches in most of them. William Katt’s Paul Drake, Jr. is a more bumbling and scattered investigator than his efficient father was, and the producers go out of their way to give the handsome Katt a potential romantic interest in almost every one of these films (both father and son Drake seem to have had an eye for the ladies), but his skills as an investigator seem to deteriorate after a promising start. The writers have developed a frosty camaraderie between Mason and Drake that plays for comedy as much as drama as Perry must endure his young private eye’s mishaps and miscalculations.
This collection of six made-for-television films boasts a top-notch array of guest stars abetting the leading players. Among the most famous faces seen in these six broadcasts are Holland Taylor, Richard Anderson, Al Freeman, Jr., Patrick O’Neal, Timothy Bottoms, Jon Cypher, James McEachin (one of the surlier and more unlikable homicide lieutenants in the series), Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Tom Bosley, David Ogden Stiers (the D.A. who faces off against Perry in five of the six cases), Arthur Hill, Joe Penny, Ron Glass, Alan Thicke, Ivan Dixon, Edward Winter, Barbara Parkins, Jennifer O’Neal, Jean Simmons, Robert Mandan, Robert Walden, Stephen Elliott, Gene Barry, Robert Stack, Kim Delaney, Leigh Taylor-Young, Vincent Baggetta, Anthony Geary, Bill Macy, John Rys-Davies, and Ann Jillian.
The films are presented in their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Image quality improves as one goes deeper into the box set. The early films seem to have had the least work and display some dust specks and some smeared color in certain scenes. Later episodes, especially the final three, display very clean transfers with good to very good color renditions and accurate flesh tones. Sharpness comes and goes within the episodes possibly due to soft focus photography on some of the older players and some of the ladies, but that’s not a consistency throughout. Black levels are only average to slightly above, and in lower light levels, details can become crushed in the shadows. Because there is no anamorphic enhancement, there is some aliasing and moiré patterns to be seen in most of the films. Each film has been divided into 9 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mixes on these TV-movies are nicely done. Perry Mason Returns has a mono mix which Dolby Prologic decodes into the center channel. It’s strong and clear with easily discernible dialogue which is never compromised by the music or sound effects. The remaining five films in the set have 2.0 stereo tracks, and the music gets a wonderful spread through the soundstage while again never overpowering the all-important dialogue with the films. There are some interesting ambient sounds woven into the surrounds, too, like chatter in a restaurant or hubbub in the courtroom which sometimes give these TV-movies a theatrical feel.
Audio Rating: 4/5
There are no bonus features at all with this release.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
A note on packaging: two films are each assigned one DVD, but each double feature disc is contained in its own Amray case taking up much more room than if the set had been done in a single case with leaves or in three slimline cases. Buyers of future releases might be better served with more space-saving ideas when packaging these movies for the consumer.
Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 1 makes a welcome debut on home video for fans of the intrepid attorney. While a couple of the early films don’t appear much sharper than their cable broadcast counterparts, some of the later entries in this box look quite superior and are definitely a treat.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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