Actor Raymond Burr’s final film appearances are contained in the Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 5. Though Burr was dying of cancer (and looks gravely ill in the second of the two movies in this set), he somehow managed to summon up much of the old Mason grit and authority in the courtroom in order to put across his final cases.
The Production: 3/5
Actor Raymond Burr’s final film appearances are contained in the Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 5. Though Burr was dying of cancer (and looks gravely ill in the second of the two movies in this set), he somehow managed to summon up much of the old Mason grit and authority in the courtroom in order to put across his final cases. In the four remaining TV films in this set, guest actors took center stage assisted by Perry’s crack team of Della Street and Ken Malansky, but while the mysteries continued to hold one’s interest, the excitement of seeing Perry Mason at work was missing, and the production was not renewed for another series of films.
The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host pinned the murder of a rancorous radio station owner (Regis Philbin) on his on-air psychoanalyst (Mariette Hartley) even though other on-air personalities, the gossipmonger (Cristina Ferrare), the shock jocks (Fritz Coleman, Fred Roggin), the conservative pundit (G. Gordon Liddy), and the sports talk host (Montel Williams), hated him just as much and wanted to see him dead. Though we’re shown exactly who carried out the crime, a hitman (Eugene Butler) who Ken Malansky (William R. Moses) spends the movie searching for assisted by a plucky Denver detective (Alex Datcher), the question becomes which of the five other suspects not accused actually paid to have the job done. Barbara Hale’s Della Street is given very little to do in this one, handling a running gag of serving Mason a succession of distasteful exotic teas for him to try.
Burr’s last trial, The Case of the Killer Kiss, ironically recycles elements from the last episode of Burr’s original Perry Mason series. Both this and “The Case of the Final Fade Out” involves a murder at a television studio, in this case a popular though egotistical soap star (Sean Kanan) who has a cast and crew full of people who’d like to see him dead. The murder gets pinned on his co-star (Genie Francis) who resented the male star taking over the show, but there are plenty of others who have reason to abhor him: his (unknown to him) already married finacé (Krista Tesreau), his aging co-stars (Stuart Damon, Linda Dano), his producer (Michael Tylo), his personal assistant (Karen Moncrieff), and the head studio guard (Richard Riehle). Once again, Ken gets help, this time from studio gatecrasher and soap maven Peg Ferman (Arleen Sorkin) while James McEachin as usual overacts like crazy as Lt. Ed Brock and the district attorney in both cases is played soberly by Charles Macaulay. In this his last film, Raymond Burr looks quite drawn and a bit ashen despite the make-up, and due to his illness, he spends the film either seated or propped up at desks, doorways, or podiums. He continues to give a good performance (there is an end credit card dedicating the TV movie to his memory), but one can’t help feeling quite sadly nostalgic for the Mason of old.
Paul Sorvino takes the reins for the first Mason movie after the passing of Raymond Burr playing rascally clever, opera-singing attorney Anthony Caruso (who’s also a gourmet cook). The Case of the Wicked Wives involves the murder of celebrated photographer David Morrison (Eric Braeden) who had been in the midst of shooting an art piece featuring five of his most famous models (who also happen to be either ex-wives or his current wife): Shelly Talbot (Maud Adams), Jane Marlowe (Beverly Johnson), Abby Walters (Shelley Hack), Nina Morgan (Kim Alexis), and the present Mrs. Morrison (Kathy Ireland). When a neighbor sees a woman fleeing the scene after the murder, suspicion falls naturally on the current Mrs. Morrison since the bloody clothes and murder weapon are found in her car. Also under suspicion is David’s assistant Margo (Paula Marshall) who had fled after the murder and who Ken Malansky spends the entire movie tracking down. The usual Mason supporting cast (Della, Ken, Lt. Brock, D.A. Markham) are all present and accounted for in an entertaining outing with quite a few last minute surprises.
Hal Holbrook begins the final run of three TV movies playing William “Wild Bill” McKenzie. The nickname is appropriate as McKenzie proves to be a tough cookie who rides a Harley, runs a horse ranch, and carries a revolver and knows how to use it. He twice saves the bacon of frequently misguided investigator Ken Malansky in their first case together, The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle. The host of a program on the lifestyles of the rich and famous (Robin Leach) makes a more comfortable living by getting dirt on his celebrity interviews and blackmailing them. One of his most recent batch is most certainly his killer. No, it’s not the Grand Chess Master (James Stephens) accused by D.A. Johnson (John Rubinstein) of the crime but more likely either the drug-addled actress (Diahann Carroll), the pro basketball team owner (Dixie Carter AKA Mrs. Hal Holbrook), a film director (Robert Englund), or a lower tiered Royal, Prince Albert (Tristan Rogers).
Wild Bill McKenzie is also on hand for the final two cases in the series. In The Case of the Grimacing Governor, Bill investigates the murders of two prominent politicians: the man running for Utah governor (Ken Kercheval) against the incumbent (James Brolin). With the daughter (Kim Johnston Ulrich) of the murdered candidate accused of killing the governor, Bill must find the guilty party from among a large list of suspects at the State House: the governor’s executive assistant (Bonnie Bartlett), his lieutenant governor (Gregg Henry), his widow (Deborah Raffin), his attorney general (John Spencer), and the Speaker of the House (Macon McCalman). Also involved somehow in the killings are a racketeer (Tony Curtis), his junkie mistress (Elyssa Davalos), and possibly one or two other hangers-on. In The Case of the Jealous Jokester, the last case of the series, sitcom comedienne Josie Joplin (Dyan Cannon) is seemingly killed by one of the people in her entourage whom she keeps on a very short leash: her husband (Tony Roberts), her co-star (Tina Yothers), her former partner in a standup act (Victoria Jackson), or her manager (David Rasche). But accused of the crime is Bill’s niece (Susan Diol) who serves as a production assistant on the series, so Bill enlists Ken Malansky (William R. Moses) to help. He gets mixed up with a tabloid journalist (Khrystyne Haje) covering the front page murder story with the both of them the target of a shady character (John Laughlin) seen leaving the scene of the crime shortly after the murder. For some reason, Denver police Lieutenant Brock (James McEachin) is working in L.A. (with no explanation) and chewing the scenery as usual. The solution is one of the cleverer ones in this final group of episodes.
3D Rating: NA
The films are presented in their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1. While there are occasional dust specks and the films have an overall brownish quality to the transfers (especially the two featuring Raymond Burr), color is generally acceptable with flesh tones that mostly seem natural. Sharpness comes and goes within the episodes possibly due to soft focus photography on some of the older players and on some of the ladies, but that’s not always the case. Black levels are only average to slightly above. Because there is no anamorphic enhancement, there are moiré patterns and aliasing to be seen on a fairly regular basis. The two movies with Raymond Burr are unquestionably the weakest looking of the batch. The Hal Holbrook-fronted episodes look very good. Each TV-film has been divided into 9 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix features well-recorded dialogue tracks while the music gets a wonderful spread through the soundstage while again never overpowering the all-important dialogue with the films. Sound effects like gunshots, wrecks, and flat tires have sufficient weight to make them believable within the confines of the movies.
Special Features: 0/5
There is no bonus material included in this set.
The glorious era of Raymond Burr as Perry Mason comes to an end with the Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 5. While the mysteries throughout sometimes seem a bit padded and don’t always allow the audience to play along trying to solve the crimes before the solutions are revealed in court, the films are nevertheless historically important as the last Mason films produced (thus far) for television, and it’s great for fans to finally be able to complete their Perry Mason collections.