If you ever want to understand what guts look like for an actor, watch Raymond Burr’s final performances as Perry Mason. Burr was dying of kidney cancer, but he wasn’t ready to stop being the greatest lawyer in TV history. Perhaps knowing that there was still another script for another Perry Mason movie awaiting his approval kept him going for another day. Perry Mason: Movie Collection – Volume 5 contains his last two performances after strolling into a TV courtroom nearly 35 years before. The set also includes four movies where Perry’s legal friends borrowed his office, secretary and private investigator.
“The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host” proves the dangers of working in radio. A local station that’s doing well decides to shake things up by moving all the high rated talk show hosts into the overnight hours. One of the jocks didn’t like the time shift and kills the scheduling genius. Perry goes from being a frequent guest to the defense to not only prove Mariette Hartley (those camera ads with James Garner) is innocent, but track down the jock behind dead air. The radio station personalities include Cristina Ferrare, G. Gordon Liddy, Montel Williams, Mariette Hartley and Regis Philbin. Burr is a real trooper as he completes the episode. He nearly all of his scenes either sitting or standing still. During the courtroom scene, he takes a few short steps from the defense table to the podium. There’s a bit of pain in his face, but he wants the audience to not notice Perry was hurting. He might have played the episode in a wheelchair, but that would have made him look like Ironside. Ken Malansky (William Moses) is Perry’s legs that tracks down the clues to the killer. Not to ruin the ending, but Burr made sure audience saw a tender moment between Perry and secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) after the trial. He must have feared that this could be the last time and wanted the audience to not miss it. “The Case of the Killer Kiss is the last time Burr played Perry Mason. He’s dragged into backstage drama of a soap opera shot in Denver. An actor plays his death scene legit when the actress’ lipstick turns out to be laced with a substance that he’s fatally allergic to touching. Perry does his best win his final case. Will he go out a winner? Burr played Mason as a noble and thoughtful character from start to finish.
The final four films were done as A Perry Mason Mystery. While some may see this as some crass move by the network, making the additional movies was the suggestion of Burr. He wanted to make sure his crew finished out the contract the show had with the network. It was not too unusual during the original run of Perry Mason for Burr to take off an episode and a substitute lawyer drop by his office to help out a client who had a homicide charge while Perry was out of town.
“The Case of the Wicked Wives” brings on guest lawyer Anthony Caruso (Goodfellas‘ Paul Sorvino) into a sizzling scandal. Turns out a famous photographer wants to reunite his hot ex-wives for a very special shoot. Caruso must work up the contracts for the volatile situation. While the ladies seem cool with the project, one of them loses it and offs the photographer. Now Caruso gets to offer his legal services to fight homicide charges to one lucky woman. The show pulled out all the stops to get fans to tune in the Perry-less Perry Mason. The ex-wives included super models and actresses Maud Adam (Octopussy, Kim Alexis, Shelley Hack (Charlie’s Angels), Kathy Ireland and Beverly Johnson. Sorvino is fine as a substitute. His Caruso loves cooking and singing opera. Sadly the character only lasted one movie.
“The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle” brings on Bill McKenzie (Hal Holbrook) as a wild west sort of lawyer that’s as comfortable on a horse as a motorcycle. He’s retired to his Colorado ranch, but heads into Denver to help out on a case. This time he must defend a man who might have killed Robin Leach (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous). The big guests include Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Diahann Carroll (Julia) and Dixie Carter (Designing Women). Della and Ken mesh well with Bill calling the shots. “The Case of the Grimacing Governor” suspects the sitting governor of killing his biggest rival. The Gov. doesn’t want to be seen as a killer, but he ends up dead too. “The Case of the Jealous Jokester” wraps up Bill’s time in Perry’s office as he gets personal on a case. His niece gets pulled into a homicide involving a tv personality. The guest stars include Tony Roberts (Annie Hall), David Rasche (Sledgehammer) and Tina Yothers. This would bring the Perry Mason series to an end because Della Street retires early in the movie. Actress Barbara Hale wasn’t doing well. Although Hale is still alive nearly 21 years since this episode.
It would be easy to say that this boxset represents the last time we’ll see Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. With computer technology, there’s someone plotting away to bring a holographic Burr back into a court room as Perry Mason. Burr did a fine job making himself the face and soul of the world’s greatest lawyer. He can’t be replaced.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. While the movies were shot on 35mm, the post-production was done on standard definition video. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. Mason’s courtroom voice is rich and deep as he peels apart lies. The movies are subtitled in English.
No bonus features.
CBS DVD presents Perry Mason: Movie Collection – Volume 5. Starring: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William R. Moses, Hal Holbrook and Paul Sorvino. Boxset Contents: 6 movies on 3 DVDs. Released: March 22, 2016.
Tags: Perry Mason, Raymond Burr