Perry Mason officially ended in May of 1966, but that wasn’t going to be the end. Twenty years later the surviving cast members reunited for Perry Mason Returns. It was Perry and Della back together again. Both Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale returned to their roles. William Hopper had died in 1970, so William Katt joined the reunion as Paul Drake, Jr. Katt might not have really been Drake’s son; he was Hale’s son. When Katt left the films he was replaced by William R. Moses as Ken Malansky. Ken was a young law student helped by Perry once when he was framed in law school for a rival’s murder. He ends up being both a legal assistant and investigator for Perry in the reunion films. The films also often starred James McEachin as Lt. Brock, the cop on many of the cases.
While the name on the collection and each of the television movies might be Perry Mason, Raymond Burr and his iconic character only appear in two of these six films. Burr died in September of 1993, and CBS attempted to continue the series after his death. They never killed off Mason. He was away somewhere as a guest attorney filled in for him. The rest of the cast remained, and the name of the series was given an “A” before Perry Mason Movie. The style would more or less remain the same, but it just didn’t have the legs everyone was hoping for after the loss of Burr. Obviously, this is the last of these film collections. The team would continue to do 30 television movies from 1985-1995. CBS has now begun to package these reunion films in collections like this. You get six films on three discs. The discs appear in a plastic case, and the cases are held by a cardboard slipcase.
In this collection you’ll find the following movies:
The Case Of The Telltale Talk Show Host (05/21/1993)
“Mr. Mason is nothing if not entertaining.”
Dr. Shiela Carlin (Hartley) is a radio psychologist on a talk show station owned by the vindictive Winslow Keene, played by Regis Philbin. She suspects he might be behind an attempt to terrorize her in her home. He’s already taking punitive actions against the radio hosts while holding their contracts for hostage. Of course, she’s a friend of Perry’s, and he arrives to try and help, but is needed even more when Keene ends up dead and Carlin is the prime suspect. As per usual in these films, there’s the violent confrontation in public right before the guy gets clipped.
Other suspects include Clark Hunter, a conspiracy nut host played appropriately by G. Gordon Liddy. There’s Boomer Kelly, played by yet another real-life talk show host, Montel Williams. Kelly is a washed-up athlete hanging on to his sports show. A pair of shock jocks with something to hide also makes Perry’s suspect list. Judith Jansen (Ferrare) is the station’s celebrity gossip columnist.
Ken is busy hunting down a mysterious “sixth” man who attended a private meeting by five of the suspects. He gets another unintended female partner in young cop Cathy Paxton (Datcher). He’s tracking down an illegal gun, and it puts him on the trail of a hitman.
This “episode” is notable as containing the only on-screen kiss between Perry and Della.
The Case Of The Killer Kiss (11/29/1993)
“Mr. Mason, there’s no business like show business.”
Coming off that famous kiss between Perry and Della, the next episode appears somewhat appropriately titled. That kiss came at a good time. This would be the final appearance of Raymond Burr in the iconic role. He died before this episode even aired.
Mark Statton (Kanan) is a popular soap opera star who ends up killed when he kisses his co-star’s poisoned lips during a taping of the show. The prime suspect in the killing is the framed actress Kris Buckner (Francis), who happens to be the orphaned daughter of old Perry Mason friends. She’s almost an estranged ward, and so Perry arrives to help her out of the murder charges. It won’t be easy. She was being pushed off the show by the murdered actor, and she threatened to kill him in front of witnesses. When the poison is found in her dressing room, it looks like a slam-dunk conviction. But Perry fans know better. It might just be his final case, but Perry’s not going to let her take the rap for someone else.
Suspects include Mimi Hoyle (Moncrieff), who is one of the show’s production managers. She’s also a spurned lover of the deceased who was forced to give up a child. Alex Straub (Damon) plays a television judge now because his star career was sabotaged by the dead guy. The show is run by Evan King (Tylo) whom the studio was being pressured to fire by… guess who? Of course, there’s Charlotte Grant, the dead guy’s new surprise fiancée, and the girl he was kissing when he was killed.
The story was written by Gerry Conway, who was both an editor in chief at Marvel Comics and wrote for Spider-Man, creating the popular character The Punisher while on the Spider-Man gig. He’s a veteran of cop shows like Law & Order and worked for these guys on both Matlock and Diagnosis Murder. It’s no surprise that this is the best of the films in this collection. While he wrote a later episode, it wasn’t with Perry Mason himself, so the film was always going to fall a little flat.
The Case Of The Wicked Wives (12/17/1993)
“Of all the courtrooms in all the world, she had to walk into mine.”
This was the first attempt to continue the series without Raymond Burr. There was just a short turnaround from the previous “episode”, and it might look at first as if they wasted no time in replacing Burr. The truth is that the piece was already in pre-production when Raymond Burr died. Writer Joyce Burditt made the necessary changes to accommodate a new character. The show was also already committed to an air time on CBS.
Paul Sorvino is introduced as Perry’s long-time friend and lawyer, Anthony Caruso. The idea was to create a more eccentric and aggressive character to try to minimize the loss of the show’s star and titular character. The film opens with Caruso already in court pulling his own version of a “Perry Mason” to prove a client not guilty. The scene was obviously intended to show us that the upcoming wrongly-accused suspect was in good hands with Caruso. We then spend some time learning he’s a frustrated opera star who also likes to cook. This was a couple of years after Goodfellas, and the show wanted to accent the Italian heritage minus the mob connection. It came off as a little too much and distracted from the story. And while Sorvino certainly delivered a wonderful performance, it would be his one and only time in the Perry Mason courtroom.
Caruso comes to Denver at the request of his dear friend Dee Morrison, played by Kathy Ireland. She is married to the infamously difficult playboy and photographer David Morrison (Braeden). They want Caruso to entice his four ex-wives and supermodels to pose for a new art project he’s putting together for a museum. Caruso handled all of their divorces from David and turns on the charm to bring everyone together in Denver. There he uses the law offices and staff of his friend Perry who is “in Washington” and is happy to allow his friend the use of his resources. Caruso is going to be sorry he put the whole thing together when David ends up dead and all the girls had a reason to kill him.
Later Dee catches his assistant in a compromising position and has the requisite angry confrontation with her husband. Of course, he ends up dead, and Dee is framed for the rap. Now Caruso is really going to need Della’s and Ken’s help to untangle the mess he helped to make. He discovers that each model had a secret reason for agreeing to the project. It wasn’t Caruso’s silver tongue after all. The group of suspects is played by the likes of Bond Girl Maude Adams and Shelly Hack.
Meanwhile Ken is tracking the missing assistant Margo (Marshall) and ends up heading out into the mountains with a guide who has a taxi meter for a conscience. That’s the wonderful Leon Rippy as JD.
This is actually one of the better of the episodes, and absolutely the best of the post-Burr attempts. Because Sorvino was younger, he was more involved in the investigation, and there was more variety in the story itself. Obviously, the Ken cowboy stuff would have existed in the original form of the script. Sorvino would have made a good choice if they had deleted the opera persona. The name itself is such a lazy connection to the great tenor himself. Perhaps a spin-off might have worked. We’re never going to know.
The Case Of The Lethal Lifestyle (05/10/1994)
“It sounds like a wonderful story.”
The gang’s still here. Della and Ken are still working while Perry is still in Washington. But for these final three films, it will be Hal Holbrook as William McKenzie, another of Perry’s lawyer friends. McKenzie is an old-fashioned country lawyer who lives on a ranch in Utah and was once a famous prosecution attorney. Now he works the other side of the fence to help the wrongly accused. If this guy sounds a little like Matlock, it should come as no surprise. The same team behind the Atlanta country lawyer also produced these Perry Mason films. McKenzie isn’t a Matlock clone, however. He’s more of an old cowboy than southern gentleman. He loves to ride horses and brand steers. It’s amazing he still has any time left for lawyering. But he’ll ride the reins of the last three Perry Mason films.
Again we begin by watching our new hero putting the finishing touches on an unrelated case. He’s saving an unjustly condemned death-row inmate from pending execution by exposing the corrupt prosecutor. That’s when he gets a phone call from Perry “in Washington”. Perry wants him to go to Denver and deliver an address in his stead. Of course, it isn’t going to be as simple as that, as McKenzie settles into Perry’s office with the help of Della and Ken.
Robin Leach leads off the case with an episode of Lifestyles Of The Wealthy And Well Known (groan). If you’re not familiar with his Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous show, this one went right over your head. It seems that his character Adrian Lye has blackmailed celebrities to do his special before he ends up dead. Coincidentally chess champion Daniel Kingman (another groan) ends up the framed suspect and also happens to be a good friend of McKenzie’s. It turns out McKenzie bought him his first chess set when he was in juvenile detention. Now he has to prove the chess master didn’t engineer Dye’s death. Like the others he was blackmailed into attending, and his temper led him to a huge public blowout with the dead guy.
There are plenty of other suspects to choose from. Lydia Bishop, played by Diahann Caroll, was a star who succumbed to drug addiction and a suicide attempt that Dye was willing to expose. A British Duke (Rogers) with a supermodel wife has an affair to cover up. Peter Cartwright is played by everyone’s favorite nightmare, Robert Englund. He’s an action film director with a tragic secret in his past he wouldn’t want getting out. Hal Holbrook’s real-life wife until she died in 2010, Dixie Carter, plays Louise Archer, who runs her ailing husband’s pro basketball team and is known for being a ruthless dealmaker who also has a few skeletons in her closet.
While on the trail of another hitman, Ken finds himself another unwanted female partner, Laurel Crown (Hagan), claiming to be the victim’s wife.
Listen carefully and you’ll hear the familiar strains of the Diagnosis Murder theme throughout this episode. Again it’s the same team, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
Holbrook is instantly likable, and it’s easy to see why they settled on him to continue the series. But how long can Perry be out of town? Barbara Hale was also getting on a bit, and it wouldn’t be long before the grind would have gotten to her. She has a reduced role that gets smaller with each of these three films.
The Case Of The Grimacing Governor (11/09/1994)
“I don’t think you have the imagination to take up with a girl like that.”
Bill McKenzie returns, but this time it’s Della and Ken who are visiting to get the working-on-a-ranch experience. Fortunately for the weary workers, there’s legal work to do when Governor candidate Harlan Richards (Kercheval) is killed and his daughter Karen (Ulrich) is framed for the murder. Suspects include James Brolin as rival candidate Ryan Anderson and West Wing alumni John Spencer as the candidate’s handler, John Orlando. This is a very close role to the one he played on The West Wing.
James Brolin and Tony Curtis add a little extra star power to the film, but this one just doesn’t really stand out from the rest. Ken’s teamed up with another girl, and the plot appears to be a worse retread than usual for these kinds of films. You would think that the political angle might make it more interesting, but for some reason the story fails to develop any of these threads. There’s little doubt that it was all running out of steam at this point.
The Case Of The Jealous Jokester (04/10/1995)
“Juries hate rich people.”
This is the final entry in the long-running Perry Mason legacy. This time Perry is supposed to be in the Netherlands, and Della hands McKenzie off to a new secretary/girl Friday in Janice, played by Holland Taylor.
Dyan Cannon stars as Josie Joplin, the star of a family-values sit-com. She orchestrates a publicity stunt where she accuses production assistant Ivy West of having an affair with her co-star and husband, Toby (Roberts). It’s all played out in front of cameras, which worries McKenzie because he’s Ivy’s uncle. He travels to see Ivy and make sure she’s OK. Convinced he goes home but it’s a quick turnaround when Josie ends up dead and the PR stunt backfires on Ivy. Uncle Bill is on the case to protect her.
Suspects include Toby, who doesn’t appear too worked up about his loss. He’s also now the star of the show. There’s warm-up comedian Lisa Kaye, played by stand-up comic Victoria Jackson. She was once Josie’s stand-up partner, and now Josie has been holding her back from having a career of her own. Ben Landry (Rasche) is the business manager who’s now peddling her unreleased comedy concerts for a nice profit. Of course, he was about to be fired. Claire Howard is played by Family Ties veteran Tina Yothers. She’s another talent who is being held back by the dead comic. She has a bad-tempered boyfriend.
Ken’s dealing with a tabloid photographer named Patricia McDonald (Haje), and they’re on the trail of a mysterious driver of a jeep seen leaving the studio in a hurry the night Josie was killed. Of course, he falls into several traps and almost gets killed a couple of times. McKenzie has to come to the rescue more than once.
And so ends the Perry Mason magical mystery tour. There are no extras, and each disc contains two films. “This calls for a dismissal.”