Monday, July 3, 2017

Perry Mason Returns!

Nineteen years after the last Perry Mason episode aired on CBS, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale returned to the small screen in their most famous roles. The only surviving members of the original cast, they reprised Perry and Della for the logically-titled Perry Mason Returns, a 96-minute made-for-TV movie on NBC.

Barbara Hale as Della.
Della has spent the previous eight years working for Arthur Gordon (Patrick O'Neal), a wealthy executive that runs Gordon Industries. Gordon chooses his birthday celebration to inform his three children and wife (stepmom to the kids) that he has written all of them out of his will. He plans to leave the bulk of his fortune to his foundation and appoint Della to manage it. Later that night, Gordon is stabbed to death! We see the face of the murderer, but that's really irrelevant because it's obvious that he's just performing a job and isn't the brains behind Gordon's death.

The real culprit has gone to great pains to ensure that Della is framed for the murder. When she's arrested, Perry Mason steps down as an appellate court judge so he can defend her. In need of a good detective agency, Perry turns to Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt). Initially, Perry is concerned that Paul, who plays sax at a local jazz club and dabbles in writing, lacks the experience for such an important investigation. Their developing relationship plays out in the background of Della's case.

Holland Taylor as a suspect.
Fans of the Perry Mason TV series may be disappointed with this revival. Whereas the TV episodes were typically concise, well-written mysteries, this TV movie lumbers along and takes its time to reach the courtroom climax. The suspects are a pretty lame bunch, too, with the exceptions of Holland Taylor (who plays the widow) and Richard Anderson (Donovan's lawyer). Anderson was actually a regular on the final season of the Perry Mason TV series, playing Lieutenant Drumm. Taylor later won an Emmy for portraying a judge on the legal TV series The Practice. She also had a connection with Barbara Hale (more on that later).

William Katt as Paul Drake Jr.
Still, the reason to watch Perry Mason Returns is to see Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale return to their famous roles. They do not disappoint--though it did take awhile for me to accept Perry with a beard. This telefilm became the second highest rated show for the 1985-86 TV season and led to 29 additional films that aired between 1986 and 1995. William Katt, Barbara Hale's real-life son, played Paul Jr, in the first nine. He was replaced with William R. Moses portraying a different private investigator in the remaining installments.

Burr starred in 26 of the 30 telefilms. When he died in 1993, each of the four remaining films were subtitled A Perry Mason Mystery (even though Perry was "out of town" during each case). Paul Sorvino was the lead attorney in The Case of the Wicked Wives, while Hal Holbrook played lawyer William "Wild Bill" McKenzie in the last three. Barbara Hale still played Della, though she only appeared briefly in the final installment The Case of the Jealous Jokester. Holland Taylor portrays McKenzie's assistant in that one.


  1. Such excitement to hear the theme again the night this first aired. I love the bit where, after arresting Della, the cop (was it Al Freeman or somebody else?) says "I hope she knows a good lawyer".

  2. I think I saw this. But my main disappointment was the fact that Della wound up working for someone other than Perry Mason. I mean, come on - how did that happen? And why didn't they marry? Anyone could see that they had real affection for each other. I was denied my happily ever after. Boo-hoo.

  3. Not long ago, my friend Max Allan Collins wrote in his blog about the time that he and Raymond Burr almost collaborated on a series of novels (almost being the key word).
    Burr was doing the Perry Mason TV movies in Denver at that point. MAC got to spend some quality time as he and Burr worked out a proposal on what the novels should be.
    But that's another story, which MAC tells far better in his post, which he put up not long after Barbara Hale's passing (I'd link to it if I had any idea how); just go to the FOMAC site and start scrolling.

    Oh, and Yvette:
    At least one of your questions will be answered there ...

  4. I enjoyed the movies and liked the older Perry Mason more than the younger one. I am more of a fan of Ironside, but Raymond Burr sacrificed his life to complete both the Ironside movie and the next to last Perry Mason movie.