Thursday, February 16, 2012

The New Perry Mason: Really as bad as all that?

Along with the majority of the world, I detest remakes. (In fact, that's probably one of the few things I agree with other people on.) Every now and then one comes along that’s passable (can’t think of one), and even more rarely, one that surpasses the original. (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Desert Song.)

I have steadfastly refused to even bother with The New Perry Mason. Apparently, so did the great number of TV watchers, since after 16 episodes it flopped. It was only seven years after the end of the original Perry Mason. Most people still remembered the original cast too fondly to be able to enjoy watching newcomers try at playing the same roles.

But is it really as bad as all that?

Good question.

The only episode I’ve really been interested in seeing is The Ominous Oath with Simon Oakland. Unfortunately, that appears to be one of a couple of episodes that is almost impossible to track down. So ironic. But, after some encouragement from a friend, I finally decided to buckle down and give some other episodes a chance. The ones I tinkered with were The Violent Valley, which was his recommendation, and The Telltale Trunk. My conclusions?

Well, they’re not all bad. In fact, just watching on their own merits, they’re not so bad at all. They’re very . . . 1970s in their feel. The issues, the outfits, the hairstyles, the film coloring, the people. . . . And I enjoy the 1970s.

The show had a lot of people in the crew from the original Perry, so that probably helped a lot towards keeping the plot format the same. And the scriptwriters, I believe, were also people from the original. The dialogue made me very happy. It was dialogue I could easily imagine our beloved original cast using. Every time they spoke, almost, I could imagine Raymond Burr or William Hopper or one of the others saying their words.

And the actors themselves. How were they? Well . . . I’ll be honest, I kind of agree with someone else’s assessment about robotic delivery, at least on Monte Markham’s part. I got the impression that he was trying too hard to be Raymond Burr and failing miserably.

I haven’t got much of a feel for the new Della Street, played by Sharon Acker. She’s very 1970s, blonde, and younger than I can ever imagine Della being in the series. She’s sweet and nice from what I saw, but I couldn’t tell if she really has much personality.

Paul Drake, played by Albert Stratton, was fine. His dialogue delivery was among the best and reminded me a lot of William Hopper. His build was similar too.

Lieutenant Tragg is interesting. Dane Clark is certainly younger than Ray Collins was when he got the original role, but he still appears to be older than the rest of the cast. His dialogue is, perhaps, the most different, but that may only be because Ray Collins himself had such a distinctive and memorable speech pattern. Dane Clark doesn’t try to imitate that, most likely for the better.

And Hamilton Burger? Well, Harry Guardino shows up looking more like Erle Stanley Gardner’s original vision of the character as described in the books. Hence, he has a moustache. Strange to picture. But I enjoyed his delivery. He seemed at ease in the part.

And as for character interaction. . . . The Telltale Trunk absolutely thrilled and delighted me. There was one of those scenes in Hamilton’s office between him and Perry as they discuss elements of the case. They seemed to be very friendly towards each other and their dialogue was much like that of Raymond Burr’s and William Talman’s from the original series.

One thing that made me blink. Hamilton made no objections during the court scene at all, and there were several places where I thought William Talman’s Hamilton would have objected. I don’t know if this is normal for The New Perry Mason or if Hamilton just didn’t have any objections that day. Actually, the judge was the vocal one, sometimes scolding Perry a bit.

And another thing that kind of excited me. Just a little thing, but I loved what it implied. Dane Clark’s Lieutenant Tragg still sits on Hamilton’s desk the way Ray Collins’ Tragg sometimes did. (And while they were questioning a suspect, no less!) For him to do that certainly indicates the characters are close friends in this version too. You don’t sit on the desk of a mere associate unless you’re trying to be very brazen!

On the downside, they spent very little time in the courtroom in The Telltale Trunk. I'm not sure if that was an isolated incident either. Some of the original Perry episodes were the same way; it all depended. I'd have to watch more to judge for sure. And there wasn't much of an epilogue sequence. It ended as court let out, with just a few scant words in closing. That was disappointing, considering the fun epilogues of the original.

I didn’t have time to fully watch both episodes all the way through, so I intend to go back and see what I skipped over at a later date. I may also tinker with other episodes.

The Telltale Trunk also made me happy because of the guest-stars. Both Richard Anderson and Keenan Wynn were there! It was a very pleasant surprise. Keenan Wynn has long been a favorite of mine, ever since I saw him in his string of Disney movies. And Richard Anderson, of course, is our Lieutenant Drumm.

In The Telltale Trunk he plays the defendant, a hapless man who made a joke about murdering a creep and randomly came up with a plan for how to do it. He emphasized to his associates that it was a joke. Unfortunately, someone bugging the place heard and decided to do it for real. And Richard’s character got the blame.

It was so surreal every time he said “Perry.” It was just like Drumm used to say it, only now he was talking to a completely different Perry.

When it comes to the main stars, I believe Dane Clark is the one with whom I’m the most familiar. I’ve definitely seen him in things before; I recognized him immediately. I just never had a name to go with the face. And I still can’t think of what I watched that he was in.

Monte Markham, oddly enough, I can only recall from that off-the-wall comedy The Second Hundred Years. Someone whom I would like to think of as a friend showed me the trailer for it several months back. Apparently it made such an impression that it became hard for me to imagine Monte in anything dramatic. But I have seen him in other things before and just don’t remember. I’ll take greater stock in the future. says that he was in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, which I remember seeing, but I don’t remember beyond the name (The Mystery of Pirate’s Cove) and an episode of Diagnosis Murder entitled Dead in the Water. I’ve seen just about every episode of that, so I probably saw that one too, but it’s been years since I’ve seen anything other than season 1 (which I bought last year).

Harry Guardino, well, who hasn’t heard of Dirty Harry? He played a police lieutenant in that. Probably his most widely viewed role, although I’ve never seen the film. I have probably seen him in things, however, and just can’t recall at the moment.

Della and Paul’s actors I honestly don’t remember much. According to, Albert Stratton was in The Last of the Belles, a very strange movie that I did have occasion to see. And Sharon Acker was in the Mission: Impossible episode Trapped, which I saw a couple of weeks ago for the second time. She was also in an episode of The Wild Wild West that I believe I saw.

My ultimate conclusion is that, while of course The New Perry Mason can’t compare to our beloved original, and I can fully understand why it flopped, it is worth a try. There’s definitely some good stuff in there. (And I still want to find that episode with Simon. . . .)

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