Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Memoriam: Raymond Burr

(An unrelated note, but after going over that experimental piece of Della and Andy conversing at a point when I wasn’t exasperated with it, I decided I captured Andy’s voice after all. So I may finish and post it sometime.)

Today the post is a day early in honor of Raymond Burr, who left us September 12th, 1993. This year, the post is on time!

Of course, we all know what an incredible actor Raymond was. The quintessential Perry Mason. The perfect Robert Ironside. And he brought many other amazing characters to life, good and bad.

I’ve seen more of Ironside off and on over the past months. I’ve been particularly impressed by Lesson in Terror, in which Raymond has some extensive interaction with Simon Oakland. I still need to discuss that episode at the Simon blog. Simon plays a good guy in it, a close friend of Ironside’s. His son is mixed up with a bunch of teen rebels and has several run-ins and clashes with Ironside, who always gives the right answers to the kid’s queries.

I think my favorite exchange is when they discuss the Boston Tea Party. The kid wonders what Ironside would have done if he had been a policeman during that time and had been at the harbor. Ironside calmly replies that he would have done his duty and arrested the rebels. No matter how important the Boston Tea Party was to the American Revolution in hindsight, Ironside wouldn’t permit breaking the law. An interesting contrast with Perry, who will bend it if he deems it necessary.

Then I discovered an intense and intriguing and chilling gem this very week. While tinkering with that Tumblr account I shared, I learned more about a film called A Cry in the Night. I was able to track it down and watch it. Made in 1956, it features Richard Anderson, Natalie Wood, Raymond Burr, and Edmund O’Brien. Richard is dating Natalie, he’s hurt and she’s kidnapped by Raymond, and Edmund is her (very Simon Oakland-ish) father, the police captain.

Raymond’s character couldn’t be more far removed from Perry and Ironside, or indeed, any other character I’ve seen him play. We all know he often played villains before Perry, but they were generally cold and hard. This kidnapper is a complete mental case.

He is often very childlike. He insists he doesn’t want to hurt anyone and becomes distraught at the idea he might have killed Richard’s character. (He didn’t, thank goodness.) He worries that his prisoner will “get him in trouble.” He’s a Mama’s Boy, still very much tied to her apron strings despite being physically and chronologically an adult. He hates that she always waits up for him to get home from work, and says he hates her, but he seems to love her and hate her all at once.

(She, by the way, idolizes him and can’t believe he would do wrong. But the police finally do convince her that he’s kidnapped someone and that she needs to help them find him in order to save him.)

He displays signs of frightening and disturbing behavior all along, swinging from that to a more gentle soul all in a split-second. He caused a small dog’s death, but insists he hadn’t meant to kill it and had just wanted to stop it from crying all night. When his prisoner expresses her horror, he becomes stuck on the idea that she will feel better about being with him if he just removes the dog’s body.

He’s a pathetic and pitiable creature. He talks of how lonely he is, and how hard it was to always be teased and tormented in school, and how he always wanted to give a girl something nice as a present. He longs for a friend, and tries to recruit Natalie’s character in that capacity. She plays along for a bit but then tries to threaten him with his gun (which is empty). He takes it as a betrayal and becomes violent, forcing her to escape with him when the police arrive.

Her father, overcome by hatred, eventually starts beating him up when he’s cornered by them and Richard’s character. She pleads for him to stop, knowing what a sick mind her abductor has. And instead of fighting back, the kidnapper cries out, “Mother! Mother, help me!” The police captain backs off, realizing he can’t bring himself to further hurt a man in such a mental state.

All in all, it’s just an incredible, chilling, and heartbreaking performance. It’s elevated my opinion of Raymond’s acting abilities even higher than before. Definitely, this is a movie that all Raymond fans need to see. He slips so completely into the character that every move, every word, is entirely believable, even knowing how different the man is from the other roles Raymond has played.

Of course, Perry Mason will likely always remain my favorite of Raymond’s characters. I love most of all to see my favorite actors play good guys, and Perry is the Raymond Burr character I have the strongest connection with. But it’s still very enjoyable to branch out and see the other characters he has portrayed.

Raymond William Stacey Burr: Never gone from the hearts of his fans.


  1. I've been slowly reading some of your older posts.This one in particular got my attention because of your wonderful description of "A Cry in the Night'.I think this movie is a showcase for Burr's talent.It's often overlooked and that's a shame.His character is very much like Lenny in 'Of Mice and Men'.Burr was absolutely mesmerizing in it.

    1. Thank you so much! He really was incredible in that film. I wish it would get a DVD release. To my knowledge, it's still not available. I would totally buy it, for both Raymond and Richard.

      Good comparison with Lenny, too. I didn't think of that before, but I can totally see it now.