Well, I finally bit the bullet and watched Perry Mason Returns today. My feelings are, as I expected, mixed.
To be honest, overall the movie was largely what I expected from it, in plot, tone, and execution. There were few surprises for me.
Featuring a newly recorded version of the theme was wonderful. It added a feeling of “this is so right/this is really a Perry Mason movie.” It was the perfect opening and closing.
The set-up, with a murdered boss and his estranged family all suspect, seemed like classic Perry. I really got the vibe of “this is like a Perry episode” when we met the suspects and saw and heard their reasons for disliking the victim.
Della was absolutely adorable. I always liked her fine in the series, but I think I like her even more in the film. She blossomed into such a sweet mother/grandmotherly type. I love that she smiled for her difficult boss and was so close with Paul Jr.
I was glad that there wasn’t any mention of Paul Senior being dead, but not including any line about what had happened to him felt sad and like a glaring omission. It almost seemed like they were deliberately trying to avoid the topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the actors, indeed, were.
Paul Jr. having to let all the other operatives go also seemed really sad, especially when thinking back on the agency when Paul Senior ran it. There were so many operatives then!
I loved the touch of Paul Senior’s picture on Paul Jr.’s desk.
I was surprised that wasn’t even one scene of Perry serving in the capacity of a judge at the beginning. I thought maybe he’d be in a court case and someone would deliver a note about Della being in trouble. Instead, we don’t see him until he arrived following a phone call from Della about being arrested for her recent boss’s murder.
Perry certainly became gruff through the years. I definitely picked up on some Ironside-ish traits, particularly his refusal to tell Paul Jr. that he was doing a good job until the very end. I suppose the idea was that Perry was growing older and a bit more aloof, but I wasn’t sure I liked that change to the character. Perry and Ironside should be two different people. Perry is a lot warmer in the original series, especially to younger people. I can’t see the Perry of the original series being so standoffish where praising Paul Jr. (when he warranted it) was concerned.
Richard Anderson was absolutely adorable too, speaking of adorable people. I loved him through the film and just wish that he hadn’t been the Big Bad. I also thought his relationship with the victim’s daughter was very sweet—or it would have been, if his character hadn’t been married.
His character was familiar with both Perry and Della, and they had some fun scenes together. When he was friendly and kind with them, it reminded me so much of Lieutenant Drumm, and I wished again that Richard had brought that character back.
The police Lieutenant they did have was very generic and forgettable. Paul Jr.’s Sergeant Stratton friend was more memorable, although Paul Jr. was certainly proving a pest! All in the line of saving Della, of course, but poor Sergeant Stratton.
Paul Jr. was very right about having his own style of being a P.I. He seemed to fall back on the clichés of a private eye constantly passing himself off as someone else. He pretended to be an insurance agent, among other things, and his utter gall in trying to remove the evidential wig from the hitman’s hotel suite was appalling. Paul Senior would have totally had a fit! I can just imagine him lecturing Paul Jr. on his conduct.
I wasn’t totally sure what to make of the character. I love the adorableness of him being played by Barbara Hale’s son; you could see the bond between them in their scenes and even when they spoke of each other while not being in the same scene. But I guess I feel like how a lot of fans feel about David Gideon, in the respect of feeling he was there mainly to cater to a younger fan base.
The original series didn’t need to fall back on such stunts; I’ve run across many Perry fans who say they started watching when they were kids. If the series could hold the attention of young people during its original run, it could hold the attention of young people in the 1980s, too. My interest certainly proves that it can continue to grab the attention of the youngest generations. It doesn’t need a character from my age bracket to make it more interesting.
That said, since they really needed a P.I., I thought it was lovely to have it be Paul’s son instead of some random guy. I adore that Perry said that he had known Paul Jr. all of his life. I have an image of Paul Senior making Perry the godfather and Della the godmother. Lots of family and friendship squee.
The prosecutor being a woman was fun to see. That’s something I would have enjoyed seeing in the original series. But I wasn’t sure what to make of her, either. While Hamilton always works for the ends of justice above everything else, and is happy when the real murderers are exposed even if he has to lose a case, this lady seemed to be quite upset about losing even with the murderer uncovered. Her facepalm when the judge ordered a dismissal was rather eyebrow-raising. (Or perhaps, I suppose, she was just upset that she hadn’t uncovered the truth herself, rather than that she had lost.) On the other hand, I really liked that she pushed her feelings aside and went over to congratulate Perry on winning.
The movies are extremely popular with Perry/Della relationship fans, and it’s easy to see why. They had some lovely scenes together in the movie; the part where Perry was introduced and Della went to him and cried is very moving and emotional. They had quite a good deal of interaction throughout, and of course, their interaction in this and in the succeeding movies is probably in large part why the television movies were such a success.
It was apparent that there were deliberate nods to the original series, even slipping in a mention of Hamilton by the current district attorney and the aforementioned picture of Paul Senior. But, try as I might, when all was said and done, the movie was not Perry as I know and love it. I knew the television movies never could be, with only two original characters returning. It’s a treasure that Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale reprised their roles, but everyone is needed for it to really feel like Perry Mason, not just Perry and Della.
It’s so sad that for all the absent characters except Steve (and Sergeant Brice), the actors were dead at the time the film was made. I wonder what a Perry reunion movie would have been like if more of them had still been alive and willing to take part as the characters they played on the series.
I have to admit, I’m now wondering all the more what to think where MeTV’s showings of the movies are concerned. I don’t know if I want to use as much tape as it would take to record the ones they’ll show, especially since tapes are so expensive these days and there are other things I want to record far more (such as Cannon). Nor am I sure that I even want to take the time to watch the movies. I was growing fairly restless by the time we reached the one-hour mark of this one.
I guess what I’d really like would be to just pick out the Perry and Della moments in the other films and view those, because even though I’m not an active fan of the romantic pairing, I love their interaction and am very interested in their shared scenes in the films.
Actually, I am very interested in any of Della’s scenes, too, but I imagine most of her scenes are shared with Perry. While I adored her in the movie even more than in the series, I think I prefer Perry in the original series. Things like him exhibiting Ironside-ish behavior turned me off a bit on his portrayal in the movie.
While I am glad that I finally got around to watching this film, I honestly can hardly wait until I see my next episode of the original series (which will hopefully be tonight if not right now).
As a parting note, I saw Lee Miller’s name in the credits. He played a security guard, but try as I might, I can’t think where he was in the film. Can anyone enlighten me? I love that he was involved with Raymond Burr’s projects all the way into the 1980s!
And to everyone who will be watching the Perry movie on MeTV tomorrow night (it’s the All-Star something, I think), I hope you enjoy it! (Especially if you’ve never before seen one of the films.)