Perry Mason: The Watery Witness - 1959
Broadcast originally on CBS October 10, 1959. Directed by Richard Kinon
Fay Wray (as retired movie star Lorna Thomas) is the main feature in this 1959 episode of Perry Mason. Though she won't make it all the way through the 52 minute tale (Wray is the murder victim here), the first half of the program gives us a slightly miniaturized version of Sunset Boulevard with Lorna Thomas as a temperamental star yearning for a comeback supported by a manager who provides a cocoon of illusion to keep her worn-out 'stardom' going.
Wray goes for a bit of elaborate posturing (perhaps ala' Gloria Swanson) to show us the level of self-absorbed living this movie star has fallen into. When confronted by a possibly long-forgotten daughter who was given up to adoption in infancy, this star turns bitter, conniving and cruel, seriously damaging any sympathy we might have for her. Soon a blackmailer starts in on the star, and the story begins to get overpopulated with bad guys.
The beginning of the episode also seems to have a borrowed setting right out of Leave Her to Heaven with a fight aboard a boat on a lake (though that might not be deliberate since almost any fight on a boat on a California lake brings that Gene Tierney film to mind.)
Director Kinon has plenty of nice shots of the lake-side setting, and zeros in on Fay Wray as the main human feature until the character is made unavailable by the plot. At age 52, Wray appears slender, employs a no-nonsense acting style, and is as professional as ever.
Raymond Burr delivers his typical authoritative presence as lawyer Perry Mason, sorting out the conflicting facts from the lies and getting at the heart of the matter. What happened to who, when did it happen and then getting characters to open up to reveal why they did what they did is a Perry Mason specialty.
Barbara Hale as the loyal confidential secretary Della Street gives us half of the ironic humour that softens the deadly tidings, with William Hopper (as private investigator Paul Drake) giving us the other half. William Talman as prosecutor Hamilton Burger also appears.
Related: William Tallman in Screen Directors Playhouse 1956 - Number 5 Checked Out
Original Page December 4, 2016
From former screen legends who have faded into obscurity to new revelations about the biggest movie stars, Valderrama unearths the most fascinating little-known tales from the birth of Hollywood through its Golden Age.
Winner of the 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award
Longlisted for the 2020 Moving Image Book Award by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation
Named a 2019 Richard Wall Memorial Award Finalist by the Theatre Library Association