Raymond Burr for the Prosecution

As a Canadian-born actor, it seems a little ironic that Raymond Burr would wind up playing the iconic American defense attorney Perry Mason. But, as one who grew up watching Burr as the good guy lawyer who (almost) never lost a case, it was shocking for me to discover that his film career started in villainous roles.

In fact, Burr was (ironically) an iconic villain in more than 50 films released between 1946 and 1957, many of them falling within the category of film noir.

To an extent, Burr’s career was hobbled or defined (depending on how you look at it) by his obesity. Burr once told a journalist, “I was just a fat heavy. I split the heavy parts with Bill Conrad. We were both in our twenties playing much older men. … I was drowned, beaten, stabbed and all for my art. But I knew I was horribly overweight. I lacked any kind of self-esteem. At 25 I was playing the fathers of people older than me.”

Perhaps this accounts for the seething ferocity in Raymond Burr’s performances. And, in another ironic twist, it was in the movie A Place in the Sun that Burr made a heretofore rare appearance on the right side of the law—as a prosecutor.

A PLACE IN THE SUN, Raymond Burr, Montgomery Clift, 1951.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, first be advised that this post is full of spoilers, okay? This film is about a young man, George Eastwood (played by Montgomery Clift), who comes from the wrong (aka, poor) side of the wealthy Eastwood family. He’s an ambitious guy, who ends up working as an entry-level manager at the Eastman Company factory and hopes to rise in the ranks there. Unfortunately, George falls in love with rich “society girl” Angela Vickers (played by the drop-dead gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor)—she serves as the physical embodiment of all his material desires—but he knocks up impregnates one of the factory workers he manages, Alice Tripp (played dowdily by Shelley Winters)—who serves as unwelcome reminder of his poverty-stricken roots.

The news of Alice’s pregnancy and her insistence that she and George marry, because it’s the 1950s and abortion is for sluts nearly impossible to get without dying dangerous, pushes him toward a deadly solution—to murder Alice. And he almost does this. In fact, George goes through all the motions of doing so, going so far as to plan on taking her out in a boat and drowning her. But he changes his mind at the last moment. A moment too late, as it turns out, because Alice Tripp lives up to her name, figures out he doesn’t love her, stands up in the boat, and upsets it, thus drowning herself through her own clumsiness.

The inevitable result is that George is caught in a completely unjust trap of his own making. And he ends up arrested for murder and tried for it. Raymond Burr plays the small, but memorable, part of the prosecutor and he really pulls out the stops. His aggressive questioning of the accused culminates in a scene where he smashes an oar down on a boat with such force, it smacks of the future courtroom theatrics of the part he’d end up playing later—only for the other side.

PLACE IN THE SUN, Montgomery Clift, Walter Sande, Fred Clark, Raymond Burr, 1951

However, Raymond Burr’s performance in A Place in the Sun caught the eye of Gail Patrick and her husband Cornell Jackson, who considered casting Burr in the part of (ironically!) Hamilton Burger in the Perry Mason series. Can you imagine? 🙂

This post is submitted as part of the #OCanada blogathon, co-hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy!

This entry was posted in Actors, Blogathan, Classic Movies, Drama, Tributes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Raymond Burr for the Prosecution

  1. I love Raymond Burr as The Heavy, but I also like him as the wise, slightly world-weary Perry Mason, too.

    You’re right about Burr’s performance in “A Place in the Sun”. It’s a small part, but Burr gives it impact far beyond his limited screen time. In this role, as in all his other roles, he is completely credible.

    Debbi, thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Raymond B. to the party! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      I think it really hit me, because “A Place in the Sun” was the first film I saw with Burr in it. So, that was my first exposure to him in a part other than Perry Mason.

      The next one was “Rear Window”, which was shocking enough. But then to find out that he was a renown villain for film noir!

      Watching old movies has been a real education for me! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your description of Raymond Burr and his role in A Place in the Sun. He created many memorable heavies and I hope he was proud of that work.

    If the Perry Mason screen tests are still up on YouTube you can see Burr’s credible Burger, and even William Hopper’s not bad at all Perry Mason try. So glad Ray insisted they give him a shot at Perry, and Gardner’s approval.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbi says:

      Thanks! They were both such talented actors, I’m sure they would’ve been great if the roles were switched. But stilll … 🙂

      But I’ll have to look for those videos. 🙂


  3. Pingback: #OCanada Blogathon – Day 1 Recap – Silver Screenings

  4. Todd B says:

    I’ve seen quite a few noir films that featured Burr, and I liked him in those roles; funny, though, that his character in ‘A Place in the Sun’ looks a lot like a younger, dark-haired version of his Thorwald character in ‘Rear Window’!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review! I had the chance to see this film on big screen once! Raymond Burr was great in the roles, but scared me hahaha. I had no idea he was complexed by his physical appearance. That’s sad. :/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kristina says:

    Love Burr and he was so great at different types of roles. Great post and thanks for being part of the blogathon!!

    Liked by 1 person

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