Perry Mason steps into court once again to defend an old friend from his law school days, Arthur Westbrook (Patrick O' Neil), whom has been charged with the murder of his cosmetics tycoon wife Alana Westbrook (Morgan Fairchild). She had developed a revolutionary anti-ageing cream, which she claimed to have tested on herself. Although she looked as if she was only in her 20's, she produced a birth certificate at a press conference revealing her age to be 62. After a break in at her offices in which someone had unsuccessfully tried to steal her formula, she took it home for safe keeping but on the night after her birthday party she was shot dead by an intruder in her home who also stole the formula. Other potential suspects for the murder include Barbara Fox (Polly Bergen), Alana's CEO, who wanted to leave the company for a better paid job with a rival cosmetics firm, but Alana refused to let her out of her contract. Her chief chemist Dr Shell (Jonathan Banks) was devastated when Alana confiscated all of his research materials, which suggested she was going to claim the work as entirely her own and cut him out of the profits. Then there is Scott Collins (Scott Thompson Baker), Alana's executive assistant, with whom she had been having an affair, but she also kept him paying for his apartment and his clothes and Perry also discovers that he had been very well provided for in her will...
A good if flawed attempt to vary the Perry Mason formula a little with an unusual plot involving industrial espionage and deception within the cosmetics industry with plenty of intrigue to keep murder mystery addicts happy. Raymond Burr's courtroom scenes are more effective here and the actor remains a commanding presence as the ace attorney giving the various suspects both barrels on the witness stand. In this feature, Perry and his associate, the rookie lawyer Ken Malansky (William R Moses) enlist the help of a young, attractive private eye called Lauren Kent (Lauren Lane) who isn't above extortion, blackmail and breaking and entering to win her case. All the evidence points to one Harley Griswold (David Warner), a womaniser who sponges off wealthy society women to fund his expensive lifestyle and Alana was once one of his conquests. But, they had fallen out after he had told a journalist in a society magazine about her alleged financial problems and that her cosmetics business was on the brink of going under. Alana's ditching him could have finished his lavish lifestyle and Perry considers him to be a strong suspect for murder. The lawyer puts him on the stand and confronts him with what seems to be hard circumstantial evidence against him such as a fax arranging to meet a Swiss cosmetics company plus a one way ticket to Zurich, which suggests he might have stolen the formula after murdering Alana and was about to sell it to this firm and clean up. But, Perry is left red faced when it comes out that the lovely Lauren has set him up by laying a false trail of evidence. She vanishes and Ken is despatched to find her. The way Mason's case falls apart in the courtroom allows for some breath taking suspense and the look on the prosecutor's face as he thinks his case against Westbrook is now in the bag is priceless.
The film does tail off, however, as Malansky tracks down the double crossing Lauren to the small town of Porterville where, as it happens, the murdered woman grew up. After Lauren is murdered by a sniper in the mountains, luck falls Ken and Perry's way far too easily for my liking as a search of her house provides them with enough evidence to clear Westbrook and expose the real culprit. For an episode that started off so well I thought that the screenwriter became lazy and allowed the solution of the case to be revealed too easily and I had hoped that he would have made it harder for Perry and Ken to nail the real killer than was actually the case. But no and this affects the suspense aspect that had begun so well.
The film has many familiar faces in the supporting cast; including the veteran British actor David Warner who is perfectly cast as Harley Griswold. You will also recognise Tippi Hedren from Hitchcock's The Birds and Marnie as Warner's society woman girlfriend Beverley Courtney, but it is a disappointing part that gives her very little to do apart from giving Griswold an alibi at the trial. Morgan Fairchild is good as Alana, but the best performance in the film comes from Jonathan Banks as Dr Shell who invokes a real depth of feeling as the chemist who had his life's work stolen by the woman he loved and who had double crossed him. Lauren Lane also deserves praise as the young derring-do private eye Lauren Kent.
Overall, this is an interesting attempt to break away from the standard Mason formula. It is not without its faults, but it is enjoyable nonetheless and some good performances will ensure that fans will love it.