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The 5 best Raymond Burr movies of the 1950s

Images: The Everett Collection

Raymond Burr was a workaholic. The Perry Mason star lived at the studio. Literally. Though his fame afforded him a home in Malibu, Burr slept in a trailer or a bungalow on the production lot while the legal drama was in production from 1957–66.

Before landing his defining TV role as an ace Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer, Burr worked just as hard in a fleet of Hollywood films. If you only know Burr and Mason, his earlier big-screen resume will surprise you. Built tall and heavy, Burr typically found himself typecast in noir flicks as a menacing tough guy. He was a goon in the solid, if unnecessary, 1951 remake of the Fritz Lang classic M. Lang would later direct Burr in The Blue Gardenia (1953), casting him as a sleazeball.

Burr he took roles in Westerns and B-grade sci-fi, too. In Bride of the Gorilla (1951), he literally transforms into the titular ape, which gives you an idea of what casting directors thought of him.

Most of this early work goes overlooked today, outside of some diehard TCM and noir aficionados. In the 1950s, Burr started to land roles in bigger films. Even if he was not the headliner (which was often the case), Burr shined in these black & white movies, which paved the way for his television career. 

Here are five of our favorite Raymond Burr films that any fan of Perry Mason and Ironside should investigate.

1

Rear Window

1954

Hard to go wrong with Hitchcock. Burr played a pivotal role in this masterpiece of paranoia. Sporting wire-rimmed spectacles and a shock of silver hair, Burr portrayed the wonderfully named Lars Thorwald, the object of Jimmy Stewart's suspicion. Confined to a wheelchair, a professional photographer peeps on his neighbors during a heat wave. He witnesses, he believes, Thorwald offing his wife. And thus begins the suspense….

2

A Place in the Sun

1951

Certainly the second-best film overall on this list, A Place in the Sun does not feature Burr prominently. His name is not even one of the many typed on the poster. But, this movie played a significant part in Burr's career. In this steamy melodramatic tragedy, Burr steals scenes in a late supporting role as District Attorney R. Frank Marlowe. His presence and performance in the courtroom were burned into the brain of Gail Patrick, executive producer of Perry Mason, who had Burr in mind when casting the series. Perry fans can thank this George Stevens classic.

3

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

1956

Kaiju! This is the monster movie that started it all. Well, the American version. In 1954, Toho studios in Tokyo unleashed the giant thunder lizard on Japan. It quickly proved to be a global sensation. Two years later, the Japanese original was heavily re-edited with additional new footage. Burr was cast as the American hero, a reporter named Steve Martin who witnesses the monstrous devastation firsthand. Which amounts to a lot of reaction shots of Burr intercut with Godzilla stomping buildings. But it's cool to see Perry Mason and a giant radioactive lizard in the same movie.

4

Crime of Passion

1957

This crime flick pairs Burr with another Hollywood legend, Barbara Stanwyck, who would later transition to the small screen herself on The Big Valley. Stanwyck plays a columnist-turned-housewife who grows unsatisfied with her husband's career as a cop. She schemes to push him ahead as a detective — which leads her to plot against his professional rival, played by Burr. It does not end well for Burr.

5

Affair in Havana

1957

A decade before he played the wheelchair-bound hero on Ironside, Burr portrayed a paralyzed industrialist in his John Cassavettes film of a dark love triangle in Cuba. Filmed entirely on location in the country, in the waning days before the revolution, Affair in Havana revolves around Burr's character's wife finding pleasure in another man, a jazz pianist played by Cassavettes. Burr wears a platinum buzz-cut and sharp white suits, which gives him an Ironside-meets-Miami Vice vibe.

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