Duo to relaunch franchise as a feature film

Warner Bros. and Team Downey are pairing to adapt the Perry Mason property as a feature film, with Robert Downey Jr. eyeing the project as a potential starring vehicle.

Like the original series of books by Erle Stanley Gardner about the irrepressible defense attorney, “Perry Mason” will be set in the rough-and-tumble world of early 1930s L.A. and feature Mason’s secretary, Della Street, private investigator Paul Drake and Mason’s longtime courtroom nemesis, Hamilton Burger.

Team Downey principals Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey will produce with Robert Cort, while David Gambino, Eric Hetzel and Joe Horacek will exec produce with Susan Feiles and Chris Darling. The producers are looking for a writer; script will be based on an original story by Downey Jr. and Gambino.Warner Bros. exec Jon Berg will oversee the project for the studio.

Cort and his Robert Cort Prods. exec Hetzel teamed with Darling and Feiles of Action Entertainment to bring the idea for the feature relaunch of “Perry Mason” to Team Downey. Estate attorney Horacek negotiated the rights deal on behalf of Paisano Prods.

Gardner’s 82 “Perry Mason” novels and dozens of short stories have been published in 37 languages, with book sales exceeding 425 million. Gardner mentored both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett but surpassed them both in sales — combined. At the height of his popularity, Gardner sold an average of 26,000 “Perry Mason” books per day.

A “Perry Mason” radio series began in 1937, running 3,257 episodes, and there were six feature films beginning in the 1930s from Warners. But the character is perhaps best known as the protag of the popular TV show starring Raymond Burr, which ran on CBS from 1957-66 and featured memorable theme music composed by Fred Steiner. The series still plays in 87 languages around the world, and Burr also starred in a series of “Perry Mason” telepics in the 1980s and ’90s.

Robert Downey Jr., who next stars in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” is currently reprising his role as Iron Man in Marvel’s “The Avengers.” He is repped by CAA.

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