Perry Mason: Season 3 vol 2
One of the most enduring genres for television has been the legal drama. There seems to be something about lawyers battling out the finer points of law in the pursuit of justice. This is a carry-over from the radio days and before that lawyer motifs were extremely popular in mystery novels. The lawyers in these series didn’t just do paperwork and argue in front of the juries. That wouldn’t have been very exciting, and after all, television is supposed to entertain the audience. No, they had to take it on themselves to get to the bottom of the case. This usually meant not trusting the facts as the police presented them. This did seem to be the other side of the coin from the police dramas that often aired opposite the lawyer shows. In those shows, the police were always right, and the defense lawyers were tantamount to the bad guys. In the annals of lawyer shows there is one who stands above the pack. He was the ultimate defender of the falsely accused. His name was Perry Mason. If you were accused of some heinous crime back then, you didn’t need a dream team of lawyers all you had to have on your side was a persistent lawyer like Mason. This is the ser, is that shows like ‘LA Law,’ ‘The Practice’ and even ‘Law & Order’ owe a lot to. It defined the legal drama on television and should be a part of any serious home collection. Some of the kids in your home may think the TV is set wrong; there is no color. Just tell them that back in the day quality came in black a, an,d white. CBS Paramount has been releasing the series to DVD slowly but surely. TV series back then typically had 24 - 26 episodes instead of the usual 13 now they have divided each season into two volumes. The one under consideration here is season three, volume 2 which contains the last fourteen episodes.
Mason was already a famous fictional lawyer long before he was shown on television. There were over eighty mystery novels by author Erle Stanley Gardner as well as numerous theatrical films in the thirties and forties. After its nine-year run on CBS, there was a revival TV show in 1973 that lasted one season. That incarnation did result in some twenty-five made for TV movies aired between 1985 and 1993 and only ended with the death of the man who will always be remembered as Mason., Raymond Burr. The reason for the success of this series comes down to the attention to details and the sheer quality of the production. Each episode was constructed like a one-hour long film noir movie instead of a regular TV show. Now, a half a century after these episodes were first shown they are as great as ever. Admittedly there was a strict formula to the episodes. Each one was named ‘The Case of…’; Mason gave so much of his concentration to a case that there was room for only one a week. Typically the rest of the title was alliteration such as ‘Wayward Wife’ or Nimble Nephew.’ Usually, the first act of the episode was the setup. It showed that the soon to be deceased victim richly deserved his fate. Often the one wrongly accused would be heard shouting ‘I’ll kill you’ just before the demise. Then there is the arrest and the hapless accused seeking his last resort for freedom, Perry Mason. Next, there was the investigation where Mason and his team discover the clues to the real killer. Finally, there was the showdown in the courtroom. One thing that is very unrealistic is the real murderer would frequently break down on the stand and confess. Just ask any real trail attorney how often that happens.
Mason didn’t have a large staff. It consisted of his secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and a private investigator on perpetual retainer to Mason, Paul Drake (William Hopper). Della would answer the phones and make appointments for her boss. Ladies remember this was a time when a woman’s place in business was such chores. Della was also the person Mason trusted the most. He would discuss the case with her and value her opinion, something uncharacteristic for that day. Mason would be too busy with briefs and other matters, so it was up to Paul too hit the streets and find the clues and information that the detectives of the Los Angles police overlooked. This would typically put Mason and Drake in direct opposition with the man in charge of the police investigation, Lt. Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins). When it came time to go before the judge and jury Mason’s adversary was district attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman). It is amazing that Burger and Tragg kept their jobs; they had the worse track record possible. Every week they had an airtight case that would be broken to pieces by Mason. Considering every one of Mason’s clients was innocent. This is a good thing. If this were real life, the city would have been bankrupted by all the civil wrongful prosecution claims that would have been filed.
This was one of the best of the old school ‘shoe leather’ method of solving crimes. Now we have laboratories to analyze the tiniest speck of matter left at the crime scene. Back then Drake would have to go and talk to people and slowly gather information that would lead to a break in the case. The best the police had been fingerprinted, and there was always a logical reason why they were on the murder weapon. Drake was also typical of a fifties sidekick; he got beaten up more than a few times. After all, you can’t have the star treated in such a fashion. There were some variations on the theme present here. In one episode Burger had to set down from the prosecution. As it turns out, an old friend of his is the suspect. For once Burger was glad Mason was on the case and that he wouldn’t have to lose for at least one week. Some of the plot devices used here date the series. One example was where a cigarette girl is threatened and then accused of murder. For those too young to remember nightclubs would hire an attractive young woman to parade around in skimpy outfits selling cigarettes from a tray strapped to them. Also dating the episode is the title ‘The Case of the Singing Skirt.’ Try calling a woman a skirt now and see what happens. The acting is incredible here. Many of the guest stars went on to fame on television or film. Of course, this was the role that made Burr one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He would later go to the other side of the case as the first disabled detective, Ironside.
CBS Paramount has perhaps the greatest collection of vintage and current television around. They are the place to go for DVDs of the series you loved growing up or have come to love now. This is a must have and something that you will enjoy for a long time.
Posted 11/14/08 Posted 10/17/2018