Perry Mason: Season 9, vol. 2
Television series depicting the various aspects of our system of jurisprudence come and go on a fairly regular basis typically never absent from the season line up for any given season. For nine years starting in 1957 one legal oriented series dominated the airwaves; ‘Perry Mason’. During that period son 271 episodes were produced but that represented only part of the legacy left behind by this ultimate defense attorney. Prior to his television career Perry Mason was a character in a series of bestselling mystery novels by Erle Stanley Gardner which was followed by a popular radio show. The ‘da da da….duh duh’ opening notes to the theme music composed by Fred Steiner are beyond iconic; they are infused in our popular culture even to this day. After the series wrapped popular demand resulted in 30 movies during the decade between 1985 and 1995. This was a record for follow-up made for TV movies of any genre. Starting in 2006 Paramount began releasing the entire series at the rate of approximately 2 half season volume per year. We are now at the end of this seven year journey with the release of season 9 volume 2 and the final fifteen episodes of this ground breaking series. The name Perry Mason has become synonymous with the successful, dedicated defense attorney.
The format that each individual episode followed was pretty much the same with some slight variation notable through the years. First the introduction; the primary participants including the soon to be deceased, are introduced. At this point a sufficient amount of exposition is provided to establish the fundamental relationships and at least a prima facie suspect for the murder most foul. Next the police arrive. Throughout most of the run law enforcement was represented by Lieutenant Tragg until the waning health of the actor, Ray Collins, resulted in his leaving the series in 1964. At this point Lt. Steve Drumm (Richard Anderson), of the Los Angeles Police Homicide division stepped in. Once the investigation is initiated and the most obvious suspect placed under arrest they call upon a defense lawyer, Perry Mason. His Person secretary and confidant Della Street (Barbara Hale) begins the paperwork while Perry dispatches his private detective, Paul Drake (William Hopper) to investigate the case. It is quite clear by this ninth season that Paul has his own successful detective agency with a respectable staff. While he puts his "best operative" on the grunt work he always handles Perry’s cases on his own.
The first episode of this set represents an example of one that digresses from the standard formula. In the first phase of the episode Mason and Della are in his car on their way to conduct business with the victim. The watch as the suspect’s car careers past them at a great speed. Upon accepting the widow as a client Mason is called as a witness for the prosecution by his perennial adversary, the District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Hamilton Burger (William Talman). With a record of 270 to 1 against Mason it is incredible he maintained such a coveted position as D.A. in any case Mason first out maneuvers from the witness stand and then when back at the defense table once again rips Hamilton’s case apart with a unorthodox demonstration of the crime which forced the real killer to loudly confess in open court. While most real lawyers will not this never happens for Perry Mason it was how most of his cases are resolved. This episode does exemplify another prominent aspect of the series; a launch pad for actors bound for far greater recognition in TV and film. In this episode one guess star was Dan Travanty, later known as Daniel J. Travanti of ‘Hill Street Blues’.
Although the series was formulaic in its construction it consistently presents novel twist on the mystery story. Sure some might seem routine now but this series was very much a trail blazer contributing significantly to creating and refining the lawyer series as a staple of television programming. ‘Perry Mason’ was one of the later series to mark the transition from radio to TV as the dominant form of home entertainment. I’ve heard some comments that Mason was actually nit a great lawyer. He never had experience in the appellate courts and a sizeable number of his cases were resolved in the preliminary hearing with the confession precluding the need to actually go to trial. The thing is, this is not a documentary about the legal process, it is entertainment and to that end it remains as one on the best lawyer series ever presented. Every episode is tightly crafted felling more like a 55 minute movie than a TV show. The writing is precise, the acting a bit melodramatic but by fay up to contemporary cinematic standards.
Although this set is presented in DVD format the mastering is impeccable. When watching with my brother he asked if it was Blu-ray and was astonished to discover it was a regular DVD. The level of detail of the black and white video was amazingly crisp. This demonstrates how black and white was and is a valid format for relating a story. There was almost a certain classic forties mystery film feel to the video. The use of shadow and shading masterfully accomplished. When watching the discs my Blu-ray player adjusted the aspect ratio from the original 4:3 to 16:9 with no discernible adverse effects. It is very obvious that Paramount utilized source material that was exceptionally well stored and took the appropriate care in the final mastering process.
It might be expensive to obtain the complete series but most diehard fans have most likely been picking up each set as they were released. If you are a fan of mysteries or lawyer series this is one set that belongs in your collection and a season that wrapped up the definitive defense attorney series ever. Watching this will not only provide you with a great deal of lasting entertainment but give you an idea of how this laudable genre got such a strong start that it remains a perennial favorite.
Intro To the Case Of The Twice-Told Twist With Barbara Hale