Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 29th, 2012
Erle Stanley Gardner wrote crime fiction, and while many of his 100 or so works are unknown to most of us, he created a character who has become as identified with criminal lawyers as any other in fiction. It was in these crime novels that Perry Mason first faced a courtroom. He developed a style where he would investigate these terrible crimes his clients were on trial for. He would find the real killer, and in what has become a Hollywood cliché, reveal his findings in a crucial moment during the trial. While we may not remember the novels, we all remember the man in the persona of Raymond Burr. Burr had a commanding presence on our screens and enjoyed a well-deserved 11-year run as the clever lawyer. What makes this run so amazing is that the show followed pretty much the same pattern the entire time. We always know what’s going to happen, but we wait eagerly for that gotcha moment when Perry faces the witness on the stand. We know when he’s got the guy squarely in his sights, and we can’t sit still waiting for him to pull the trigger. OK, so maybe that’s a little over the top, but so was Perry Mason. From the moment you heard that distinctive theme, the stage was set. To say that Perry Mason defined the lawyer show for decades would be an understatement. Folks like Matlock and shows like The Practice are strikingly similar to Perry Mason. If you haven’t checked this show out, this is your chance. See where it all began.
Raymond Burr did not carry the show on his own. There was a very fine cast of supporting characters. The most famous has to be his faithful secretary Della Street, played by Barbara Hale. The two were inseparable. Perry had the help of a good private investigator in the Raymond Chandler style. William Hopper played the tough-as-nails Paul Drake. One of Orson Welles’ famous Mercury Theater Players took on the part of Police Lt. Tragg. Ray Collins starred in Citizen Kane as the political party boss Gettys. He was a fine example of top talent working in television. Mason was often pitted against prosecutor Hamilton Burger, whose name too often reminded me of hamburgers. There wasn’t anything funny about Burger, however. He was a worthy opponent who drew the short straw most of the time because he was up against Perry Mason. The task was accomplished with a lot of style by William Talman, a one-time evangelistic preacher.
Here you’ll find the first 15 episodes of the 8th season on four discs. It’s Romeo and Juliet all over again in The Case Of The Paper Bullets. Two rival political families end up at the center of a murder investigation when their children fall in love. Who killed Romeo? Mike Connors stars as Joe Kelly who’s covering for the absent Mason in The Case Of The Bullied Bowler. A bowling ally and a disgruntled mother-in-law complicate Kelly’s life here. Mason goes all the way to Switzerland for The Case Of A Place Called Midnight. There he gets involved in an international situation. Della’s cousin is in town and gets into some trouble looking for Hollywood fame and fortune. It’s The Case Of The Blonde Bonanza. Who else can she turn for help, but Perry?
Guest stars this season include: Mark Goddard, Joyce Meadows, Barbara Bain, Booth Colman and Julie Adams.
This was another milestone season for Perry Mason. Raymond Burr was unhappy with his contract negotiations and was prepared to leave the show. Mike Connors was brought in to replace Burr during the dispute. Plans were already underway to have Burr leave the show for good while Connors took over as Joe Kelly. Not sure how the show’s title would work, but the supporting cast would remain. Burr eventually gave in and stayed four more years. Connors would be rewarded with his own series Mannix. Richard Donnor would direct the season’s first episode in one of his earliest gigs. This set has everything: ”An unsigned letter, an odd coin neither of us ever knew existed, two-minute wait under a street sign, phone ringing in a certain downtown phone booth, sounds like a spy melodrama. I suggest you spend the afternoon shopping for a trench coat.”