There was some speculation from folks out there, myself included, that Paramount might be backing away from future releases of the popular legal show. This was sparked by a 50th anniversary release that did included episodes from the 3rd season onward, making it look like a catch-all effort. It was loaded with extras, which these collections have not been. I’m happy to report that, at least for now, these sets appear slated to continue. With the first half of the 3rd season Perry Mason continues, unfortunately in these double grab half sets.
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 that 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.
Nothing really changes in the 3rd season, as was true for the run of the entire show. You get pretty much the same kind of stories with the same cast of characters. One of the show’s better episodes is The Case Of Paul Drake’s Dilemma, where Mason’s PI, Drake, is framed for murder. Guests this set include: Michael Fox, King Kong’s own girl Friday, Fay Wray, Star Trek’s Asian Helmsman George Takei, Pat Moran, Richard Hale, Kolchak’s editor Simon Oakland, and Jacqueline Scott.
Each episode of Perry Mason is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. The episodes are in black & white. The picture quality is pretty good when you consider the age. Black levels are completely solid, allowing clean definition in the shading so necessary to a black & white presentation. The brightness is a little low at times, but nothing that muddles or damages an otherwise good looking print.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is basically there to service the dialog, and it does. There is some distortion during the theme when the music is considerably loud. If you keep in mind the source material, you can’t expect anything more than this.
Perry Mason continues in these Paramount releases to catch the bad guys while at the same time defending the wrongly accused. I guess he’s like a superhero without the costume. The legacy lives on in so many legal shows and films since the early days of Perry Mason, and now it continues with a long line of DVD releases, some of which “having been previously admitted into evidence as belonging to the defendant”.