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.
At this rate, it’s going to be quite some time before you complete your collection. I’m not even sure that DVD will still be a viable format before the end of the series on DVD. It’s another half season, and the episodes continue to fly at us at a snail’s pace. But slow and steady wins the race, and as long as the quality episodes continue to deliver that classic Mason charm and style, I guess folks like us will continue to come back for more.
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.
The second half of the 4th season contains 12 episodes on 3 discs. The cases include the following. In The Case Of The Wintry Wife, Perry’s client is the unfortunate victim of a bomb that takes out his wife, who was attempting to plant it herself. It’s a love triangle gone crazy, and Perry has some bad news for his client. You didn’t do it, but your girlfriend did. In The Case Of The Angry Dead Man, a guy fakes his own death, only to have his business partner add more reality to the stunt. Now Perry’s got to get the wife off the hook even though she was in on the original insurance scam. In The Case Of The Barefaced Witness, Paul travels to a small town where everybody is wearing a beard to celebrate a local festival, but when the festivities turn deadly, he needs help from Perry, right quick. It’s murder in The San Diego Zoo and Perry must find out if the lion did it, or was a valuable missing monkey the motive for murder in The Case Of The Cowardly Lion. In The Case Of The Violent Vest, Perry must defend a fashion model framed for murder. A couple vie for Perry’s help, but one of them could actually be the killer. Will Perry end up on the wrong side of The Case Of The Guilty Clients?
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.
Another season rolls off the release calendar, but there are still so many to go that I hope Paramount is looking for ways to speed up the process. Full season sets would help, but that need for a few extra pesos is getting in the way. Somebody is whispering into the ears of the release powers that be to hold out for the maximum cash. “I have no doubt that’s exactly what happened.”