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.
Here you’ll find the first episodes of the 5th season. So, what kinds of cases was Perry up against then? You get 15 episodes on 4 discs. Perry is at a wedding when the bride notices that a blackmailer is there. She runs away screaming, and Perry is confused, until the blackmailer ends up dead and the groom is arrested for the murder. Perry springs into action in The Case Of The Missing Melody. In The Case Of The Malicious Mainer Perry defends a captain who threw his cargo overboard to survive a storm. Now he’s up on charges, but the witness that knows the truth turns up dead. Is the death of a man the result of his wife who has just escaped from the mental facility he forced her into? That’s what Perry has to find out in The Case Of The Crying Comedian. In The Case Of The Meddling Medium, Perry has to uncover how a fake psychic pulled off his act in order to free his client for the dead con artist’s murder. A painter fakes his own death to increase the value of his work. When the guy ends up dead for real, Perry must prove that his wife wasn’t the killer in The Case Of The Posthumous Painter. In The Case Of The Renegade Refugee, Perry enters the world of ex-Nazis when one is suspected of being a huge CEO. There’s a lot to love about yet another half season of Perry Mason.
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.
I know that these older programs have a limited appeal. Many of you have little patience for black & white or for the traditions of older programming. If so, I believe that you’ve closed yourself off to some rather nice entertainment. If anything, you probably like something that was inspired and influenced by shows like this one. Don’t get me wrong. I love many of the innovative shows of today and can get into the complicated plots as much as the next guy. But, “I always kind of liked the old temptations best.”