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I guess I'm dating myself, but I used to watch "Perry Mason" back in
the 1960s and when I compare it to today's shows, nothing else even
comes close. This series had it all:
--Established actors who were perfect for their roles; --A galaxy of 1950s-60s guest stars, all old pros; --Stunning B&W cinematography; --Crisp direction, no matter who was at the helm; --Literate,intelligent scripts that made the viewers think; --A great sense of humor; --Professional music scores; and above all --A show that had respect for its audience!
I won't go into how perfect Burr, Talman, Collins, Hopper, Hale, et al were for their roles, it's all been said before.
After the story line was established, the courtroom drama took over, leading to the usual twist ending that kept the audience guessing until the last minute. The difference between "Perry Mason" and today's shows is that you actually had to pay attention to the story and anticipate what might happen. This series was true classic that will never be equaled, because television no longer respects its audience's intelligence and now relies on laugh tracks and silly dialogue. Catch it if you want to exercise your mind--skip it if you prefer to watch reruns of rubbish like "Charlie's Angels" or "Three's Company".
Without a doubt,the series "Perry Mason" was the granddaddy of all lawyer
shows and even after 40 years since its debut it is still highly watchably
and still highly rated as one of the top courtroom drama shows of all time.
Raymond Burr was a true genius as the lawyer who would go to any length to
protect his cilents from a certain fate and he always had a detective sense
to find out who was the killer or who was trying to blackmail someone. Perry
Mason was part lawyer/part detective/part sleuth. The show was based on the
books about the character by Earl Stanley Gardner and for the astounding
nine seasons that it ran on CBS-TV
(1957-1966),it still holds up today. Even some college law professors used
some of the episodes as teaching material as a learning technique for up and
As for the rest of the show,the formula was very simple:(1)The first half of the show tells the story of the events leading up to the murder and the preliminary investigation of the crime and the facts leading up to the case in question and clues of where and what may have occurred. (2)The second half dealt with the subsequent trial,where Mason exposes the truth in the courtroom.
Sometimes the plots were very complex at times,but mostly were written with style and class and it is the only show where the writers treated the viewer with intelligence. The actors were very good especially within certain scenes where Mason has a battle of wits with District Attorney Burger. However it was done with style and had stunning black and white photography to make it more interesting. However,out of all the episodes their was one episode that was shown in color(and it hasn't been seen since TBS shown it during the 90's) where brought out more of the characters and more of the courtroom setting as well. As far as the show is concern,it is a milestone in the history of television. Catch some of the episodes on the Hallmark channel.
More than 40 years since the series debut, Perry Mason is still a classic, and is highly watchable today without seeming dated. The first half of the show tells the story of the events leading up to the murder and the preliminary investigation of the crime, while the second half of the hour dealt with the subsequent trial, where Mason exposed the truth in the courtroom. The plots were quite complex at times, but the writers also treated viewers with intelligence. The acting was superb by all, and even the bit players do an excellent job. Probably my favorite character was private detective Paul Drake, whom apparently could dig up any fact no matter how obscure within a short period of time. Much better than the 2 hour movies produced in the 1980s and early 90s, Perry Mason will always be a classic in the history of television.
Perry Mason is one of the finest shows (courtroom or otherwise) that was
ever made. A memorable cast, great scripts, and always a surprise in the
courtroom. I watched the shows for years and years in re-runs. Being
blessed with a poor memory, I could usually be depended on to forget the
final outcome of the trials. There were quite a few shows and guest
to keep track of. One "highlight" of my life was to get onto a murder
jury myself during some of my more intense Perry Mason
The thing that separated 'Perry' from other shows was it's compactness. It was all story. Personal relationships were hinted at, but took up little time on the screen. If some errand needed to be run, Paul Drake (the detective) would appear with the information in the next scene. Nor car chases, no fistfights, and no love interest in every episode. JUST STORY. I've heard this is one reason Raymond Burr gave up the show. The show was so dependant on him in just about every scene that he had to live on the studio lot in a trailer during filming (and that was most of the year).
In contrast, later 'Perry Mason' attempts HAD the aforementioned elements. There were car chases, fist fights, and Paul Drake Jr. was allowed much screen time for these and to win over the girl too. We got to see all the painstaking effort to get the information his dad just seemed to pull out of the air.
It was good to see Perry back, and I did watch. The 'newer' shows paled by comparison to the all-time classic original. But, it's tough for anything to live up to our memories.....
PS- I even sang along to the very recognize-able theme with lyrics of my own.......
One can tell the timeless longevity of a television series by the condition if it's still playing on TV. "Perry Mason" (1957-1966) is! It followed a tried-and-true formula: the first half-hour the situation is developed, then there's a murder. The second half-hour is filled with courtroom dramatics, to find the killer. But this is considerably heightened by a moody musical score, shadowy, gripping B&W photography, incisive scripts, magnificent guest stars (many who appeared multiple times), and lastly the brilliant ensemble cast headed by Raymond Burr, with Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman and others. The series was re-done (poorly) in 1973, the more recent 2 hour TV movies were padded and don't hold up to repeated viewings. Voted the top dramatic series by TV Guide, it just does not get any better. Case closed.
Perhaps the most successful formula show in the history of TV. An
interesting question is why, since the lead characters never varied,
the outcome was predictable, and the plots could at times defy expert
analysis. To me, that sounds pretty boring. So why did I faithfully
watch the first runs and still catch the reruns when I can, and why did
the series catch the fancy of so many others as it still does. Here are
Mason, Street, and Drake are more than a team-- they are a family. The chemistry among them is so good it's almost spooky. Burr's Mason is nothing if not masterful both inside the courtroom and out. He's a strong father-figure, while Hale's Della Street is the perfect secretary, sweet, attractive and highly efficient. Not quite a mother-figure (after all, this is a chaste family), she's the perfect older sister. And Hopper's Paul Drake is clever, charming, and slightly rakish. All in all, he's the perfect younger brother. Though each is a professional, together they operate as a loyal family unit. And when their final scene rolls around (The Final Fadeout, 1966), we're happy to know they will remain together even though we (the viewers) won't be with them.
The key here is Burr's grasp of character. After all, Mason wins week after week-- he never misses. What's more, he shows up the guardians of law and order week after week. If not done right, Mason would be an easy character to dislike. But Burr's Mason is never smug, never immodest, and always low-key, so we don't resent his near god-like status. This is a real tribute to Burr and the show's producers, who managed to walk a very fine line. There's one other character point worth noting. Mason's personality is the only one of the five (Burger and Tragg included) to alter. In the early episodes, he smokes, wears loud jackets, and occasionally flirts. But with the show's success, he's transformed into a paragon of virtue, probably because his character has come to stand for the quality of criminal justice in America. Shrewdly, the producers would take no chances with their golden egg.
The engaging quality of the stories varies little, an unusual feature for any formula show. That's likely because the script-writers worked with variations on six or seven basic plots. After all, they had to come up with thirty-plus mysteries every year for nine years. And each episode had to have a plausible list of suspects with a story line to unravel, which is a pretty heavy load. Then too, each entry had to have a larger than average cast of capable actors as suspects. Watching the re-runs, we see just about every familiar face from that era (one of the joys of catching the re-runs). Executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson deserves a lot of behind-the-scenes credit, since I'm sure this was not an easy series to put together week after week.
I had never thought of the show as film noir. But other reviewers have correctly pointed this out. Indeed, there are elements of noir in many of the first half hours, where the mystery sets up. Many of these were done in shadow, with strong emotions and a heavy atmosphere of doom, which distinguishes the series. For, overall, there was very little noir from any series during that sunny era. Frankly, it's that part I always enjoyed more than the courtroom scenes with their high-key lighting and extended dialogue. The general excellence of these first half- hours is another reason, I think, for the show's unusual success.
The mystery angle remains an attraction for many. It's fun, for those who want, to try to figure out the culprit. We know he or she will be exposed and the loose ends tied-up by hour's end. But the entries can be enjoyed for their drama alone. The witness-stand confessions served as a chance for neglected feature players to show their acting chops. Some of these were truly memorable. My favorite is from that great unsung actress of the era, Constance Ford. Watch her split personality emerge under Mason's perceptive grilling (The Case of the Deadly Double, 1958). It's a dramatic tour-de-force, as good as anything from the movies of the time. Many of the confessions were also poignant. The culprit could be seen as a sympathetic character, driven to murder by larger forces. And though, the epilogue (usually in Mason's office) often ended on a humorously upbeat note, the confessions remain the dramatic high point.
These are some of my best guesses. I expect there's another, not so flattering reason. Many of us, of course, have a nostalgic attachment to those younger years, which, I suppose, is only natural. Nonetheless, there is something timeless about the brave knight rescuing unfortunates in distress (in this case, usually a shapely blonde or brunette). In fact, the Mason show was predicated on that venerable premise. And even though Mason-as-ideal-defense-attorney would probably not work in today's post-Vietnam era, the key plot elements endure ( understandably, the series ended, just as the war in south-east Asia heated up). Greed, jealousy, ambition-- this is the stuff of high drama, while the Mason show used them effectively inside a format that fit its time. But the elements themselves remain timeless. And in that sense, so does the series.
The "Perry Mason" character, as developed by Erle Stanley Gardner in the early 1930s, was a "fighter", in the author's words; like Gardner himself, a successful and ingenious lawyer, the fictional lawyer-detective enjoyed seeking out the truth in the field--whether he was finding a body, bending a law in order to fight for his client or testing an hypothesis--as much as he enjoyed arguing a case within the arena of a courtroom. Immensely popular from the beginning, the character was never changed by Gardner. And although the series on television was subtly altered in many ways, and enjoyed format alterations, I assert that nothing essential was ever altered about Mason nor his main "foils". At the beginning, the cast consisted of Raymond Burr as Mason, William Hopper as his detective pal Paul Drake, pretty Barbara Hale as his right-hand girl and secretary Della Street, William Talman as Hamilton Burger his chief courtroom enemy, and Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg of Homicide. Cases began in many different ways; chiefly with a future accused murderer being victimized by someone else, or with a client coming to ask Mason's help. Had the show's writers found a way to state a categorical purpose for Mason to explain why he was taking each case, the fine power of these dramatic stories could have been increased. But the chief quality of the interesting narratives I suggest was rather, usually, watching Mason trying many ways to find out the truth about what had been done in some situation in order to prove the innocence of his client of a murder; that, plus the many characters who people over 250 separate episodes. Many fine writers and directors created stories for "Perry Mason"; some episodes were adaptations of Mason novels. And with Gardner working closely with executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson, the original entries were held strictly and successfully to the author's conception of the character. Talents as famous as Jack Arnold, Earl Bellamy, László Benedek, script consultant Arthur Marks, Arthur Hiller, Ted Post, Vincent Mceveety, Robert Sparr, Gerd Oswald, Andrew Mclaglen and Christian Nyby were in charge of the "Mason" cameras; writers for the series included True Boardman, Robert C. Dennis, John Elliotte, Jackson Gillis, Laurence Louis Goldman, Seeleg Lester, Orville H, Hampton, Laurence Marks, Bob and Esther Mitchell Jonathan Latimer, Samuel Newman, Helen Nielsen, Mann Rubin, Sy Salkowitz, Stirling Silliphant, Barry Trivers, Al C. Ward, Maurice Zimm and Gene Wang, among others. Mason employed a young lawyer, played by Karl Held, for one season; Richard Anderson, Wesley Lau, Dan Tobin and Lee Miller were regulars for varying lengths of time. But the glory of the series, i assert, was its guest stars. Apart from younger actors chosen for their looks, almost every other part was well-cast and the enactors successful in creating a character. The producers also used only about ten judges, notably S. John Launder, Willis Bouchey, John Gallaudet, Kenneth Macdonald and one female jurist. But the courtrooms in which Mason appeared ranged all over the state of California, from a military tribunal to small town courts to the great Los Angeles arena. Almost as numerous were the sites where Mason and Drake discovered clues, bodies and trouble; because Mason was a fighting man at heart, his favorite ploy was to plant false evidence to force overworked police to investigate some aspect of the case, to meet with someone in order to goad them into revealing something and to dispatch Drake or other operatives to expand his power of search and investigation. For me as a writer and viewer, the fun lay not so much in solving the crime along with Mason--although guessing the murderer's identity was enjoyable--but in watching the fine actors hired to don hats (as devices of characterization) and to take part in an interesting ethical exercise. Mason's ingenuity and lack of pretension endeared him to me, and to millions of viewers. Fine composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and Fred Steiner, who created the show's them, worked for the producers; and the cinematography and lighting was always above average for B/W television. But guest stars such as Keith Andes, Walter Pigeon, Whitney Blake, Pippa Scott, Cecil Kellaway, Gail Kobe, Paul Cavanagh, Benson Fong, Stacy Graham, Douglas Kennedy and Vaughn Taylor at last were who kept me, and other viewers, coming back every week. This is a most watchable narrative program; one-of-a-kind and still very enjoyable.
The original "Perry Mason," in glorious black & white, is in the tradition of the great film noir films of the '40s and '50s. The cases have a poetic reality to them, clashing and understandable motives, psychology, and murder. Because the motives of all involved are understandable, there is not lacking a painful sympathy for those caught up in the circumstances described, even for the perpetrator. But there is a grim darkness to the program as well. The program gradually ran down during its life, so that, when it went off the air, it was probably time. The original 1957-1958 season was the best, with the most intricate plots and with Perry Mason a wiseguy thorn in the side of the police. The cast is perfect, and even the score fits perfectly this brooding and ironic look at life and fate.
Everything about this series was perfect, from the acting, to the scripts, to the directing, and even to the fact that black and white was used even after the advent of color. Of course, Raymond Burr WAS Perry Mason, just about the world's greatest defense attorney, who stops at NOTHING in his search for the truth. The supporting cast was also excellent, and the guest stars, unlike in so many other series, were always of a high calibre. Some might say that the scripts were a bit formulaic, but within the basic format, over the 10 year run of the series there was infinite variety in the details of each show, with enough unexpected plot twists to constantly keep any audience guessing. The atmosphere was perfect: black and white lent a mysterious, almost gothic feeling to the episodes, which at the same time was beautifully contrasted with Perry Mason's ice cold reasoning and razor sharp sense of right and wrong. There are so many other things I could say about this series; perhaps it is best left at saying that this is the one, the only court drama, probably the best TV drama in general, and definitely one of the ten greatest series of all time.
"Perry Mason" was not only a great legal drama, but it was also a great whodunnit. Perry Mason's detective skills would serve him well in gathering evidence to prove his client's innocence. Also, the casting of Raymond Burr finally gave him his defining role after years of playing heavies. And let's not forget the supporting cast. Barbara Hale as Della Street, Perry's faithful secretary, William Hopper as Paul Drake, the able bodied gumshoe, William Tallman, as his nemesis district attorney Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins, as the always dogged Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.
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