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Television in the 50's and 60's was full of actors who were the
of movie stars of the time. There were many doppelgangers for the matinee
idols, like Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and John Wayne. Everyone
wanted to copy their success. But there were also the more interesting
character actors, who had their descendants as well. They were not real
imitators as character actors do not need a mold. They are allowed to be
themselves, or perhaps lose themselves in a character and be him.
Persoff was the Edward G. Robinson of TV. Carolyn Jones was the Bette
of TV. And James Whitmore was it's Spencer Tracy.
The Law and Mr. Jones was his labor of love. He had a piece of the show and fought to have it renewed after it's first season. That was as far as he could take, however. Whitmore went on to many other roles, usually utilizing his craggy integrity, the most recent being as "Mr. Sterling's" father. It might have been interesting to make Mr. Sterling Mr. Jones' son but nobody thought of that.
Unfortunately, off of the first two episodes, it's hard to see how this show could have been anyone's labor of love. There's too much "Mr. Jones" and not enough "Law". Much is made of the fact that Mr. Jones used to be a football player and he uses those skills much more often than any legal knowledge. There isn't a single courtroom scene in either of these two shows but there are five fight scenes. We first see Abraham Lincoln Jones forcibly removing some sleaze bags from his office because they want his client committed. His client is the proud former owner of a construction concern with a great reputation and his name on it. The new owner wants to use both while building homes of inferior material. The old guy is suing them for the use of his name. They want him committed as a nut. Jones physically throws them out of his office. Later when the new owner sends a thug to intimidate Jones, our hero renders the guy unconscious with one punch. He does it again when invading the new owner's place to tell him off.
In the second episode, he has a collar-grabbing confrontation with some toughs who are trying to force an immigrant restaurant owner to pay half his earnings to the man who paid to get them into the country, (played by Frank Silvera). At the end, Silvera has ordered his toughs to "teach Mr. Jones a lesson". To drown out the noise, they turn on a jukebox which plays college football fight songs, (they thought it was appropriate). To their surprise, Mr. Jones "teaches them a lesson".
Both episodes end rather abruptly, this being a half-hour drama, with the bad guy being voted out by the board of directors in the first one and witnesses coming forward to tell the police about Silvera after Mr. Jones had beaten up his henchmen in the second.
I like my lawyers to use their noggins rather than clobbering other people's noggins. I also think a half hour, while it might be appropriate to a western or even a cop show, is not enough time to tell a story in a lawyer show.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The law and Mr.Jones" was half hour legal drama starring character
actor James Whitmore(the "Spencer Tracy" of television),from the Four
Star production company. The series struggled thru one network
season,was resurrected thanks to campaigning fans for a second
season,but was then cancelled for good,despite Whitmore's best efforts
to save his show.
Watching the series in an entire run recently,I would say that it significantly improved after a pretty shaky start. A lot is very good indeed,serious themes tackled intelligently(if hastily!)and featuring many of the fine,largely unheralded character players who were working extensively in television at this period(Dan Tobin,Paul Richards,John Larch,Chares Aidman,Whit Bissell,Edward Binns,Hugh Marlowe,Harry Townes etc) An early episode like "Music to hurt by" comes off like a short,inferior copy of the "Untouchables",with gangster protection rackets in the frame and our lawyer Mr.Jones behaving more like Eliot Ness than Perry Mason. It took the show a few episodes to find its individual identity,though the mood of the series remained erratic,humorous episodes like "The broken hand" and "C'est la showbiz" contrasting with sombre fare like "Reunion",with John Larch in fine form as a racist murderer,"Cold turkey",which sees Peter Falk giving his all as an addict suffering the horrors of narcotics withdrawal and "No law for ghosts",where a cop with personal demons tries to railroad an alcoholic bum for murder. "Unbury the dead" considers the core issue of how we can know and judge the character of others,with Paul Richards as a man jailed for deserting his comrades in war,returning to his hostile home town to claim his inheritance. The final episode,"Poor Eddie's dead",deals with the thorny issue of "political" blacklisting and is a rare chance to see young Bruce Dern as a flaky good guy,instead of his usual role of a flaky bad guy.
It seems to have been a point of honour with the producers(especially in the first season)that Mr.Jones should become involved in an unlawyerly knock down drag out brawl in almost every episode possible. Sometimes this can fit the story,as in "Music to hurt by", where Jones demolishes 2 gangsters. At other times it all seems horribly contrived,such as in the episodes "Mea Culpa" and "Everybody vs Timmy Drayton",where Jones has a totally gratuitous punch up with guest star Dick Powell(playing his client at that!).
Another problem with the show is that the "half hour" format means that some interesting stories become annoyingly truncated. There simply isn't time for things to be developed properly. Some episodes suffer more than others from this. "A quiet town" is one example. Well written and acted,there are a number of interesting threads to the story which cry out for a longer treatment(they should have made some such episodes two parters). We have the question of bias in a judge(Larry Gates giving a great performance). Splendid old character actor Henry Daniell makes a welcome appearance as a conservative legal expert,whose ambiguous role in the proceedings could have been more fascinating if given the time to deal with it more extensively. Though still a fine drama,the lack of time to develop the screenplay makes it seem rushed and all a little too contrived. The trial scenes end well before the case is closed and the result of the case is hastily tagged on as an epilogue scene. While watching such an episode you wonder-they are bringing in all this to the tale,how on earth can they deal with it properly in 25 minutes? And of course,they can't.
A number of stories bring in Jones's rather irritating "crusader" father(one is not surprised this character inflicted the first names "Abraham Lincoln" on his hapless son). These "crusading/comic" episodes are among my least favorite. At times one wonders how Jones actually completed any of his work,as whenever something more interesting presents itself,he is always eager to drop whatever he is doing at that moment(such as some lucrative corporate work!)to charge into battle on behalf of the often penurious client who appears in his office.
James Whitmore as Jones gives his usual reliable performance,injecting a well rounded likability into a character who might have come over as a rather crusading monomaniac otherwise(a description which fits his annoying father). Pretty Janet De Gore is pleasing as his secretary(a slightly implausible romance is seen developing between her character and Jones)and it is a little surprising her acting career was not more extensive. Conlan Carter is the young heavily spectacled legal trainee in the office and the temptation to make the character too much of comic relief fall guy is thankfully largely avoided.
A worthwhile series which could have been more than it finally is if it had been given a longer time-slot to develop its story lines.
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