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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Perry Mason - Season 3, Volume 1
Perry Mason - Season 3, Volume 1
Paramount // Unrated // August 19, 2008
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 26, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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When CBS DVD announced a Perry Mason - 50th Anniversary Edition set of famous episodes from the 1957-66 series, fans of the show were worried it was to be something of a last hurrah. Perry Mason - Season 2, Volume 2 was released way back in November 2007, so what about Season 3? Well, finally, it's here and it looks like the label is committed at least through the end of this season. It's become a bit like watching television in the late '70s and throughout the '80s, when near season's end viewers were biting their nails wondering if good shows like Lou Grant, The Paper Chase, and St. Elsewhere would be back in the fall.

The good news is all's well with famous attorney Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), devoted executive secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale), and gregarious private eye Paul Drake (William Hopper), to say nothing of long-suffering prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman) and wily Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins). The shows haven't suffered the ruinous fate of the musically-altered episodes of CBS DVD's The Fugitive, the episodes look great, and are uncut. Only the packaging has been altered somewhat, though not to bad effect.

There's one bad piece of news and that's the price. Earlier sets - containing more episodes on up to five discs - retailed for $38.99 but this three-disc set of just 12 shows sells for $49.99, though after standard discounts the price difference is negligible if you pre-order. (There are 26 episodes in season three, so this means they'll need to stick 14 shows on Volume 2. At least there are no repeats from the 50th Anniversary set.) I wouldn't object if they'd publicly commit to releasing the entire series.

This reviewer has covered the series at length before, in reviews of Season 1, Volume 1, Season 1, Volume 2, and Season 2, Volumes 1, and 2, as well as the aforementioned 50th Anniversary Edition. Basically, Season 3, Volume 1 finds the show still at the top of its game: the cast, especially Burr, Talman, and Collins, really seem to relish their characters, and the enjoyment they're clearly having is conveyed to the program's audience. Hopper, so stiff in many of his film appearances, delivers a wonderfully breezy, smooth and polished performance as Perry and Della's pal and colleague, while Barbara Hale, in the show's most thankless role, nevertheless seems to be having one heck of a good time, too.

Production on the show must have been similarly enjoyable; how else to explain the fact that the same guest stars keep coming back, season after season, Burr and Hale's lifelong friendship, or that after William Talman was fired from the show (more on this in when we get to Season 3, Volume 2), the cast rallied to his defense and got him reinstated?

As the late-series episodes included on the 50th Anniversary Edition bear out, the show eventually went into modest decline, mainly because Burr was burnt out and the writers struggled to find new ways to tell the same kinds of stories. But here everything's still quite fresh though like before, as mysteries the show never really plays fair with its audience: withholding vital clues, making wild suppositions, etc., all within the confines of frequently Byzantine plotting.

Production wise, few shows looked better than Perry Mason. It enjoyed a healthy budget, and was produced in a visual style more akin to Fox's classy B-mysteries of the late-1930s/early-'40s than, say, Burr's next series, Ironside, which was a typically garish and utilitarian Universal show. Perry Mason third season was indirectly influenced by another CBS show: Rod Serling's Twilight Zone. CBS liked to recycle its music endlessly, and many of the original scores commissioned for Zone are reused here. One episode this reviewer looked at, "The Case of the Frantic Flyer," about stolen money and a faked airplane death, was already pretty Hitchcockian to begin with, but the use of stock music by Bernard Herrmann (written for, I think, either "Where Is Everybody?" or "The Lonely," or maybe both) really adds to this atmosphere, as does the appearance of Hitchcock vets like Burr and guest star Simon Oakland.

Speaking of guest stars, one of the joys of this series is watching all the great character actors turn up again and again. "The Case of the Watery Witness," a typically tawdry Hollywood murder case episode, features Fay Wray (King Kong), Malcolm Atterbury (another Hitchcock veteran; he's the guy standing on the lonely highway with Cary Grant in North by Northwest), and Ned Glass, while the next show, "The Case of the Garrulous Gambler," offers Dick Foran, Paula Raymond, Steve Brodie, Victor Sen Yung, and Morris Ankrum (as one of the alternating judges). Other guest stars include Michael Fox, Mary LaRoche, James Seay, Nobu McCarthy, Christine White, George Takei, Angela Greene, Elliott Reid, Kenneth MacDonald, Robert Cornthwaite, Norman Leavitt, Anne Bellamy, Arthur Franz, June Dayton, Neil Hamilton, Alan Hewitt, Asa Maynor, Joyce Meadows, John Anderson, Richard Gaines, Bill Idelson, Paul Langton, Herb Patterson, June Vincent, Jerome Cowan, Patricia Donahue, Douglas Henderson, John Archer, Jeanne Cooper, Ray Kellogg, Terry Becker, Richard Hale, Barton MacLane, Ann Rutherford, Jacqueline Scott, Patricia Barry, Ed Kemmer, Jon Lorner, Virginia Vincent, and Rebecca Welles. And that covers just 12 shows!

Video & Audio

  Perry Mason continues to look great. The unusually nuanced monochrome photography is beautifully transferred with strong blacks and great contrast. Episodes are uncut, running about 52 1/2 minutes apiece. For the first time they also include little sponsor symbols in one corner of the end credits, in this case usually a tube of Colgate toothpaste, Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic and the like. The audio over the main titles is strangely tinny on some early shows, though the episodes don't seem noticeably effected, and the tinniness seems to disappear after a few episodes.

The discs are in Dolby Digital English mono only and are closed-captioned, though no other subtitle option is offered. There are no Extra Features. The thin cases are gone, with the three single-sided discs in a single-DVD size case. (The plastic holding mine together broke utterly during shipping, so be warned.)

Parting Thoughts

Here's hoping CBS DVD's strategy of releasing the 50th Anniversary set paid off, getting new viewers hooked on the show to the point where a DVD release of the remaining six-and-a-half seasons is likelier than before. It's a bit overpriced for the number of episodes, but the shows themselves are Highly Recommended.

  Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is now available.

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