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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Perry Mason - Season 4, Volume 2
Perry Mason - Season 4, Volume 2
Paramount // Unrated // December 8, 2009
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 23, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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As the packaging says, "Perry Mason is back in court" for another half-season's worth of episodes, in CBS DVD/Paramount's Perry Mason - Season 4, Volume 2. This is a notably thin set, with just 12 hour-long episodes, versus the 16 shows included in Volume 1, and 19 or so in most of the other volumes. While these days it's not uncommon in American television for a season to run as few as 22 episodes, back in the 1950s and early '60s, many series produced up to 39 new episodes per season, though that number gradually was reduced during Perry Mason's run.

However, the fourth season's flow was interrupted, like all network dramas and comedies, by a nearly 21-week Writers Guild of America strike, the second longest in its history. In this case, few episodes were produced in year four, just 26, low by early-'60s standards.

But eventually the Perry Mason set returned to normal, and actor William Talman after an embarrassing public scandal is back for good as Mason's (Raymond Burr) arch-rival, District Attorney Hamilton Burger. The show itself has changed virtually not at all in the four years it had been on the air. The production values and movie-like sheen is still there, while the guest-casts are like a Who's Who of classic TV and B-movie character actors and actresses.

Alas, for this hapless reviewer vainly trying to say something new about the series, it's tough sledding. Perry Mason is one of those shows where just about the only way to tell one season from another is by the slightly varying opening titles. And yet the fun factor remains high, especially watching the amused performances of its stars: wily Perry Mason, easily aggravated D.A. Burger, the warmth and humor of tireless secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale), and their worldly, slightly cynical pal-colleague, P.I. Paul Drake (William Hopper). They're like old friends, and their charm along with the production polish and guest casts carry the show, more so than the mysteries, which for the viewer are virtually unsolvable.

For those wanting general impressions of the show, this review incorporates elements from the six previous Perry Mason reviews penned by this writer. Below that are some comments particular to this edition.

For the uninitiated, the show revolves around Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney Perry Mason (Burr), his loyal assistant Della Street (Hale), and their pal Paul Drake (Hopper), a breezy private detective steadily in Mason's employ. Each week Perry comes to the rescue of a defendant (usually) accused of murder. In most of these cases, Perry is up against wily police Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins) and District Attorney Hamilton Burger (Talman).

Though the show's format would seem pretty restrictive - Perry's clients are always innocent, hapless and exasperated Burger always loses the case, and Perry always exposes the real murderer in the final reel - the writers manage to come up with a wide and engaging variety of storylines. Despite these restrictions the show so far never feels likes it's slipping into a tired routine.

Essentially a mystery show with a courtroom setting for its climax, Perry Mason's single flaw is that as a mystery it doesn't really play fair with its audience, though the same could be said for B-movie mysteries of the 1930s and '40s, radio mystery shows, and virtually all other TV whodunits. Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (to name two examples) faced seemingly irresolvable cases with bizarre, inexplicable clues - yet the solutions were always quite simple and logical. The great literary detectives simply had powers of observation lost on us mere mortals, even though we're armed with the same information as those protagonists.

On the other hand, Perry Mason, the Charlie Chan movies, Murder, She Wrote, etc. operate under a different set of rules. The resolutions to the mysteries don't always make sense and audiences often don't have access to the same clues the protagonists do, and they often leap to conclusions and solve crimes in ways that don't hold up to scrutiny. Instead, these kinds of movies, TV and radio shows rely heavily on atmosphere, characterization and star power to entertain their audiences. One might guess who the real murderer is, but in most cases you won't be able to solve the mystery on your own.

Fortunately Burr, Hale, and Hopper and just wonderful in their roles. Apparently they became close friends in real life, and this camaraderie very much extends to their scenes together on the show. About the middle of season two, Talman's Hamilton Burger started getting more shading, a welcome addition. Often regarded as television's most thankless role, Hamilton Burger this season still is Perry's weekly nemesis, but now he's more affable outside the courtroom and flexible in, especially when new evidence casts a shadow of a doubt over the guilt of Perry's client.

Notes on Season 4, Volume 2

There are new opening titles, which begin with what almost looks like a 3-D architectural model of Mason before a judge, followed by some live action footage of Burr before it goes back to some abstract graphics, with Burr's face ultimately positions on Lady Justice's double-edged sword, symbolizing the power of reason and justice.

Otherwise, it's business as usual. There's some slight attempt to be topical here and there. Cashing in on the Space Race and the excitement over the Mercury Program and its NASA astronauts, "The Case of the Misguided Missile" has Perry flying to Vandenberg Air Force Base, while "The Case of the Guilty Clients" involves test pilots. Generally, there's also some effort to get the crew out of Los Angeles, away from the studio backlots and to some interesting locations. "Misguided Missile" has some incredible footage with the guest cast at rocket launch sites and whatnot, amazing historical footage akin to Steve Canyon. "The Case of the Cowardly Lion" was filmed at the San Diego Zoo.

As a fan of B-movies of all kinds, part of the fun of Perry Mason are its guest casts, a mix of veteran actors and new ones emerging in the expanding medium. A single show might pack seven or eight recognizable faces together, and spotting them and enjoying their performances - often playing the accused or the murderer or the victim - is a big part of the fun.

A typical episode is "The Case of the Angry Dead Man," which features, among others, Les Tremayne, Gloria Talbott, Edward Binns, Wally Brown, Frank Ferguson, Kenneth MacDonald, Gordon Jones, Carol Ohmart, and James Millhollin, all prolific character types. If you know who some of these people are, I need go no further.

Also guest-starring in this batch of episodes: Sue England, Michael (not J.) Fox, Alan Hewitt, Robert Karnes, Barney Phillips, Fredd Wayne, Jean Allison, Merry Anders, Berry Kroeger, George Macready, Benny Rubin, Paul Fix, Josephine Hutchinson, Adam West, Malcolm Atterbury, Jason Evers, Bert Freed, Neil Hamilton, Suzanne Lloyd, Jeff York, Paul Birch, Phyllis Coates, Betty Lou Gerson, Warren J. Kemmerling, Paul Langton, Norman Leavitt, Bill Quinn, Bert Remsen, Carol Rossen, O.Z. Whitehead, Robert H. Harris, Percy Helton, Ray Kellogg, Conrad Nagel, Lloyd Nelson, Paula Raymond, Hayden Rorke, Frank Jenks, Barbara Pepper, Bill Erwin, Bruce Bennett, Simon Oakland, William Schallert, James Sikking, Jeanne Bal, Anne Helm, Patricia Barry, Otto Kruger, Gavin MacLeod, Fifi D'Orsay, Dub Taylor, Faith Domergue, and Barbara Stuart.

One other note about this set: One episode, "The Case of the Barefaced Witness," previously included in the Perry Mason - 50th Anniversary Edition set is included here as well, but that's the only repeated episode.

Video & Audio

  CBS DVD's Perry Mason - Season 4, Volume 2 presents 12 terrific-looking episodes spread over three single-sided, dual-layered DVDs (four shows apiece). The black and white full-frame image is very sharp and detailed with strong blacks. The Dolby Digital English mono is generally quite good, too. Episodes are not time-compressed, with some running up to 52 minutes. The music does not appear to have been altered. The discs are closed-captioned, though no other subtitle option is offered.

Extra Features


Parting Thoughts

Perry Mason's half-season sets are chugging along quite nicely, at a good clip, and with high quality transfers always. It's a terrific show and if you've been buying them all along you won't be disappointed here. Highly Recommended.


Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.

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