After reaching the apex of its popularity in season five, Perry Mason began a gradual if noticeable decline in popularity over the course of its remaining four years on the air. Its eighth season found it dropping from the top thirty shows on the air, harmed perhaps by being moved up a half hour on Thursday nights following The Munsters. Be that as it may, while the show remained a highly entertaining and engrossing courtroom procedural, there are some definite cracks that showed during some of the fifteen episodes which comprise this first volume of its eighth season. Most of the shows are still top-notch entertainment featuring intriguing stories, thoughtful acting, and reliable production values which cleverly circumvent the undoubted formulaic approach to its storytelling, but a couple of shows display some of the strain of eight years of constant production.
Perry Mason: Season 8, Volume 1 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Richard Donner et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 773 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Release Date: November 27, 2012
Review Date: November 22, 2012
Raymond Burr’s definitive performance as Earl Stanley Gardner’s fictional defense attorney had already garnered him two previous Emmys. He’s always commanding, rarely flustered, and even occasionally playful in the courtroom in a performance that’s always enjoyable to revisit. Barbara Hale’s Della Street is loyalty personified while William Hopper’s Paul Drake continues doing his sleuthing for Perry, and he usually makes the most of his limited screen time. William Talman continues as prosecuting attorney Hamilton Burger for most of the episodes, but Ray Collins whose name continues in the credits as Lieutenant Tragg for all fifteen episodes here makes no appearances. (He died in 1965.) Lieutenant Anderson (Wesley Lau), less combative than Lt. Tragg but just as dogged, replaces Tragg in the investigations for the entirety of this part of the season.
The formula is unflinchingly familiar: we’re introduced to a group of people with usually some or all having money troubles, one of whom ends up murdered, and the person accused of the crime coming to Perry for help in his defense. Usually despite overwhelming evidence against the accused person, Perry puts the evidence and courtroom testimony together to trap the guilty party in either lies or hidden information which usually leads to a confession on the stand or in the courtroom gallery. A coda finds Perry, Della, and Paul (and sometimes the innocent parties) detailing the unknown information which led Perry to his eventual solution to the puzzle. As in all of its previous seasons, Perry Mason doesn’t provide all the clues ahead of time that would allow the attentive viewer to guess the culprit before the unmasking. The most damning evidence is usually saved for a last-minute reveal in court making that revelatory coda necessary for the audience to see how Perry put it all together. As for this season’s weaknesses, there is a sameness to the desperation for money that seems to be the motive behind almost all of the murders this half-season, and one episode in particular, “The Case of the Betrayed Bride,” is so broadly played by the guest cast that they’re practically acting cartoon characters rather than real people, something that does not mix well with the always grounded and realistic Perry, Della, and Paul. Perry’s even absent for one case as Mike Connors takes over for Mason as attorney Joe Kelly in “The Case of the Bullied Bowler.”
Television programs of this vintage carry with them the possibility of seeing unusual guest stars either at the beginnings of their careers or well into them. In these fifteen episodes, we find a young Barbara Bain and the veteran Stuart Erwin in individual episodes. Others noted in passing during these intriguing mysteries are Ed Nelson, Julie Adams, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Richard Anderson, June Lockhart, Sue Ann Langdon, Hugh Marlowe, Neil Hamilton, Jeanette Nolan, Guy Stockwell, Lane Bradford, Tom Tully, Jim Davis, Werner Klemperer, Gerald Mohr, Richard Carlson, John Fiedler, Paul Stewart, Constance Towers, Elisha Cook, Jr., Bruce Bennett, Ben Johnson, Audrey Totter, Jeff Corey, Lloyd Bochner, Harold Gould, Murray Hamilton, Mary Ann Mobley, Michael Constantine, Bruce Gordon, Ruth Warrick, Grant Williams, Frankie Darro, Gary Crosby, Mark Goddard, John Considine, Lee Meriwether, and Gale Robbins.
Here are the fifteen episodes contained on four discs in this first half of season eight:
1 – The Case of the Missing Button
2 – The Case of the Paper Bullets
3 – The Case of the Scandalous Sculptor
4 – The Case of the Sleepy Slayer
5 – The Case of the Betrayed Bride
6 – The Case of the Nautical Knot
7 – The Case of the Bullied Bowler
8 – The Case of a Place Called Midnight (with Perry in Switzerland, there is no trial)
9 – The Case of the Tragic Trophy (the easiest of the mysteries to solve)
10 – The Case of the Reckless Rockhound
11 – The Case of the Latent Lover
12 – The Case of the Wooden Nickels
13 – The Case of the Blonde Bonanza (another surprisingly easy to solve case)
14 – The Case of the Ruinous Road
15 – The Case of the Frustrated Folk Singer
The programs are presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio. For episodes that are going on fifty years old, these shows look very good. Grayscale reproduction is spot-on throughout with not a single episode suffering from any kind of age-related problems. Blacks are surprisingly inky, and shadow detail is excellent. Sharpness is so good that one can see the details of many facial flaws and the weaves in shirts and coats easily with only occasional soft shots. Only slight amounts of moiré with certain patterns in some suits and sports coats or patterns in curtains cause the least bit of problems, and there are some stray dust specks despite obvious clean up. Some of the stock footage looks pretty rough, but the shows have otherwise been dealt with quite nicely. Each episode has been divided into 8 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The recordings typify the era of sound reproduction for network television shows with strong dialogue tracks, occasional music which can sometimes have a tinny sound, and ambient sound effects all blended into a single track. Age-related artifacts like hiss or crackle have been cleaned expertly resulting in smooth and satisfying audio reproduction.
Apart from promo trailers for CBS/Paramount DVD releases like Perry Mason, Cannon, The Untouchables, The Streets of San Francisco, and Mannix, there are no bonus features at all.
3.5/5 (not an average)
As CBS gets closer to finishing the nine seasons of Perry Mason on DVD, each released set is welcomed by fans of the show. They’ll have no problems at all with the quality of the transfers in this eighth season, volume one set. They look marvelous and are always great fun to watch.