Perry Mason: A True TV Classic

Perry Mason:

Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, Ray Collins.

Plot summary: Perry Mason, attorney-at-law, Della Street, his confidential secretary, and Paul Drake, private detective, are working on a new case each week to defend their innocent clients. The charge is murder and the cases often come with a twist, helping Mason to never lose a case.

Review: Perry Mason is a procedural show. Every episode is about a case. The characters move along with it, but there is not a lot of screen time left for their private lives, thus Mason does not have time for a love interest other than an occasional flirt with a guest star or his confidential secretary Della, who always finds a way to sneak in a question, comment or a smile. Perry lives for his job. He is the unquestioned hero, not a but the attorney-at-law, the man everybody wants to turn to in times of trouble. Mind you, he tampers with evidence every once in a while and could get away with murder, but he’s an honest character who bends the law to get an acquittal for his not-always-truthful but always-innocent clients.

Perry Mason is loyal to his clients and he is surrounded by a loyal supporting cast. Della Street runs his office and always stands by her boss, even if that gets her in a jam. Paul Drake is the private eye who always investigates the cases Perry takes on. Although he doesn’t get much more time to pursue a private life, he is the only character who has frequent dates. One may feel inclined to think so, but that lack of private character development is not a weakness. The beautiful thing about this show is its witty dialogue, the sense of humor and its cast. The chemistry they have on-screen. The fun that comes across, although with 39 episodes in season one and six working days a week, the production must have been much more exhausting to shoot than today’s standard weeklies. A striking factor is how the actors bounce off each other with their lines, their actions. Barbara Hale, for example, was often praised by her co-stars for being the epitome of a supporting actress, something she was rewarded for with a lot of brotherly on-set pranks (predominantly masterminded by Raymond Burr) and two Emmy nominations, including one win in 1959.

Burr was nominated in three consecutive years and won his first Emmy the same year his co-star and friend Hale walked home with an award in her hands. He won again in 1961, when Barbara received her second nomination. William Hopper, as Paul Drake, was nominated once in 1959, which was the most popular year of Perry Mason in respect to acting awards. The series itself also received a nomination in 1958. Those three main characters aside, William Talman as courtroom foe Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins as police Lt. Tragg did as convincing a job as the show’s antagonist(s). A mere adversary in the beginning of the drama’s run, Burger becomes a fleshed out district attorney who may at times despair of Mason‘s methods, but also respects him. Ray Collins is a pleasure to watch, barging in a little too early on Perry’s cases and–like the rest of the male cast–flattering Della, but never too much.

 All in all, Perry Mason is a fun show to watch for those who enjoy classic whodunits and old-school, plot-driven stories. The twists may be surprising at times, the murderers more obvious to some or impossible to guess for others, but the way Perry Mason goes about solving his cases, his attitude, his quest for truth and justice is addicting. Never mind that the show is in black-and-white, that only adds to its appeal. The music, Della Street‘s attire, the genuine 1950s style and Los Angeles as a supporting character in a way. It’s the entire package. It works – did so for nine seasons till 1966 and does so on DVD today.

Melanie Simone is a writer with a degree in American Studies and English. On Talking Classics, she savors her love for vintage Hollywood.