‘Perry Mason’: Season 8, Volume 1

This DVD set provides the evidence for Perry Mason’s penultimate season as L.A.’s premier lawyer and unmasker of murderers. It contains the first half of the season, as first aired in the fall of 1964 through January 1965. The first two scripts are by Jonathan Latimer, whose creativity dominated the previous season, but these are unremarkable except that “The Case of the Missing Button” uses its weak mystery as an excuse for some unusually gratuitous child-endangerment business handled by future action director Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon series). It’s one of only three episodes he handled for the series, all this season. “The Case of the Tragic Trophy” is the other Donner in this set, a show-biz tale written by Mann Rubin.

Episodes about artists often stand out, as in “The Case of the Scandalous Sculptor”. It’s nearly a raucous comedy instead of the usual tight-lipped dance of suspects. The victim, instead of being the hateful death-magnet of most episodes, is a likeable comic-relief character whom viewers wouldn’t have anticipated getting the ax. Another odd aspect is the direction by Jack Arnold, best known for classic 1950s science fiction films, who throws in several zooms and pans. The script is by Philip Saltzman, later a successful producer of crime shows.

This is one of Arnold’s two Mason outings; the other kicks off Volume 2 of this season, and it’s also unusual–because it’s one of two episodes that don’t have Mason in them! The first Masonless adventure is here in Volume 1: “The Case of the Bullied Bowler” with Mike Connors as attorney Joe Kelly. It’s explained that Mason’s in Europe for vague reasons, and indeed we see him in Switzerland without any of his supporting cast in the next episode: “The Case of a Place Called Midnight”. Since Mason has no license to practice there, he mostly stands around.

This season gets odder as it goes along. The mysteries are a step or two down from last season, and someone must have decided to emphasize broad humor. One of the broadest is “The Case of the Blonde Bonanza”. The first act is about a wacky model (Mary Ann Mobley) allegedly being paid to gain weight. While that’s an intriguing idea, we can’t see why it connects with anything that happens later. Also, this case is curious for its implication that the victim would still be alive if Mason hadn’t involved himself. That’s an unwitting hazard of making the detective a part of the pre-murder scenario. Writer Jackson Gillis and director Arthur Marks are workhorses on this series.

The regulars are still Raymond Burr as Perry Mason; Barbara Hale as secretary Della Street; William Hopper as detective Paul Drake; William Talman as Hamilton Burger, the doomed D.A.; Wesley Lau as Lt. Andy Anderson of the L.A.P.D.; and Lee Miller as Sgt. Brice. Ray Collins continues to be billed as Lt. Tragg but never appears and never will again, for he died in early 1965. Wikipedia falsely reports that his final episode is among this batch, but it was actually last season.

Familiar faces in guest roles include Julie Adams, Ed Nelson, Anthony Eisley, Otto Kruger, Richard Anderson, Lynn Loring, June Lockhart, Sue Ane Langdon, Stuart Erwin, Hugh Marlowe, Karl Swenson, Jeanette Nolan, Guy Stockwell, John Larkin, Dianne Foster, Jacques Aubuchon, Barbara Bain, Whit Bissell, Anne Seymour, Jeff Donnell, Gerald Mohr, Harry Townes, Robert Emhardt, Werner Klemperor, Jim Davis, Richard Carlson, Paul Stewart, Constance Towers, Patricia Huston, John Fiedler, Mimsy Farmer, Audrey Totter, Bruce Bennett, Elisha Cook Jr., Ben Johnson, Jeff Corey, Ralph Moody, Lloyd Bochner, Jason Evers, Harold Gould, Will Kuluva, Murray Matheson, Walter Burke, Berry Kroeger, Michael Constantine, Bruce Gordon, Ruth Warrick, Grant Williams, Barton MacLane, Les Tremayne, Bert Freed, Gary Crosby, Robert H. Harris, Mark Goddard, and Lee Meriwether.

RATING 5 / 10