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Archive for June 23rd, 2018

by Sam Juliano

I first came across and became subsequently hooked on Perry Mason as an impressionable teenager in the late 60’s.  The syndicated show aired on the New York City-based WPIX-TV once a day including weekends, barely a year after a celebrated nine-year run on CBS when 271 one-hour episodes made their debut.  With a package that extensive the likelihood of watching the same show multiple times over a short period was low, though at the rate of once a day even a lower grade students could figure out the entire run could fit comfortable into one calendar year with a few months left over.  However, all of the episodes did not run until the mid-80s when TBS finally obtained the rights after the long period when 195 (through the first six seasons) comprised the available cache.  A typical episode begins by setting up the conflict in the life of Perry’s future client.  More often than not it was blackmail, marital disintegration, embezzlement, stalking or a threat of bodily harm, but the mise en scene was even more varied.  Mason was played by Raymond Burr, a gravely-voiced, burly and impassive actor whose demeanor was unrelentingly stern.  He was predisposed to exhale through his nostrils, and he was always seemingly way behind the eight ball until suddenly everything came together in marked Hercule Poirot fashion.  Mason solved an unending line-up of baffling mysteries on each show with the help from the private investigator Paul Drake (played by William Hopper) and his faithful secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale) to ultimately register victory after victory over hapless prosecutor Hamilton Burger (William Tallman).  To pull off his last-minute courtroom triumphs Mason often broke down witnesses on the stand or produced surprise witnesses that left the prosecution’s case in shambles.

What I never quite understood or questioned back in those days when acceptance was rarely challenged was that Mason not only exonerated his clients without an apparent exception but more often than not he tricked the actual murderer to confessing during cross-examination on the witness stand!  I never asked myself how or why every killer was present in the courtroom for virtually every case or how every supposedly air tight alibi was exploited and negated by a a super-human lawyer whose success ratio was as stellar as that of the Dynamic Duo, the Man of Steel, that inveterate pipe-smoker from Downing Street and the previously-alluded-to Belgian with the manicured mustache and the little grey cells.  Anyway, near the start nearly all clients would consult with Mason before anything vital had gone down, but then would quickly require the lawyer’s criminal defense expertise when someone ended up dead about twenty minutes in.  In most episodes crusty Police Lieutenant Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins of Citizen Kane notoriety) would arrest the client with some damning evidence and a laughable bravado that that in the end never stands up.  Inevitably Mason with the resourceful Drake and efficient Della piece together mitigating counter-evidence to trap and expose in grand fashion the real culprit.  One of the consistent pleasures of the show for viewers occasionally flummoxed by the unchanging formula is to observe the unsuspecting criminal stutter and stumble on the witness stand, the place where truth is always uncovered. (more…)

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This past week’s Monday Morning Diary went MIA as it does on occasion, though all things considered, rarely.  For the installment planned for this coming Monday I will combine the theatrical film viewings achieved over two weeks.  Thanks to all who have followed and placed comments and likes during the Greatest Television Countdown Part 2.  Today’s capsule review on The Perry Mason Show from Yours Truly will be published mid-afternoon.     -Sam

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