Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Perry Mason’s Final Episodes

By David Luhrssen
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“Perry Mason” (1957-1966) set the tone for courtroom drama on television and on film. Less remembered than the original TV series are the made-for-TV Perry Mason movies aired on CBS in the late ‘80s. Six are packaged as a DVD set, “Perry Mason Movie Collection Volume 2,” out next month (only on Amazon).

Fans of the ‘60s shows were pleased that the movies reunited Raymond Burr as Mason with Barbara Hale as his devoted secretary, Della Street. The format remained the same, just in longer form: an innocent person stands accused of murder, Mason takes the case and finds the real killer with the help of his personal gumshoe, Paul Drake. The climactic scene occurs in court.

The plots often turn on weak hinges; the title character and the man playing him is the reason to watch. By the ‘80s, the always bulky Burr had grown more massive, a weight he carried with dignity and gravity (but little wonder one episode had him undergoing knee surgery). Burr played Mason as a man troubled by injustice but not given to rhetorical speechmaking. His eyes flashed with wary intelligence but his face was opaque as a stone wall.

One can easily imagine Mason might have been much like the actor who played him—a gay man who stepped carefully through Hollywood, revealing nothing during a time before prejudice abated.

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