Monday, June 16, 2014

The Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Feature Sets One, Two, and Three DVD Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
One of television's most famous courtroom dramas is back on the case just in time for Father's Day when Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Features One, Two and Three arrive on DVD everywhere June 10. Starring Raymond Burr as the famed defense attorney, these single-disc double feature releases include digitally enhanced versions of thrilling Perry Mason made-for-TV movies. I loved this television show but I missed most of these movies so I'm very excited to see them finally get released. There's only one Perry Mason and I can't wait to watch these movies!

Films (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
As a kid, one of my fondest memories of summer vacation was the chance to see classic television show reruns around lunchtime with my sister. This was before the days of shows being released on DVD or Blu-ray, and the only way that you could see these older shows was catching them in syndication. I loved to be able to see shows like "Star Trek," "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Kung Fu," The Wild Wild West," "Get Smart," and of course on of my favorites - "Perry Mason." The show originally ran from September 1957 to May 1966 which was way before I was born so it was great to be able to enjoy it in the mid to late 80s. 

The show was based on the stories written by Erle Stanley Gardner (the show also prompted me to read as many of these stories as I could), who told the tales of attorney Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), his loyal secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale), and his private investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper) trying to save an innocent person from being convicted of a crime. In fact, the format for each episode of the show rarely changed as we usually would see some horrible person get themselves killed at the start of the show after being threatened by a future client of Mason's. Then the body would be found and the police would arrest Mason's client and the police and the district attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman) would be overly confident about their case until Mason and his team uncover the truth and then put the smackdown on the guilty party in the courtroom.

It's that final scene of the show that was always my favorite as I enjoyed seeing the guilty people think that they were going to get away with their crime until Perry Mason turned the screws on them which always forces them break down and confess in some fashion. It was also when Raymond Burr was at his best as you could just tell that those scenes were the ones that he relished the most. It was during those scenes that we also frequently saw Paul Drake enter the courtroom to deliver key evidence to Mason just in time. The show would go into syndication for many years and it proved to be be enough of a draw that producer Dean Hargrove decided to bring back the characters for a series of television films starring the surviving cast members, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, starting with the appropriately named film "Perry Mason Returns" in 1985.

The film proved to be so successful that eventually a total of thirty Perry Mason movies were made (with Burr starring in 26 of them) between 1985 and and 1995. Barbara Hale's real life son William Katt starred as Paul Drake Jr. for nine of those movies, while William Moses played Ken Malansky replaced him for the remainder of the series. Later on, after Raymond Burr died, they attempted to keep the show going by calling the series "Perry Mason Mysteries" with guest stars Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook filling in for a busy Perry Mason. After releasing all nine seasons of the original show to DVD, CBS is now releasing the made for television movies in these single disc double feature sets. 

Here are the movies that are included in the Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Features One, Two, and Three:

Double Feature One

    • Perry Mason Returns - Della Street, Perry Mason's former secretary, now works for Arthur Gordon, a millionaire businessman. On Gordon's birthday, his family throws him a surprise party and he, in turn, gives them a surprise: he is disinheriting them. The police then investigate and discover that someone who knew the gate entry code was the killer or gave it to the killer. And when they discover that Della Street knew the code they arrest her, and she then asks her old friend, Perry Mason, who is now an appellate court judge, to recommend someone who can defend her. Mason says that the best person who can defend her is him. So he resigns.from the bench to defend his erstwhile secretary. Needing a private investigator, the son of old friend Paul Drake, Paul Jr. is also called into the case. It's takes some hard plowing but Perry and Company eventually get to the bottom of things.
    • The Case Of The Notorious Nun - A nun stands trial for murdering a priest whom she worked very closely with, and the evidence are dire: a letter from her asking him to take her back, a lover´s quarrel, and there seems to be no sign of the mysterious priest whom she claims drugged her at the crime scene. Paul finds a special bond with her, even if it means that he has to look through the trash and freeze his tail off.
Double Feature Two

    • The Case Of The Shooting Star - An actor/director shoots one of his friends in cold blood in live television, but is very surprised when the friend dies, since he thought that the gun was loaded with blanks. But there is a witness who watched the gun constantly, so there can be no tampering. Or... can there? Meanwhile, Paul has to fend off a female reporter who seems to follow him everywhere.
    • The Case Of The Lost Love - Perry must defend the husband of an old flame from a murder charge. This one is a real hornet's nest and the truth of the matter could be devastating to Perry.
Double Feature Three

    • The Case Of The Sinister Spirit - Book publisher Jordan White is having problems with one of his authors, an unbalanced assclown named David Hall. Hall has written a book which not only defames White but also an astrologer, a psychic, and a B-movie actress famous for her work in slasher movies. All four are invited to spend a bizarre evening in a deserted hotel during which Hall is bumped off. Jordan White calls in old friend Perry when he is charged with the killing.
    • The Case Of The Murdered Madam - The woman who hosted a business meeting where a very shady deal was planned turns up dead shortly thereafter. Everything points to her husband, who didn´t know that she used to run a brothel, and who has a violent temper. But his childhood friend, Della Street, comes to his rescue.
I enjoyed all of these movies as it was great to see Raymond Burr back in his signature role again as Perry Mason. It was also fun to see Barbara Hale back as the indispensable Della Street although I still wish the two characters had gotten together sometime over the years. For William Katt, who was coming off "The Greatest American Hero," it's obvious that he is trying to put some distance between Paul Drake Jr. and his previous role as the hapless Ralph Hinkley. The only problem is that he is trying to act so cool that his character comes off a little arrogant. In a nice twist, Mason isn't too impressed with him either and it becomes a recurring motif that Paul keeps trying to impress him. 

Even with the extra time, these cases don't seem as intricate or clever as the ones Mason handled on the original show. Padded out to make a movie's running time, there's a lot of extra fluff that weakens the story. I also miss Hamilton Burger who was a good opponent for Mason. We now have Michael Reston (David Ogden Stiers) to take his place against Mason, as even though Ogden Stiers is a fantastic actor, he isn't given the best lines to capitalize on. There's a lot of great guest stars included which adds a lot of entertainment value since actors like Robert Stack, Timothy Bottoms, Tom Bosley, Dwight Schultz, Kim Delaney, Ron Glass, Alan Thicke, and Richard Anderson are all excellent in their roles. While I do believe that the episodes could have been leaner and more focused, there's no denying the thrill of seeing Perry Mason back in the courtroom doing what he does best - making the guilty pay for their crimes.
Video (3 out of 5 stars)
These 1.33:1 full frame transfers have been digitally remastered and look much better than they did on television but they don't have the same crispness or quality that the recently re-released black and white original shows have ion DVD. Detail is average as are the colors on display, all of which makes for what you'd expect from a show from the 80s on DVD. There are signs of age and there's also some visible noise in darker scenes, but it is still an improvement over the original broadcast. I wish that these episodes were cleaned up even more and released on Blu-ray.
Audio (3 out of 5 stars)
The Perry Mason Movie Collection's Dolby Stereo mix is also acceptable but nothing fantastic. The dialogue is clear and the music comes across nicely, but don't expect a full fledged sonic experience. This is a show with a lot of talking so that's to be expected anyway. This mix does the job required.
Extras (0 out of 5 stars)
There are no extras on any of these sets which is a shame as I would have loved to have seen them.
Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
I've always loved the "Perry Mason" show and I was very excited that these movie collections were coming out since I had missed a lot of them when they were originally broadcast. It's good to finally get to see some new Perry Mason cases and I enjoyed watching these movies and I'm looking forward to the next wave of them coming out next September. The video and audio quality are pretty good for a DVD but it's too bad that we didn't get any extras at all. It's also unfortunate because that lack of extras brought down the final overall score. But, if you are a fan of Perry Mason as I am, then you should pick these movies up right away!

Order your copies today!


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