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"Who can we get on the case?
Perry Mason is an iconic 1957-1966 CBS series descended from the radio drama of the same name and inspired by (and frequently dramatizing) the series of books by Erle Stanley Gardner. Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) is a skilled defense attorney who takes seemingly hopeless cases and turns them into victories. Aided by his secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and private investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper), he specializes in discovering the one fact that unravels the case against his client, and often ends up getting the true criminal to confess on the stand.
It got revived in 1973 as The New Perry Mason with a completely different cast, but the series lasted only one season. It was then revived again as Perry Mason Returns in 1985 with the surviving original cast plus William "The Greatest American Hero" Katt as Paul Drake, Jr. The success of this TV movie spurred the production of twenty-nine more Perry Mason TV movies between 1985 and 1994, with the last installment airing after Raymond Burr's death in 1993. (NBC made a few more TV movies without Raymond Burr before calling it quits.)
The series is very popular overseas -- a Turkish version (also called Perry Mason) was produced in 1983.
In an odd twist, the series made the jump from radio to TV twice -- and this instance was the second. The first time was in 1956, but at the last minute Erle Stanley Gardner withdrew his support for the project, and it was retooled into... the soap opera The Edge of Night. The attorney also inspired a song by Ozzy Osbourne.
Many episodes of the 1943-1955 radio series have fallen into the public domain in the United States, and can be downloaded courtesy of the Internet Archive.
Perry Mason provides examples of:
- Acting for Two: Burr in a season nine episode.
- Always Murder: A strong codifier in television - this show quite popularly used the idea that if the initial issue didn't involve murder, the viewer could be sure that only meant there would be a murder later on to thicken the plot.
- Always on Duty: The various homicide lieutenants seemed to turn up at every murder that occurred in L. A., no matter the time of day (or night).
- Amoral Attorney: Very often played straight when an attorney turned up among the murder suspects. Either played straight or averted with District Attorney Hamilton Burger, depending on the writer. Guest prosecutors tended to run the gamut as well.
- Asshole Victim: Many of the murder victims were blackmailers, thieves, murderers themselves or just someone so irritating or otherwise evil that absolutely nobody would mind their being dead. Oddly enough, any crimes that the victims do (including murder) are often not investigated by Tragg and Burger which means they would have likely gotten away with them.
- Bait and Switch Credits: The opening credits for the renamed "A Perry Mason Mystery" specials state "Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner;" at this point, we're down to Della Street and even she's gone in the first five minutes.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted oh so many times, since 99% of the women in the books are beautiful.
- Bowdlerise: The second-season episode "The Case of the Caretaker's Cat", which involved arson, had the phrase "mineral spirits" repeatedly overdubbed with "volatile spirits" because of antsy censors who didn't want them to use the name of an actual substance that could start fires.
- Brainy Brunette: Della Street.
- Chalk Outline
- Character Title
- Characterization Marches On: Particularly in regards to Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger, whose characterizations in the TV series gradually diverged from those in the novels. Occasional reversions to the original personalities do occur, especially in the last season.
- Conflict Ball: Burger (or the prosecutor of the week) often ends up with this when Perry attempts one of his "grandstand stunts."
- Continuity Reboot: The New Perry Mason attempted to do this.
- Conviction by Contradiction
- Courtroom Antic: Although usually justified either by the Antics being performed at a pre-trial hearing , or being explicitly designed to recreate the crime or Pull the Thread.
- Creator Cameo: Erle Stanley Gardner in the first series finale.
- Crusading Lawyer
- A Day in the Limelight: Paul, Della, Andy and Burger all get at least one spotlight episode each.
- Disregard That Statement
- Dramatic Downstage Turn: Used especially in the courtroom scenes to add movement and interest during witness testimony.
- Everybody Is Single: No one in the main cast is shown to be in any kind of committed relationship, at least during the first series.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: Many episodes end with Perry, Della and Paul doing this.
- Friend on the Force
- For Great Justice: Often stated as the motivation of both the prosecution and the defense.
- Good Lawyers, Good Clients
- Graceful Loser: Burger, half of the time.
- Hollywood Law: Often played straight despite Gardner's law background. Could be classified under Acceptable Breaks From Reality.
- Hollywood Voodoo: "The Case of the Fatal Fetish."
- Homage: "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist" to Oliver Twist. Lampshaded in the episode's title and the episode itself.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Events near the end of "The Case of the Empty Tin" leave both Perry and Burger somewhat shaken. Perry offers to buy his friend a drink and the offer is accepted.
- Identical Stranger: Perry has one.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every novel's title started with the words "The Case of (the)...", as did every theatrical release, every episode of both TV series, and every TV movie.
- Inspector Javert
- The Judge
- Law Procedural
- Long Runner
- Love Martyr: Many women in numerous cases, towards their boyfriends / husbands.
- Married to the Job: Seems to be the case for all of the main characters in the first series.
- Miscarriage of Justice: Perry's clients are saved from this by the end of the episode, of course, but various persons not represented by him are subjected to this fate.
- Mobile Menace: Tragg likes popping up at the worst possible times for Perry and his clients, with no notice and often very improbably.
- Motive Rant
- Nice Hat
- Official Couple: Perry and Della.
- Perp Sweating
- The Perry Mason Method: Trope Namer.
- Plea Bargain: Occasionally one will be offered to Perry's client, but he or she eventually turns it down.
- Pose of Supplication: "The Case of the Empty Tin." A wronged woman, sobbing, pleading for understanding, first holds her hands out in supplication and then collapses to her knees, throwing her arms around the man who holds her life in his hands... said man being Hamilton Burger. The woman is a murderess at least twice over.
- Power Trio: Perry, Paul and Della. May be subclassified as Three Amigos, Two Guys and a Girl and/or Beauty, Brains and Brawn.
- Private Detective: Paul Drake. Perry isn't far from one himself.
- Pull the Thread
- Punny Name: "Hamilton Burger" minus "-ilton" = "Ham Burger."
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In the final TV movie Burr filmed (The Case of the Killer's Kiss), his physical weakness (from his inoperable cancer) was becoming obvious; he was apparently unable to stand unassisted, so Mason is always either sitting down or standing up and leaning completely on the defense table. The one scene where he had to be standing only showed a closeup of his head, neck and shoulders, so somebody was probably holding him up.
- Reckless Gun Usage: If there was a gun involved in the murder-of-the-week, odds are good that Perry Mason will recklessly wave that gun around. One episode was Egregious: The district attorney, Hamilton Burger, fondles the murder weapon (a revolver marked as exhibit whatever) during the trial and rests it casually on the witness box, his finger on the trigger, the barrel aimed directly at the weapons expert's head. After a few questions, he turns it toward the jury, gesturing dramatically. Then, Mason does exactly the same thing when cross-examining.
- Recursive Adaptation: First the novels, then the series based on the novels, then the Made for TV Movies based on the series... then novels based on the Made for TV Movies.
- Retool: The first time the series moved to TV from radio it became the long-running soap opera The Edge of Night.
- The Rival: Both Lt. Tragg and District Attorney Hamilton Burger tended to play this role in regards to Mason.
- Role Reprisal: Burr and Hale in the TV movies.
- Sexy Secretary: Della Street.
- Shout-Out: Erle Stanley Gardner appears uncredited as a judge in the final episode of the series.
- To Shakespeare: At least two instances in "The Case of the Lost Last Act," very probably more.
- The Smurfette Principle
- Sore Loser: Burger, the other half of the time.
- Spousal Privilege
- Springtime for Hitler: Except Perry made it work.
- Status Quo Is God
- Stock Legal Phrases
- Straw Loser: Burger on occasion, though not as much so as in the novels.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lt. Anderson for Lt. Tragg (though Andy and Tragg appeared concurrently for awhile), then Lt. Drumm for Lt. Anderson.
- Take That: When The New Perry Mason was running, reruns of the show were promoted as The Real Perry Mason.
- Theme Tune: "Park Avenue Beat" by Fred Steiner. Could also be considered the show's Awesome Music.
- Trickster Archetype: Perry is an interestingly lawful example - he often uses a mix of tricky guile and venerable wisdom to uncover clues and solve mysteries, but rarely actually uses coercion or trickery to make the guilty say something.
- True Companions: Perry, Paul and Della. Could be expanded to include Tragg (or Andy or Steve) and Burger.
- Written in Infirmity
- For awhile (around season six) there was a string of episodes that followed some associate of Perry's while the man himself was recuperating in a hospital room and was only seen in brief telephone calls. This was because actor Raymond Burr was recovering from surgery and couldn't handle the usual workload.
- Burr played the role with one arm in a sling during four season eight episodes
- William Talman (Hamilton Burger) showed up first with a leg cast and crutches, then with laryngitis, during season two.
- ↑ For those wondering, in California, at least, the Grand Jury requirement can be waived for a pre-trial hearing in front of a judge