For eight seasons on ABC, Raymond Burr ruled supreme as San Francisco Police Department Chief of Detectives (ret.) Robert T. Ironside. Wounded by a vengeful convict that he put behind bars, Ironside was called back to duty in a wheelchair after being paralyzed from the waist down. Normally a hero who had physical limitations and couldn’t take an active part in pursuing criminals in a crime show wouldn’t have lasted a season, but Ironside made up for that lack with well-written shows, good acting, and plain old grit.
From the beginning, Burr made Ironside his own. He was by turns rude and too direct, and then sympathetic as a man trapped by the chair he was in. His support cast – Don Galloway as Ed Brown, Barbara Anderson as Eve Whitfield, Don Mitchell as Mark Sanger – always played off each other well.
The episodes in this collection are 40 years old and show some signs of wear and tear. Occasional spots show on the screen, but the audio is remarkably clear, though not in surround sound. Still, the stereo is good. The jazzy sounds of the music, cutting edge in its day, doesn’t sound as terribly dated as it does just different.
Fans of the television show accept that. What they want, and what newcomers to the series should check out, is the acting, the well-written scripts, and the chance to see beginning box office superstars or television icons in some of their earliest roles.
As in his prior television series, Perry Mason, Raymond Burr carried enough fan support to bring an audience back week after week. As a result, there were always plenty of roles for beginning actors who could get enough stage time (and let Burr out of the limelight for a while) to catch the attentions of directors and producers.
One of the themes that crops up a lot in this season’s offerings are the many friends Ironside evidently made over the years. They’re practically falling out of the woodwork. The season consisted of 26 episodes, and five of them are about his friends. When it’s not his friends, it’s friends of the rest of the team: Ed’s friends account for two of them, Mark for two more, and Eva for a niece. Even Ironside’s aunt brings him a case.
Ironside wasn’t afraid of taking on potentially hot political issues either. “A Matter of Love and Death” takes on the issue of abortion, which was huge in 1968, and places Eve squarely in the middle of the pull. “Up, Down, and Even” deals with the drug issue – of course then it was only marijuana that was going to be the downfall of the civilized world. Vigilante justice and the failure of the judicial system were the themes of “Reprise”. Police corruption took center stage in “Moonlight Means Money,” with a drug undertone. “Robert Phillips vs. the Man” deals with black activism. “Not With A Whimper, But A Bang” deals with college radicals.