Fred Steiner's signature theme "Park Avenue Beat" announces the beginning of Perry Mason, a mystery television series with a twist as the detective who solves the cases for viewers is a defense attorney created by author Erle Stanley Gardner and played by Raymond Burr. After movies and radio shows, Mason was a hit on television, running for nine seasons from 1957 to 1966. It created a template for shows like Law & Order as the first half of the episode usually dealt with the investigation of the crime and the latter half dealt with the trial. Years later, Burr and Barbara Hale, who played Mason's secretary Della Street, returned for a series of TV movies from 1985 to 1993, the year of Burr's death.
CBS DVD has now made available for the first time on DVD volume one of season five, 15 episodes that originally aired from September through December of 1961. The four-disc set presents the episodes in an aspect ratio of 4:3 with mono audio.
The producers followed the maxim of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" so the viewer finds Mason where they have the previous four seasons: performing most of his work in Los Angeles courtrooms defending clients that are always innocent no matter what the writers reveal to the contrary.
Aside from Street, detective Paul Drake (William Hopper) helps Mason uncover the truth. On occasion, David Gideon (Karl Held) makes a rare appearance as Perry's assistant. In all but "The Case of the Roving River" Mason's opponent in the courtroom is the frequently frustrated District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman). Wesley Lau first appears as defendant Amory Fallon in "The Case of the Impatient Partner" and two episodes is in the recurring role of Lt. Andy Anderson, lightening the load for Ray Collins who played Lieutenant Arthur Tragg.
Television watchers will recognize actors in guest spots, some of whom played multiple roles on the series. Most notable are Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse, The Dukes of Hazzard), Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester, The Addams Family), James Drury (The Virginian, The Virginian), Frank Cady (Sam Drucker, Green Acres), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy, Star Trek), and Alan Hale Jr. (Skipper, Gilligan's Island).
As with any mystery, the key is in the plotting, and the writers on Perry Mason do a very good job setting up events and creating not only believable motivation for characters but also misdirection. Though this season is nearly 40 years old, the episodes hold up well and don't show their age like some contemporaneous programs, which is why it still runs in syndication across the country. Mystery fans would be well advised to investigate this set.