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Review: This 'Perry Mason' is More Sam Spade and Less Clarence Darrow

by Michael  Cox
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 1, 2020
Review: This 'Perry Mason' is More Sam Spade and Less Clarence Darrow

Perry Mason, the famous criminal defense lawyer, has come a long way since Erle Stanley Gardner imagined him in 82 novels and four short stories in the mid-20th Century. The formula was rigid, and always involved a patsy indicted for murder and some courtroom drama. After nine other actors have embodied this legendary character on the radio, on television, and in the movies, Matthew Rhys gives it a go, and his Mason is a little more of a Sam Spade and less of a Clarence Darrow.

HBO's most-viewed new series, "Perry Mason: The Complete First Season* takes the lawyer back to a time before he stood in front of a courtroom when he was a low-rent and rather slimy private investigator. But this is more than a prequel to the dignified 1950s Mason that Raymond Burr played on television. This reimagining is a film noir-inspired origin story of a great lawyer that is more than a little flawed. The setting is different, too. This series takes place in corruption-laden Los Angeles in the throes of the Great Depression; in fact, it takes place one year before the first Mason novel was published.

The murder that kicks off Mason's career is a particularly ugly one: The kidnapping and killing of a baby and the brutalization of the child's body in order to make it look as though it's still alive. The parents of the child are indicted for the murder because the police say they were trying to extort money from the baby's grandfather, a wealthy member of one of the city's most prominent churches.

Mason and his coworkers, Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham), assist the flashy but faltering attorney E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) in protecting the innocent and bringing the real murderers to justice. Chris Chalk plays a particularly interesting character, a beat cop manipulated into covering up a secret that could blow the whole case open.

This period of L.A. history has been beautifully re-created with stunning sets, detailed costuming and cinematography that is well worth watching in its highest quality, 4K Ultra HD. This Blu-ray collection of the first eight episodes of "Perry Mason" also includes some quality bonus material, including conversations with Rhys and Robert Downey Jr., the show's producer, and offering featurettes that focus on the show's vision and characters.

Own "Perry Mason: The Complete First Season" on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray December 1.

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