It is amazing how creative we can get when it comes to finding new ways of wasting time. In my case, I have taken to purchasing old TV shows from Amazon. Did you know you can get the entire 9 seasons of Perry Mason for $400? I liked the show but not $400 dollars worth. I bought a discounted version of Season Two for $16. Still it was great to see the old favorites as I remembered them—always unflappable Perry, played by Raymond Burr—a Vancouverite; Della Street impeccably groomed, also unflappable; dashing Paul Drake, Perry’s private eye and all-round fixer. The plots are intricate and hold up well, considering the outcome is always the same—the person who is arrested and charged with murder didn’t do it, and Perry always wins. I wondered if the series didn’t borrow a bit from Charlie Chan movies from two decades earlier. Chan always won, the cops and DA were stumblebums. And then there was that great theatrical trick—in the case of Chan it would come just as Charlie had assembled all the suspects in a room and was about to reveal who the killer was—when BANG the lights would be switched off and a shot would ring out.
The lights would come back on and the culprit was wrestled to the floor and handcuffed. With Perry Mason the theatrical trick is that while Perry is relentlessly cross examining a witness, tension is building among people in the courtroom audience (you see in Perry Mason, for some reason everybody remotely involved in the case, including potential suspects , shows up in court en masse to watch the proceedings). Suddenly at a climactic moment a person you would never suspect jumps up from their seat and blurts “I did it, I did it.” A great feature of the shows as well is the range of gorgeous classic cars you get to see. Perry tooling around in a 1957 Chrysler Imperial convertible, or ditto Paul Drake in a Lincoln Continental. From the same era, I got a DVD of episodes of the Fugitive—starring David Janssen. The show hits you in the eyes.. and ears right from the opening narration read by William Conrad (remember the chubby detective Cannon?) who has a set of pipes that most people on radio these days can only dream of. Intones the narrator: “The Fugitive, a QM Production—starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble: an innocent victim of blind justice, falsely convicted for the murder of his wife … reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him en route to the death house … freed him to hide in lonely desperation, to change his identity, to toil at many jobs … freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime … freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture.”
If Perry Mason is a bit slick from a production standpoint, relying heavily on soundstages; the Fugitive is cutting edge. Shot mostly on location it provides a sense of gritty realism. Again the plot is formula. The show opens with the fugitive Dr. Richard Kimble working in some mundane job in yet another town as he seeks to stay one step ahead of Insp. Phil Gerard, his les-Miserables- like pursuer, played by Barry Morse, a naturalized Canadian who was once artistic director at the Shaw Festival. With Kimble there is often a romance, usually with a woman who is somewhat fragile, a romance that is cut short by Kimble being found out and having to hit the road again. Always Kimble somehow manages to leave each stop on his journey a little better for him having been there. The shows invariably end with a night shot of Kimble climbing into a boxcar or hitching a ride. Both series take one back to a simpler time, where the entire family gathered around a black and white TV, as opposed to now where kids retreat to their rooms to stare glumly into smartphones. I think it is the memory of what seems in retrospect such a comfortable and safe atmosphere, rather than the shows themselves, that makes re-watching them now so pleasurable.