Monday, February 6, 2017

The Case of the Color "Perry Mason" Episode

One of the Christmas gifts in our house last year was a DVD set called The Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition. The collection includes several episodes, the Perry Mason Returns TV movie, and a lot of interesting bonus content. But its most intriguing feature was the TV series' only episode filmed in color.

"The Case of the Twice Told Twist" aired on February 27, 1966 during the ninth and final season of Perry Mason. CBS executives were mulling whether to renew the series and wanted to see what a color episode would look like. By the mid 1960s, the cost of color photography had decreased significantly and it was becoming standard practice to film in color.

Victor Buono as the villain.
The episode selected was a contemporary variation of Oliver Twist written by series veteran Ernest Frankel. Guest star Victor Buono plays the Fagin-like Ben Huggins, leader of a gang comprised of teenage boys who strip cars of their parts which Huggins then sells in Mexico. Perry gets involved when his convertible becomes one of the gangs' targets and a youth named Lennie (Kevin O'Neal) is caught by the police.

The district attorney's office wants Perry to press charges against Lennie. However, Perry believes the teen can be rehabilitated. Two murders later, though, Perry finds himself defending Lennie of a much more serious charge: homicide.

"The Case of the Twice Told Twist" doesn't rank with the best Perry Mason outings. It'd be more interesting to let the audience discover the Oliver Twist theme on its own. Instead, Perry compares Huggins to Fagin and one of the characters is named Bill Sikes.

Beverly Powers.
The episode does feature an interesting guest cast. Victor Buono, who had appeared in three earlier episodes of Perry Mason, would make his first appearance as King Tut on Batman just two months later. Kevin O'Neal is the younger brother of Ryan O'Neal. Kevin appeared in several of his brother's movies and was a regular on the No Time for Sergeants TV series (1964-65). Finally, one of the strippers at Femmes a Go Go is played by Beverly Powers. Also known as Miss Beverly Hills, she was a real-life stripper and later actress. When she retired from acting, she became a minister in Maui.

Barbara Hale and William Hopper.
As for the color photography, it looks amazingly crisp after all these years. While it doesn't add anything to Perry Mason, it's still fun for the show's fans to learn, for example, that the familiar courtroom walls are gray.

If you're a fan of the show, I heartily recommend The Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition DVD set for the bonus features alone. They include screen tests of both William Hopper and Raymond Burr playing Perry (as well as Burr playing Hamilton Burger). There's an episode of a charades-like quiz called Stump the Stars with Burr, Hopper, Barbara Hale, and William Talman. And there's a potent anti-smoking public service announcement by Talman, which was filmed while he was dying from lung cancer at age 53. According to his family, Talman was the first actor in Hollywood to appear in an anti-smoking campaign.


  1. Wow, now this I have to check out. You always find the most interesting tidbits to post about, Rick! Why does it seem to strange to see Della and Paul in COLOR?

  2. That DVD is a must-have for the Perry fan. I really do like the color. There's something devil-may-care about that last season. They would try anything.

  3. Perry Mason buff reporting (however belatedly):

    Actually, Ernie Frankel was a comparative latecomer to Mason; he only joined up in season 9, when he was usually paired off with Orville Hampton (the bard of Lippert Productions).
    Had they gone for Season 10, my guess is that Frankel and Hampton might have advanced to at least co-producer status, alongside Marks and Seid (the United Arthurs?).
    That's what happened to Frankel with the '73 Markham revival (co-producer with Seid). Hampton became the script boss.
    My (possibly mistaken) memory is that "TCOT Twice-Told Twist" was originally syndicated in B/W, to be uniform with the 300-odd other episodes.
    As t why the color show looks so good, attribute that to digital restoration, which also worked wonders with the B/Ws - even the ones from the '50s (and you can tell).

    1. I've read that in the event CBS wanted to do a tenth season and Raymond Burr didn't that Mike Connors was among those considered for the lead.

    2. With all due respect ...
      During Season 8 (the year before this one), Raymond Burr sat out a couple of episodes while CBS stonewalled his contract.
      Mike Connors was the Designated Lawyer in one of them (Barry Sullivan was the other).
      This was early in S8, and by the time S9 rolled around, Burr was back in the fold for the duration, which would have included S10.
      So wherever you might have read that -
      - got it wrong.

  4. Great post! This is a wonderful DVD set. One of my favorite parts about watching classic television is the remarkable casting and incredible talent from this time period.

  5. I was shocked at how good and thoroughly modern the color episode looks. It's like a different show. Everyone involved clearly understood how to slightly tweak the format to re-engineer the show at a moment when the difference in television between 1965 and 1966 felt like a decade. I've read that everyone involved with the show felt that if they could have done a color season it would have bought them another decade and I have to agree. I vividly remember the Talman anti-smoking commercial.


  6. Love the whole cast of perrymason and nobody could replace william talman its a good thing they brought him back.

  7. Love the whole cast of perry mason it was agood idea that they brought back william talman when because nobody could do him

  8. Bill Talman's anti-smoking ad is heartbreaking, even now.

  9. I did enjoy the bright, vivid color in this one shot episode. What I thought about watching it was the photography. Over the years, Mason had a lot of location shooting. This show seemed extremely studio bound. What is also very noticeable is the constant use (or overuse) of many very tight close-ups and few master shots and medium shots of people together. When people are having a conversation, the use of so many tight close-ups got me wondering if the actors were shot saying their lines solo at different times and it was all put together by the editors later. This may have been due to the lighting setups for color.

  10. My favorite aspect of this episode is the "Mexican" woman with bright blue eyes and a very black wig !! And it's always fun seeing Paul in his "outfits"; as in the "tourist" look while running down Olvera street !!

  11. The courtroom looked green with a beige upper wall. The mask! It’s yellowish brown, a little more colorful than Perry’s office paneling. Always wondered about that curious thing.