'Ironside - The Complete First Season'
(Raymond Burr, Elizabeth Baur, et al / 8-Disc DVD / NR / (1967) 2007 / Shout! Factory)
Overview: Ironside is confined to a wheel chair (an attempted assassination left him paralyzed). With his former assistants Brown and Whitfield (later Belding) and former delinquent (and later lawyer) Mark, he combats crime for the San Francisco police from his mobile office (a van) while leaving a pot of chili cooking back at headquarters.
DVD Verdict: "Ironside" was one of the best detective shows of the 1960s and remains a classic of its genre. Memorable characters, brilliant acting, well-crafted stories and unforgettable theme music written by the legendary Quincy Jones, "Ironside" brought the beloved actor Raymond Burr back to series TV after a nine year Hall of Fame portrayal of the most famous lawyer in TV history: Perry Mason.
"Perry Mason" ended its run in 1966, but the remarkably robust, vigorous and energetic Burr jumped immediately back into the rigorous demands of series TV in 1967. He starred as former San Francisco Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside in a pilot movie that led to the very successful series, which itself ran for eight seasons.
In the pilot, Burr's character, a tough, demanding and brilliant Detective with a quick wit and often just as quick temper, took his first vacation in 25 years. At a remote cabin while he is talking on the phone, Ironside is shot by a sniper with a grudge wielding a rifle and is left for dead. Somehow, he survives but is permanently disabled - he is paralyzed him from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair.
The series was created by Collier Young. The decision to make Burr disabled was remarkable for the era, as few TV leads were ever depicted as anything but able bodied. Forced to cope with his disability, Ironside is humbled by his emotions, as well as the outpouring of support he receives from friends and colleagues.
Determined not to be trapped in his wheelchair or give up his career, he volunteers to work within the police department as a "special department consultant," investigating his own attempted murder as his first case. Ironside drafts two young law enforcement officers, Detective Sgt. Ed Brown, portrayed by Don Galloway, and Officer Eve Whitfield, portrayed by Barbara Anderson.
He also hired delinquent-turned-bodyguard Mark Sanger, portrayed by Don Mitchell, as his "legs." Sanger, an African-American with a chip on his shoulder and a hatred for the police, eventually went to law school and became an attorney. Ironside's consultant status was granted by Commissioner Dennis Randall, portrayed by Gene Lyons, who also frequently clashed with his long-time friend over Ironside's investigative methods and his willingness to break the rules to achieve true justice.
Ironside was allowed to retain a floor (for living and office space) at police headquarters and made use of a specially modified and equipped police van to accommodate his wheelchair. The kitchen cupboards were filled with one provision: cans and cans of chili con carne, which Ironside called the "pefect food." Once his staff was assembled, Ironside "rolled" into his investigations, traveling in the specially equipped van that Mark had converted to accommodate the Chief's special needs.
During the series, the show took an unflinching look at the social issues of the 60s and 70s, which included racial strife, the war in Vietnam, and drug use. As the stories evolved, the barely civil relationship between Ironside and Mark deepened to a close friendship, and eventually the three "staff" members became Ironside's true family. Whitfield, who was hugely popular, left the series in 1971. Elizabeth Baur joined the cast as Officer Fran Belding and remained until the series ended in 1975, but never found the fan base that Whitfield had.
A few of the actors who guest starred in the series over the years included Harrison Ford, Joan Van Ark, Bill Bixby, Kent McCord, John Rubinstein, Jack Lord, Norman Fell, Gavin MacLeod, Gary Collins, William Shatner and Martin Sheen. Even Quincy Jones had a guest starring stint.
Raymond Burr was a truly unique man. He was a voracious reader with an almost photographic memory. Although he did not attend college, he had an interest in almost everything and studied on his own gaining an impressive bank of knowledge that rivaled university graduates with advanced degrees. In addition to his active mind and endless energy (he slept very little) he also cultivated orchids and even developed a variety he called "Della," named and inspired by his beloved former Perry Mason co-star Barbara Hale, who played his secretary Della Street.
"Ironside" is a release long overdue for fans of great detective dramas and Raymond Burr. Let us hope the remaining seasons of this outstanding series are released quickly! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with all 28 Original Episodes, plus the feature-length Pilot