The Law and Mr. Jones (1960–1962)
Good legal drama ,in need of longer episodes to develop many of its plots and themes
5 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"The law and Mr.Jones" was half hour legal drama starring character actor James Whitmore(the "Spencer Tracy" of television),from the Four Star production company. The series struggled thru one network season,was resurrected thanks to campaigning fans for a second season,but was then cancelled for good,despite Whitmore's best efforts to save his show.

Watching the series in an entire run recently,I would say that it significantly improved after a pretty shaky start. A lot is very good indeed,serious themes tackled intelligently(if hastily!)and featuring many of the fine,largely unheralded character players who were working extensively in television at this period(Dan Tobin,Paul Richards,John Larch,Chares Aidman,Whit Bissell,Edward Binns,Hugh Marlowe,Harry Townes etc) An early episode like "Music to hurt by" comes off like a short,inferior copy of the "Untouchables",with gangster protection rackets in the frame and our lawyer Mr.Jones behaving more like Eliot Ness than Perry Mason. It took the show a few episodes to find its individual identity,though the mood of the series remained erratic,humorous episodes like "The broken hand" and "C'est la showbiz" contrasting with sombre fare like "Reunion",with John Larch in fine form as a racist murderer,"Cold turkey",which sees Peter Falk giving his all as an addict suffering the horrors of narcotics withdrawal and "No law for ghosts",where a cop with personal demons tries to railroad an alcoholic bum for murder. "Unbury the dead" considers the core issue of how we can know and judge the character of others,with Paul Richards as a man jailed for deserting his comrades in war,returning to his hostile home town to claim his inheritance. The final episode,"Poor Eddie's dead",deals with the thorny issue of "political" blacklisting and is a rare chance to see young Bruce Dern as a flaky good guy,instead of his usual role of a flaky bad guy.

It seems to have been a point of honour with the producers(especially in the first season)that Mr.Jones should become involved in an unlawyerly knock down drag out brawl in almost every episode possible. Sometimes this can fit the story,as in "Music to hurt by", where Jones demolishes 2 gangsters. At other times it all seems horribly contrived,such as in the episodes "Mea Culpa" and "Everybody vs Timmy Drayton",where Jones has a totally gratuitous punch up with guest star Dick Powell(playing his client at that!).

Another problem with the show is that the "half hour" format means that some interesting stories become annoyingly truncated. There simply isn't time for things to be developed properly. Some episodes suffer more than others from this. "A quiet town" is one example. Well written and acted,there are a number of interesting threads to the story which cry out for a longer treatment(they should have made some such episodes two parters). We have the question of bias in a judge(Larry Gates giving a great performance). Splendid old character actor Henry Daniell makes a welcome appearance as a conservative legal expert,whose ambiguous role in the proceedings could have been more fascinating if given the time to deal with it more extensively. Though still a fine drama,the lack of time to develop the screenplay makes it seem rushed and all a little too contrived. The trial scenes end well before the case is closed and the result of the case is hastily tagged on as an epilogue scene. While watching such an episode you wonder-they are bringing in all this to the tale,how on earth can they deal with it properly in 25 minutes? And of course,they can't.

A number of stories bring in Jones's rather irritating "crusader" father(one is not surprised this character inflicted the first names "Abraham Lincoln" on his hapless son). These "crusading/comic" episodes are among my least favorite. At times one wonders how Jones actually completed any of his work,as whenever something more interesting presents itself,he is always eager to drop whatever he is doing at that moment(such as some lucrative corporate work!)to charge into battle on behalf of the often penurious client who appears in his office.

James Whitmore as Jones gives his usual reliable performance,injecting a well rounded likability into a character who might have come over as a rather crusading monomaniac otherwise(a description which fits his annoying father). Pretty Janet De Gore is pleasing as his secretary(a slightly implausible romance is seen developing between her character and Jones)and it is a little surprising her acting career was not more extensive. Conlan Carter is the young heavily spectacled legal trainee in the office and the temptation to make the character too much of comic relief fall guy is thankfully largely avoided.

A worthwhile series which could have been more than it finally is if it had been given a longer time-slot to develop its story lines.
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