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Comparison of Legal Drama Films to Study Film History

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In the film industry, there have been so many changes, development, and advancements over time. The technology in film making is changing, also meaning that the quality, elements, and coverage of the films of recent times have changed too. This paper will compare two legal drama films, one from the past five years and another from 1966. It will also analyze and explain the importance of understanding film history through a comparison of the two films.


Legal drama films involve action surrounding legal affairs and the criminal justice system. However, besides these factors remaining constant in a legal drama throughout the years, some things are bound to change in films over time. For instance, crimes vary, criminal tactics get more advanced, and even the tactics of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges change too. Perry Mason has been rated as one of the most significant legal drama that made managing to maintain an 8.1 rating after 271 episodes. Perry Mason’s film involves an attorney who seemingly defended the indefensible by taking on the most difficult cases and digging up facts that helps him to win. On the other hand, the legal drama thriller How to get away with murder involves a story of Annalise Keaten, a criminal defense lawyer, and a teacher who teaches a group of aspiring students. However, their lives change when they are involved in a series of murders that require their knowledge as lawyers to handle.

These two films (Perry Mason and How to Get Away with Murder) are both legal dramas telling the story of the criminal justice system in the United States but in a seemingly different perspective. The story in the two films might be very different from castings to effects, sound, music, light, and many other things. Still, one thing that remains prevalent in the two films is that being a legal drama, the lawyers and attorneys do their best to get their clients out of the legal situations they may be in. Both Annalise and her team and Mason with his team will go to all lengths to uncover facts to help them in court. ‘One importance of knowing the history of a film is to understand how creators and audiences responded to those moments in history, one understands more than the film but the art around it’. Everybody loves movies; that’s why the film industry is one of the biggest in the entertainment industry. People rush to theatres to watch the newest release of their favorite movies. In the 1960s, Perry Mason was a thrilling legal drama to the audience just as How to Get Away with Murder is in 2018, meaning that besides the changes occurring over time, the love of the genre remains the same.

Different aspects have, however, evolved with new films elaborate on the criminal elements of the criminal justice system. Such is today’s world, compared to 50 years ago, people are more willing to evade facing justice, including being involved in additional illegalities to keep them out of jails. The story remains the same in the criminal justice system but adds on aspects of the modern world, what is happening in criminal justice in the world today. Therefore, the filmmaker of How to Get Away with Murder had to incorporate the current affairs in the legal drama. Thus, this brings on another importance of knowing the history of a film, ‘since if a filmmaker made a film with the same storyline with that of 40 years ago, then the story might be unrealistic and irrelevant to the audience today’.

Technological advancements in making the film have also changed with aspects such as color, sound mix, lights, music, costumes, camera, aspect ratio, and runtime changing. For instance, Perry Mason was a black and white film whose episode runs for 60 minutes. Making such a film today may not have anyone to watch it since things have changed; people want shorter episodes, which are more colorful. ‘That is why How to Get Away with Murder is a color film running for 43 minutes an episode meaning that people make time for it without getting bored before an episode is done’ (‘How to Get Away with Murder. The theme in perry Mason is getting justice for every client while the subject in Annalise’s is doing whatever possible to evade jail term. These two films both focus on defending clients, but the methods involved in both films are very different.

The characters in the two films are different, including their costumes, and most of the change is a requirement for a generation change. For instance, one does not expect a law student of today to dress the same way as a legal student from 50 years ago. ‘In Perry Mason, he wears sleek suits, sometimes smokes cigarettes and wears a hat. But if an individual wore the same suit today, it would not be considered elegant as time has changed, fashion too, and what was sleek in 1957 cannot be stylish in 2015’. The character of Mason is that of a well collected and cool-headed attorney who turns stones to find justice for the victims. Annalise, on the other hand, is an ambitious woman who does everything for her clients, not necessarily legal she goes to the extent of making threats and blackmails to get her way something not new in the criminal justice system of today.

The introduction to the two films tells a story of who the character is and will be in the movie. The official trailer of How to Get Away with Murder introduces an ambitious Middleton University professor taking her students through criminal law and 5 of her students going through any length to attain a grade that will enable them to join Annalise’s firm. These students adore the professor, but soon enough, they are all entangled in a web of murder that keeps them bound to each other to cover one another story. In Perry Mason, the introduction involves the defense attorney Mason with one of his clients who he intends to get help with the help of his detective and his secretary. The music in the two films has changed with Perry Mason playing classic 1950s music in the background while in How to Get Away with Murder, modern songs play in the environment bringing in the contemporary effect to the film.

Understanding the history of a film is essential not only to the creators but also to the audience and scholars in the film industry. ‘For n individual to appreciate a movie, then he or she has to know what it has taken to create it today, what changes have happened since such a movie was made years ago’. The life of a film comes out on how the audience reacts to it; however, understanding the history behind the film makes one appreciate it more.


Perry Mason and How to Get Away with Murder are two similar legal dramas yet very different in so many aspects. However, for an individual to appreciate How to Get Away with Murder, he must consider films such as Perry Mason to understand the work behind its success. From cameras to themes, lightings, characters, and even the story show of advancements in the film industry, that, if understood, leads to more appreciation.

Works Cited

  • Aufderheide, Patricia. ‘Why Study Film History? I Came to Learn the Craft!’ International Documentary Association, 25 Sept. 2016, Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
  • Flemming M. ‘Blog Post 2: The Importance of History Through Film.’ NewsActivist | Read, Write, React, 27 Feb. 2015,
  • ‘How to Get Away with Murder (TV Series 2014? ).’ IMDb, 25 Sept. 2014,
  • Ledoux, Jacques. ‘ : Essays.’ : Home, Sept. 2008, Accessed 14 Nov. 2019.
  • ‘Perry Mason (TV Series 1957?1966).’ IMDb, 21 Sept. 1957,

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Comparison Of Legal Drama Films To Study Film History. (2021, November 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from
“Comparison Of Legal Drama Films To Study Film History.” GradesFixer, 22 Nov. 2021,
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