Shout! Factory // 1978 // 1080 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 8th, 2009
"You teach yourselves the law; I train your minds. You come in here with
a skull full of mush; and if you survive, you'll leave thinking like a
-- Professor Kingsfield
The Paper Chase started off as a novel written by a 1970 graduate of Harvard Law School based on his first year and an imperious contracts professor who made life very interesting. In 1973 it was translated in to a faithful movie starring John Houseman (Ghost Story), Timothy Bottoms (Invaders from Mars), and Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman). Houseman won an Academy Award for his performance as Best Supporting Actor that year, despite having been far down on the list by producers as the choice for the role. Houseman was perfect, and this was his first major success in film after a hugely successful radio career. In September of 1978 CBS based a television series on the story keeping Houseman but casting James Stephens (First Monday in October) as protagonist James Hart. In a smart move, the author of the original novel, John Jay Osborn Jr., participated in creating and writing for the series. Also on board was James Bridges, who directed the film. The end product feels very true to the quality of the source material and the movie which came before it. Despite the intelligent scripts and solid acting, the show was canceled after only a year on broadcast television, but it was resurrected in 1983 on the cable channel Showtime. There it ran two seasons as an early cable exclusive original program that had a pretty big audience. This release on DVD is the first time The Paper Chase has been on any home video format, and Shout! Factory has provided the first CBS year.
All of the episodes in this set cover the first year of law school, which by most accounts is the hardest. We follow student James T. Hart from rural Minnesota who is struggling to adapt to the fast pace of Harvard Law School. In both the novel and original film Professor Kingsfield was more remote and cold in every way, and the TV series does let John Houseman's character become more likable and even endearing. He shows a softer side now and then, instead of being merely a threatening figure who doesn't even learn the names of his pupils. The number of characters is also greatly expanded with Hart's study group becoming the core cast. They struggle through different things, and we get to see them in and out of class trying to juggle life and law in unequal doses. The frazzled students are always under intense, crushing pressure to be perfect, and that seems to be the core of the whole series.
Six discs are housed inside three thin cases surrounded by a cardboard cover. Shout! Factory has made this a bare bones release without any extras or supplements. All twenty-two first year episodes are presented in the original broadcast format of fullscreen video and mono audio. The quality of both is clean, but doesn't look like it has been remastered in any way. That's okay, since truly what anybody is going to want in a release of The Paper Chase is a good old fashioned dose of nostalgia. Soft images and grain are part of the charm. There is a nice booklet included which serves as a solid episode guide with summaries of each installment.
It's good to finally see The Paper Chase come to DVD, and I am glad Shout! Factory has started the ball rolling. The series is something unique in television because it's not a sensationalized topic like a wild crime drama or a hyped up emergency room. No, it's a story about a guy going to law school. How simple and yet how poignant is that? Even during the late '70s the show must have felt completely original.
The Paper Chase: Season One is free to go since it delivers exactly what we expect from the contract. But where are the supplements?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1080 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Paper Chase (series)
* IMDb: The Paper Chase