Given the growing unrest and the increasingly turbulent debate about the subject I have decided to drop my regularly scheduled post and instead answer the question at hand and debate The Case of the Curious Bride.
1935’s The Case of the Curious Bride is, in fact, the strongest of the Perry Mason films of the mid-1930s, of which the first two feature Warren William as the famed icon. Does it rival Citizen Kane? Surely not, but what are the facts of the case?
However, the film is readily entertaining and has more going for it behind the scenes than one might expect. For starters, though it has some star talent, including the aforementioned Warren William, we also have Claire Dodd as his assistant Della. We also get the first American production featuring Errol Flynn, though if you blink or nod off you miss him. Given Flynn’s rather minimal screen time, it is somewhat incredulous that the film has been featured as a portion of Errol Flynn film festivals and is now perhaps best known for his role in it.
There are three things which make the film stand out from the other films in the series (and for full disclosure a reminder that some don’t feature William). First is the script which, though at odds in some places with the original Erle Stanley Gardner novel of the same name, creates an atmosphere that is perhaps a bit more flippant than the author would have preferred. There are constant little one liners which bring quite a bit of appreciated humor to the picture. Further, this certainly is not the Perry Mason of Raymond Burr. The downside of this more light-hearted approach is the diminishment of the mystery at hand, but the trade-off makes for a better picture in this case.
In this iteration Mason is severely extroverted, a world class chef and wine expert, and at least a sporadic womanizer and lawbreaker. (Reference the conversation he has with Rhoda about his last scheduled meeting with her on that last one.)
Second, as Warren William’s second portrayal of the criminologist, his performance is simply that much better. William has grown into the role and it clearly fits him well. He is not only appropriately witty and haughty (the latter bordering on arrogance), but his personalization comes across as almost English in character.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly of the three is the direction of Michael Curtiz. Though the script is clearly structured to be fast paced, Curtiz’ usual workmanlike (but not pedestrian) efficiency is all over the end result. At a crisp 80 minutes, the story flows quickly with slight pauses only for critical moments. One notable result of this fast pacing is the quick fades Curtiz’ uses throughout. At first these are jarring, then annoying. By the conclusion of the film the viewer is numb to them.
Though not a real factor in the film, one must note the appearance of Errol Flynn as well, who you only see in a flashback in the extreme end of the picture. Here is the young dashing Flynn of Captain Blood, which would be made later the same year and make him the star we all remember. Officially he is also a corpse unseen under a sheet, though that could be anyone under there.
The Case of the Curious Bride rises and falls with Warren William. As enjoyable as the film is, the balance of the cast really serves only as foils to Mason himself. It would be especially good to have seen more significant roles for Rhoda (Margaret Lindsay) and Della (Claire Dodd). That said, let’s touch on the plot briefly.
After an especially favorable win, we open with Mason ready to make a fine crab dinner (at a restaurant he can apparently commandeer at will) before departing for a lengthy vacation in China. Mid meal he is beset upon by former girlfriend Rhoda who needs his advice. A friend has just remarried and wants to confirm that her first husband- who she believes passed away five years ago- is, in fact, dead. Of course Mason deducts immediately that there is no friend and the question is truly Rhoda’s own.
Along the course of the picture, Mason, along with a rather comical coroner, not only exhume the dead husband’s coffin to find buried with a wooden cigar store Indian, but are also called to a murder scene at which they actually find the freshly deceased husband (Errol Flynn as Gregory Moxley) in question. Evidently he is an extortionist who became caught up in his own web.
Rhoda unwittingly incriminates herself in the murder as is charged with the crime before Mason untangles it all and exposes the true killer. I’ve skipped a few minor twists to keep some spoilers hidden but this is the general flow of the picture.
We too have some of the standard clichés of the detective genre, though to be honest they surely were not so clichéd then- but to call them trendsetting is surely extravagant. First is the perhaps exotic menagerie of hobbies our protagonist has, which we see in the more popular images of the Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone. Warren William clearly here is a man of the world among the Philistines, much like our favorite Holmes.
We also have the sometime humorous rivalry with the slow-witted police chief, which we see again and again in history. First to mind again comes the Holmes-Lestrade relationship of the later Universal Holmes series and also the Clouseau-Dreyfus relationship of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther series.
Last is what I call the ‘big reveal,’ where the inspector/detective/whatever gets the entire cast together to unveil the culprit and walk through the case. Though used constantly throughout film history, we’d again point out the above two series but also through in every Agatha Christie based film as strong corollaries.
So, though you’ve since seen much what comprises The Case of the Curious Bride elsewhere, you likely haven’t seen this unique recipe. With the secret ingredients of Warren William and Michael Curtiz, this is a treat well worth a taste.
The defense rests.