Warren William as Perry Mason in The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

1936 Gallaher Film Episodes tobacco card features Claire Dodd with Warren WilliamOr as you probably know it "the one where Errol Flynn plays a corpse." That always kind of bugs me because while he's not in it for very long and doesn't actually say anything, Flynn is live and in action during the last few minutes of Curious Bride in a flashback scene. So okay, it's a total bit part, but he is more than a corpse. Why so little Flynn? Well, it's just his fourth film and first for Warner's filmed in the U.S. He'd have a little more to do in Warren William's next film, Don't Bet on Blondes (1935) before being awarded the lead in Captain Blood (1935)* and shooting to instant stardom. Beyond Flynn himself his character, Gregory Moxley, is actually at the center of the entire case.

*Interesting sidenote regarding Captain Blood. In a letter from Warren William to Warner Brothers' legal executive Roy Obringer dated January 8, 1935, William, while arguing about the size of his billing in an ad for Living on Velvet (1935), gripes of the "irreparable damage" the studio has done to him by, among other offenses, "reassigning other pictures that have heretofore been publicly announced as vehicles intended for me. I make particular reference to Rafael Sabatini's "CAPTAIN BLOOD" (Warner Bros. Archives, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California). Backing this up is an item in the June 24, 1934 edition of the Charleston Gazette of West Virginia noting William is slated to play the title role in Captain Blood with George Brent and Ricardo Cortez in support (26).

Errol Flynn in The Case of the Curious Bride

Errol Flynn as Moxley

As for Perry Mason himself post-Thin Man influence takes over and injects much more comedy throughout this film than the initial entry in the series, The Case of the Howling Dog (1934). But that's not to say that Mason and Curious Bride are a total Thin Man rip-off. The Mason of Curious Bride actually allows us our first glimpse of Warren William really getting comfortable in the role and giving us a prototype for the personality he's to play not only in his next two Mason outings but later as The Lone Wolf as well. While Curious Bride isn't quite as off the wall as The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935) will be just a few months later, it's apparent from the moment Warren William appears, crab shopping with his cronies on a street corner, that Curious Bride is intended as far lighter fare than the more hard-boiled Howling Dog.

Lightening Mason up this time around is his assistant Spudsy Drake, Allen Jenkins playing about 180 degrees from his Sergeant Holcomb of the previous movie, as well as coroner Wilbur Strong played by Olin Howland. Howland reprises this role in 1936's The Case of the Velvet Claws but in between he plays the very similar Dr. Croker in Curious Bride's immediate follow-up, The Case of the Lucky Legs. Also on the scene is Claire Dodd as the best of the Della Street's despite not having much to do in Curious Bride. Dodd also returns as Della in Velvet Claws, but Genevieve Tobin will take over for Lucky Legs. Need a scorecard yet? Anyway it's the team of Jenkins, Howland, Dodd and Thomas E. Jackson as Inquirer reporter Toots Howard who help lighten the mood around Mason in this entry, and Warren William rolls with it in a performance so comfortable you can't help but to think this is the performer in his own skin.

Warren William and Allen Jenkins in The Case of the Curious Bride

Perry and Spudsy tip their caps to Telegraph Operator Mary Treen

There's also a decided Thin Man influence in the minor characters of Curious Bride, especially in escargot loving convict Fibo (pronounced Fee-bo) Morgan (Paul Hurst), his actress sister Florabelle (Mayo Methot pre-Bogart marriage), and as the film draws towards its conclusion Oscar Pender (Warren Hymer), a character who has to do some slick talking to explain his presence at the murder scene. These people seem like they left Nick and Nora's Christmas party early in order to get out to Frisco and be within Perry Mason's reach!

Warren Hymer in The Case of the Curious Bride

Warren Hymer as Pender, his face showing the signs of Spudsys blackjack

Of course the final scene of Curious Bride practically mimics the finale of the original Thin Man with the only difference being the suspects are gathered on their feet for cocktails rather than around a table for a meal. Mason's techniques in fingering the murderer are exactly the same as Nick Charles' though: a story, some questions, several accusations and eventually the guilty party cracks.

The mystery at the center of all this fun starts to unfold inside an upscale restaurant where William's Perry Mason has commandeered the kitchen, donning apron and chef's hat, to cook his crab legs before an audience of adoring employees. Mason ignores the all too common request of a woman calling upon him, preferring to concentrate on his cooking, until Margaret Lindsay beams at him and catches his attention. Lindsay is Rhoda, an old flame, who tells Perry a story about her friend, dubbed the curious bride by Perry, who has hopes of getting married again but first has to void a current marriage. Perry notes Rhoda twisting her wedding ring and basically winks at the story of her friend. When the maitre d' has troubles fulfilling Perry's wine request, Mason is forced to excuse himself to choose a proper vintage for himself, meanwhile Rhoda bolts and is tailed outside by Donald Woods who we soon discover is playing her husband, Carl Montaine.

Warren William in The Case of the Curious Bride

Warren William in his cooking gear

In brief, Rhoda had previously been married to Moxley (Flynn) and married Montaine after Moxley's death. But she now believes that Moxley is alive and in the interim she's become seriously involved with Dr. Claude Millbeck (Phillip Reed). If Moxley can be found then that wipes out the marriage to Montaine leaving her free to wed Millbeck. When Mason pays a visit to his coroner pal, Wilbur Strong, to have a peek at Moxley's exhumed body they all have a chuckle when it's revealed a cigar store Indian has been buried in Moxley's place.

Olin Howland in The Case of the Curious Bride

Olin Howland as coroner Wilbur Strong

With Mason's task simplified to just producing Moxley it's no surprise that when it does find him it's dead with a sheet pulled over him in a room full of cops headed by Barton MacLane's cranky Chief Detective Joe Lucas (MacLane returns as a different Dectective in Lucky Legs). Now Rhoda has more than marital woes on her hands, she's become the chief suspect in the Moxley murder case and Mason sets to work with Spudsy to clear her.

Margaret Lindsay in The Case of the Curious Bride

Perry talks to Rhoda with the shadows of the bars in the background

There are no weak performances in The Case of the Curious Bride, in fact my only complaint with the casting is that we could have used more of Claire Dodd as Della Street. Lindsay has a fair amount of screen time as Rhoda Montaine and does a fine job at coloring her character just gray enough to leave us wondering, all the while feeling sympathetic towards her just in case she really is innocent! Allen Jenkins is hilarious as Spudsy and steals several scenes, though perhaps my favorite is one he shares sitting on a stoop with Warren William where the two men are overcome by the tear gas Spudsy has been carrying as they say their farewells for the evening.

Allen Jenkins and Warren William in The Case of the Curious Bride

Spudsy and Perry break down at their farewell

Also featured in the cast are Phillip Reed, somewhat invisible as Doctor Millbeck, Rhoda's latest prospective husband; Winifred Shaw as Pender's (Hymer) singing sister; Charles Richman, effectively pompous as Montaine's (Woods) father who hopes to see daughter-in-law Rhoda found guilty; Robert Gleckler and James Donlan as Barton MacLane's underlings, Detectives Byrd and Fritz, both of whom have their moments of comedy relief; and Henry Kolker as heavy handed District Attorney Stacey who'll go as far as legally possible to finally hand defeat to Perry Mason.

Michael Curtiz keeps Curious Bride's overall pace as snappy as its dialogue dissolving each scene through a literal fog which can seem abrupt at times but certainly does as intended in keeping things moving briskly. Except when Perry and his gang are together most of Curious Bride is set inside tight quarters, often with Perry (or Spudsy) trapping somebody under their questioning, one exception being the airport scene which involves a lot of moving parts but at the same time does see Perry lock himself inside a phone booth with Rhoda where he can dictate his orders and keep her away from the eyes of the police.

Claire Dodd in The Case of the Curious Bride

Claire Dodd as Della Street

The Case of the Curious Bride began production January 28, 1935 and was released as a Clue Club Picture by First National Pictures through Warner Brothers on April 8, 1935. In an April 5 review the New York Times says of The Case of the Curious Bride that "the pace is swift, the solution well hidden, the comedy good and—but isn't that enough?" I have to agree.

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Comments

  1. Jeffers says

    I don’t know if I’d say Claire Dodd is the BEST of the Dellas, but she is so darn cute and lovable you can see why she was brought back as the one he married! Even more striking when you consider how aloof and/or bitchy her characters usually were, even in the other film where WW married her (“Don’t Bet On Blondes,” which, like “Case of the Velvet Claws,” ends with the pair leaving for their honeymoon in a taxi).

    Olin Howland (sometimes Howlin, but I don’t think ever Howard) is another performer who can be so irresistible he almost deserves his own series of entries on some classic movie blog!

    Thanks for another great post on another of my favorite WW movies.

  2. Jeffers says

    Almost forgot–that’s amazing news (to me) about WW having been intended for “Captain Blood”!!! Who now would wish it HADN’T gone to Flynn? But it would have been great, too, to see WW star in such a vehicle (“Man in the Iron Mask” being the closest approximation we actually ended up with).

  3. says

    Hey Jeffers —

    Whoops, I typo that I rolled with (Olin Howland) … it’s been corrected, thanks!

    Should be … best of WW’s Dellas. And, of course, anytime I say the “best” of anything just take that as opinion. I’ll stick by Dodd though, love her in just about anything.

    Thanks pal,
    Cliff

  4. Jeffers says

    I took for granted you meant “best of WW’s Dellas.” (Carefully setting aside Ann Dvorak? THAT would have been a great re-teaming, at least potentially!) I really like WW’s other two Dellas, too, but Dodd does make me so nearly IN LOVE WITH her CHARACTER that I wish she had more roles (that I know of) where she not only does a terrific job (her catty role in “Roberta” comes first to mind of those I’ve seen), but leaves me smitten and sighing wistfully afterwards. Well, that may overstate my degree of emotional involvement, but I really do appreciate her Della, especially the first time around!

  5. Jeffers says

    I see that in November the Warner Archive Collection will be bringing out a two-disc set of all six 1930s Warner Perry Mason movies, including of course the four with our hero. This should be grea starter set for any beginning Warren William collectors. The first movie, “The Case of the Howling Dog,” is a fine straight mystery; “Lucky Legs” and “Curious Bride” are fine mysteries with lots of comedy added; “Velvet Claws” may not be quite as good but has the added interest of beginning with Perry marrying Della Street. The first three titles in particular preserve (though in a quite different way from “Bedside,” for instance) about as much pre-Code daring as the Code era could tolerate, and make one wish Warners had kept WW on for more titles in this at least borderline- scandalous vein. The other entries, “Black Cat” with Ricardo Cortez and “Stuttering Bishop” with Donald Wood, are also solid entertainment.

    Also coming in November: a two-disc, six-film Philo Vance collection, including WW’s “Dragon Murder Case” (but not the Gracie Allen one).

    • says

      Hey Jeffers, my apologies, somehow never saw this comment. Hadn’t heard the news about the Perry Mason set as of yet, but it’s great to hear! Thanks for breaking the news!

  6. Jeffers says

    The Perry Mason set is available now for $29.95. These were MY introduction to Warren William, and I again recommend them highly.

  7. Jeffers says

    While I originally saw this listed as a two-disc set, it’s actually three, giving us two discs devoted just to WW.

  8. Benjamin says

    Didn’t I see George Saunders in a reporter crowd scene at a train station (I think) where he was hiding Margafet Lindsay in a phone booth?

    • says

      Not sure, Benjamin, I’m going to have to watch again now! If so the IMDb didn’t catch him while they did spot some other reporters including Guy Kibbee’s brother, Milton. (Not sure if that’s the same scene though). You’ve given me something to keep my eyes peeled for next time!

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