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Before Perry Mason was a long-running television series starring Raymond Burr in the title role, the detective-lawyer appeared in a series of popular Warner Bros. films in the 1930s, including The Case of the Curious Bride (1935), notable as Errol Flynn's first American film.
Slated for a part in the film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), Flynn - newly arrived in Hollywood from Australia via England - was instead appointed to a bit part in the Perry Mason mystery thriller. Audiences first saw him as a corpse in silhouette and then later in a short flashback sequence at the end of the film. Thus marked Fynn's inauspicious beginning in American cinema.
The Case of the Curious Bride was the second in a series of four Perry Mason films with Warren William playing Erle Stanley Gardner's lawyer detective in a witty and breezy style. In this outing, Mason is sought out by an old friend, Rhoda (played by Margaret Lindsay). Her first husband (Flynn), whom she believed to be dead, has reappeared, complicating matters with her second husband. Flynn's character turns up murdered, and the race is on to bring the real killer to justice. Mason and his team swiftly investigate, providing some humor, explanation of legal quirks and first rate sleuthing along the way. Before the denouement, Mason stages a ritzy cocktail party with all the suspects in attendance before unmasking the real killer.
Unlike the more staid portrayal of Raymond Burr's Perry Mason, William's portrayal of the lawyer was of a more sophisticated man about town a la The Thin Man who spent little time in the actual courtroom. Over the years, William became a familiar face in the mystery genre, starring as detective Philo Vance in several films in the 1930s and playing the lead in the Lone Wolf series of thriller films at Columbia.
Supporting Mason in his legal pursuits in The Case of the Curious Bride is Allen Jenkins as Spudsy and former Ziegfeld show girl Claire Dodd as the loyal Della Street. Dodd, who would reprise her role in the next film in the series, holds the distinction of the only actress to actually play Della Street in more than one film. Also appearing in a small role is Mayo Methot, who was the wife of Humphrey Bogart. They were known as the "Battling Bogarts" at the time due to their frequent public fights.
The bride of the films title, actress Margaret Lindsay, appeared in one of the two Flynn scenes, a flashback episode where her character attacks Flynn's with a fireplace poker. Lindsay later recalled that during the scene Flynn accidentally knocked her out as they struggled before the cameras. Flynn was immediately sorry, she noted, and later apologized numerous times to his first American acting partner.
The man behind the camera of The Case of the Curious Bride is Michael Curtiz, one of Warner Bros.' top directors (Angels With Dirty Faces, 1938, Casablanca, 1942, Mildred Pierce, 1945). Curtiz would team up with Flynn later that year on Captain Blood, a film that would make Flynn a star of swashbuckling epics. The pair worked together a total of 12 times over the next few years, resulting in some of Flynn's most popular and memorable romantic adventures, such as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940).
Neither returned to the Perry Mason series after The Case of the Curious Bride and in fact, only one more film starring Warren William followed in the series. Despite the good notices the films received, the studio downgraded the series to B-movie status and William departed after The Case of the Velvet Claws in 1936. A couple of films were released in the two years that followed, with Richard Cortez and Donald Woods each in the Perry Mason role, but the studio decided to drop the series. The astute lawyer would be a durable character, though, and find new audiences 20 years later with the hit Perry Mason television show.
Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Erle Stanley Gardner, Tom Reed, Brown Holmes
Cinematography: David Abel
Film Editing: Terry Morse
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Sammy Fain, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Warren William (Perry Mason), Margaret Lindsay (Rhoda Montaine), Donald Woods (Carl Montaine), Claire Dodd (Della Street), Allen Jenkins (Spudsy Drake), Philip Reed (Dr. Claude Millbeck).
BW-80m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox