Upon returning from a trip, Cas Brown rushes to the home of Madge Ferris (Anita Louis), intent upon asking for her hand in marriage. Her father (Frank Morgan) is determined to circumvent him - Mr. Ferris is not keen on marriage, having been unhappily with Madge's mother for over 20 years. When Cas receives a note from a Chicago maternity hospital, Mr. Ferris' curiosity forces Cas to reveal that he was briefly married about 9 months before. His bride's family took an immediate dislike to him, and when he carelessly allows a cigarette he is hiding (Mrs. Drury, played by Patricia Collinge, despises "cigarette fiends") to set fire to the house, his goose is proverbially cooked. He leaves in disgrace, and without his wife. The marriage is quickly annulled. Though Mr. Ferris discourages it, Cas travels to Chicago to investigate the mysterious letter, only to find out that his former bride has a baby girl she has decided to give up. A horrified Cas cooks up a scheme to take possession of the infant.
As films go, this one has a fairly absurd plot, with scenes that go on for much too long. Much of the film is over the top. The scene in which the Drury's home becomes an inferno is played for laughs (watching a beautiful home and all its contents become an inferno is funny?). And then, there is the section where Cas arrives at the maternity hospital: men assume CAS is pregnant (huh?) and Cas blithely allows a complete physical to be performed without ANY questions. We wondered on what planet anyone would accede to multiple blood tests, physicals, and x-rays with nary a question? In an age of escalating health care costs and uninsurance woes, this just doesn't age well. Also ludicrous is Cooper's ability to merely don scrubs in order to sneak his daughter out of the newborn nursery. He's a man in scrubs - naturally, he is a doctor... (?!)
The film plays the Drurys as a farcical couple; Mrs. Drury's penchant for astrology is annoying. Assumedly, a 1940's audience would find her aversion to cigarettes to be odd as well (though as non-smokers in the 21st Century, we applaud her for that). Luckily, we don't have to put up with her all that long; she is only in the one, extended scene. Quite frankly, Patricia Collinge is totally wasted.
We also found it distasteful that the hospital literally sneaks in the news that baby Drury (the name on the bassinet) is being put up for adoption. The rights of the father (and we know that the doctor and staff are well aware that Isabel and Cas were married at one point) are completely ignored. Cas' panic at the loss of his daughter is understandable. And Cooper, with his wide, lovely eyes and amiable demeanor makes Cas' predicament all the more sympathetic. He is one of the reasons that the film ends up being somewhat enjoyable. The other is his reunion with Teresa Wright. They are an enjoyable couple (just watch them together in Pride of the Yankees). One just wishes they had a bit more to work with.
We found it fascinating that the film was nominated for three academy awards: music, art direction, and sound recording. The competition in Dramatic or Comedy Score category, which had 19 nominations included Max Steiner (for Since You Went Away and The Adventures of Mark Twain), Miklos Rozsa (Double Indemnity, Women of the Town), and Alfred Newman (Wilson). Since You Went Away took the prize. Art Direction had 7 nominations (including Gaslight and Laura. Gaslight won). Sound had 10 nominations, with Wilson taking the prize from Kismet, Double Indemnity and Cover Girl).
Though filmed right in the middle of World War II, Casanova Brown makes no mention of the War. Perhaps it was considered escapist fare, but we found it strange that the War was so completely ignored. It was also the first feature of Independent Pictures. For more information on Independent Pictures, see this TCM Article on Casanova Brown.
Though several worthy supporting players grace this film, with the exception of Frank Morgan, most have little to do. We already mentioned Patricia Collinge; Anita Louise is similarly wasted. She really appears as a pretty face with no job but look lovely (which she does do quite well). The always amusing Mary Treen gets a bit more screen time as the nurse, Miss Clark, and while she is amusing, this clearly is Cooper's film. He is in nearly every scene, and when he is in the scene, the film focuses on him. And of course, Frank Morgan is a delight as a character who, in close analysis, one would find despicable in real life.
Finally, a quick mention of Jill Esmond as Dr. Martha Zernerke. It's always fun for me to find a film with a woman doctor. Interestingly, Zernerke's sex is not dwelt upon; she is portrayed as competent, and ultimately sympathetic. Her sex has no impact on her ability to do her job. Esmond, by the way, was Laurence Olivier's first wife and the mother of his eldest son, Tarquin.
In closing, we leave you with Cooper arriving at a clinic for testing.