|Demonstrating how not to make a good impression on your in-laws.|
(That's their house in the background.)
Gary Cooper heads a stellar cast in a comedy of remarriage so true to formula it seems the role surely must have been written for Cary Grant. Mild mannered English professor Casanova "Cass" Brown (Cooper) learns, on the eve of his marriage, that his first wife has just had a baby (his, naturally). That first marriage lasted less than twenty-four hours, from their chance meeting in the library to his burning down her parents' house the next morning, and the two of them have not spoken since their annulment. He only learns about the baby at all because his ex-wife Isabel (Teresa Wright) is putting the baby up for adoption, and the hospital needs his medical records. Cass falls for the baby just as quickly as he fell for her mother, and when he realizes that he has no legal rights to the child, he kidnaps her. Isabel and her father and his new fiance and her father all spend the next few weeks trying to track him down and keep him from doing anything rash, like eloping with the chambermaid. So much for the Casanova angle to the story.
Much of the humor in Casanova is of the "painfully embarrassing" variety, but stops just shy of the line where it starts to feel more like a horror movie than a comedy. It comes awfully close to the edge--throws spitballs over it in fact--but never quite crosses. The worst of it comes relatively early, when Cass goes to visit his new in-laws and finds they don't keep an ash tray in the library. This prompts a desperate search for a place to put out his cigarette, until he finally puts it out in his handkerchief and stuffs it in his pocket. For his next act he tries to convince them he doesn't smoke, even as his smoldering jacket says otherwise. Of course, lies like this spread like wildfire, and so does fire--particularly when you treat it like a stray cat, and throw books and newspapers at it to make it go away.
If the whole movie were like this, funny though it is, I'd be crying myself to sleep tonight. Thankfully, most of the rest of the film is less painful to watch, centering in the first half around Cass's relationship with his future father-in-law (Frank Morgan) and in the second around his bungling attempts at caring for an infant. Cooper and Morgan make a wonderful comic duo, Cooper's quiet sincerity making him the perfect straight man for Morgan's bumbling effervescence. In fact, the biggest criticism I have of Casanova is that these two don't get more screen time together. Both actors bring such warmth and good humor to most every part they play, and their relationship, with all its quarreling and insults, is both recognizable and endearing.
|Frank Morgan very nearly steals the movie.|
Although the film is ostensibly a romantic comedy and progresses through three different love interests for Cass, the heart of the story is his relationship with his daughter rather than any of the adult women. That relationship is powerfully and sympathetically portrayed, and the film never relies on mere cuteness for its impact as so many films about children and babies often do.
|Careful. There be germs a-foot.|
Casanova doesn't really offer anything you can't find in a dozen other films, but it is a solidly built story and a welcome addition to an imminently likable sub-genre. It will never be a replacement for The Awful Truth or His Girl Friday, but if you've already seen those and liked them, it's a good bet you'll enjoy Casanova as much as I did.