That Brennan Girl (1946): RKO Restored Melodrama, Starring Mona Freeman and Oscar Winner James Dunn

A restored version of That Brennan Girl by Paramount and Scorsese’s Film Foundation screened at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on February 1, 2018.

I am grateful to TCM, which premiered the restored movie on July 6, 2018.

Produced and directed by Alfred Santell (a forgotten filmmaker), That Brennan Girl (aka Tough Girl) is a melodrama starring Mona Freeman in the title role and James Dunn (in his last leading role).

On Mother’s Day, San Francisco 1946, a woman named Ziggy Brennan (Freeman) reflects back on her youthful  life.

The story begins in 1938, when Ziggy’s vain and irresponsible mother Natalie asks her  to pretend they are sisters, so that they can go out together and trick men out of money. Ziggy takes a liking to a con artist, Denny Reagan (Dunn), and steals a soldier’s watch that Denny admires.

The watch’s inscription gives Denny a guilty conscience, so Ziggy gives it back to Mart Neilson, the soldier. He asks her on a date, which leads to marriage and motherhood. Mart, however, is killed in the war.

Ziggy is warned by Natalie after the birth of baby Martha that she is not fit for motherhood. Denny is now doing time in a penitentiary. Ziggy likes to go out every night, leaving Martha with an irresponsible babysitter. Martha nearly dies from an accident, and the baby being sent to an orphanage. Ziggy then attacks the landlady, who gave the testimony.

Denny leaves prison as a reformed man. Tracking down Ziggy, he finds that she has taken in an abandoned child.   After appealing to a court for a second chance, they leave together as a united family of four!

The black and white film is nicely shot and well acted, especially by Freeman, who resembles physically Diane Varsi (“Peyton Place”).  Freeman has some strongly emotional scenes, one set in a church, where she goes to ray and repent, and finds an abandoned baby.

This was a very good year for James Dunn, fresh off from winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the good hearted but drunk father in Kazan’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


James Dunn as Denny Reagan

Mona Freeman as Ziggy Brennan

William Marshall as CPO Martin J. ‘Mart’ Neilson

June Duprez as Natalie Brennan

Frank Jenks as Joe the Cabbie

Dorothy Vaughan as Mrs. Reagan, Denny’s Mother

Charles Arnt as Fred, Natalie’s Second Husband

Rosalind Ivan as Mrs. Merryman the Landlady