It may have been that old movie channels when I was a kid focused on broadcasting films directed by Frank Capra or George Cukor so I wasn't aware of George Stevens as a director before Penny Serenade. And then I watched The More the Merrier and Vivacious Lady. Why didn't I know this director? Perfectly ridiculous.
During the 1930s and early 1940s, George Stevens directed light comedies and dramas until he was called to serve in World War II where he headed a film unit. His shot footage of D-Day, the liberation of Paris, and the Duben and Dachau camps. After that he made only dramas. Luckily for us, he'd made Penny Serenade before he saw the atrocities.
Why it Works: AppleJack and Miss Oliver
Applejack (Edgar Buchanan) and Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi) are the movie sidekicks to Roger and Julie. But they really function as angels coming to Roger and Julie's aid. If Applejack and Miss Oliver weren't in the film, Roger and Julie would never have made it as a couple. Applejack fixes the printer, the bathtub, and suggests they adopt. Miss Oliver finds them, "a baby like no other."
WHY IT WOrks: The Writing
The movie ties the life of Julie and Roger through song. Each song represents the time period as well as the state of the couple. The film opens with Roger buying a pile of records from Julie when he doesn't even own a Victrola (phonograph player). The song playing, You were Meant for Me.
Morrie Ryskind wrote the screenplay, inspired by a McCall’s magazine story by Martha Cheavens. The amount of comedy in Penny Serenade demonstrates Morrie Ryskind's background of writing musical comedy for the stage with George S. Kaufman, co-writing Marx Brothers movies, and writing scripts for My Man Godfrey and Stage Door, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award. If you only watch the comedic scenes when Julie and Roger bring baby Trina home, you'll be charmed--they're perfect!
You can watch Penny Serenade free on youtube--no one thought to renew its copyright. How perfect for us!