Penny Serenade

It's Perfect!

I can't remember when I first watched Penny Serenade--either in high school or college. All I remember is that I fell in love with it completely and perfectly, even though I blew through my supply of tissues. As the New York Times reviewer said when the movie was released in 1941:

In fact, if you are prone to easy weeping, you might even take along a washtub. And don't be disturbed if your neighbor, unprovided, drips and splatters all over you.

Why it works: The CHaracters Grow AnD Then Don't

Penny Serenade spans the courtship and marriage of Roger (Cary Grant) and Julie (Irene Dunne). Most films only focus on the courtship. And movies that do attempt to encompass a long span of time fail (think of every biopic you've ever watched). But this one works because Roger and Julie grow and change over time. Roger most of all.

Roger (Cary Grant) starts out as a pompous, braggart newspaper reporter who wants to own a newspaper and be his own boss. Over the course of the film, he develops into a good and caring husband and father. He says to the judge when the "system" almost takes their adopted child away:

I'd always been, well, kind of careless and irresponsible. I wanted to be a big shot. I couldn't work for anybody, I had to be my own boss, that sort of thing. Now here I am standing in front of a judge pleading for just a little longer so I can prove to you that I can support a little child who doesn't weigh quite 20 pounds. ... Please don't take her away from us. Look, I'm not a big shot now. I'll do anything, I'll work for anybody. I'll beg, I'll borrow, I'll... Please Judge, I'll sell anything I've got until I get going again. At least she'll never go hungry and she'll never be without clothes not while I've got two good hands to help me."

But what makes the film work even better is that when things go wrong, Roger reverts back to his selfish self. We may not like him when he returns to his old self, but that is what all of us do. That makes it real and perfect. (Cary Grant was nominated for an Academy Award for this part.)

Why it works: George Stevens

Why didn't you know me? I directed most of your favorite movies

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!


Movie is copyright free.