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RELEASED: 1941, Cert. PG
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 119 mins
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: George Stevens
SCREENPLAY: Morrie Ryskind
MUSIC: W Franke Harling
Irene Dunne as Julie
Cary Grant as Roger
Edgar Buchanan as Applejack
Beulah Bondi as Miss Oliver
Eva Lee Kuney as Trina (at age 6)
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Penny Serenade begins with Julie packing her things in order to leave her husband, Roger.
Watched over by friend and Roger's assistant Applejack, Julie gathers up a pile of records and begins to play them, just before she leaves.
As she places the stylus on the first record and the music begins, her life right from the very first time she met Roger, right up to date, is told in flashback format, each section being introduced by her playing a different record.
Julie and Roger meet, fall in love and marry very quickly. However, Roger, who is a newspaper reporter, is sent to Japan on a two year assignment which starts on the day following their wedding. After a couple of months, Julie joins him in Japan and informs him that she is pregnant...something that Roger isn't too keen on the idea of, but he pretends to be happy.
Once they are living together, Julie notices a very irresponsible, ungrounded side to Roger's personality that she'd not seen before, but nonetheless she still loves him and they settle down quite happily.
When an earthquake strikes, Julie becomes trapped under falling rubble inside of their house, the result of which causes her to miscarry and on hers and Roger's return to the USA, she is informed that she won't be able to have any more children.
Julie and Roger eventually settle in a rural area not too far from San Francisco, where Roger starts up his own local newspaper, which becomes - with the help of his friend Applejack - moderately successful.
Julie is rather despondent at not being able to have any more children, yet becomes excited when Applejack suggests that she and Roger could go down the route of adopting a baby.
That sets the main scene, and the remainder of the film concentrates on what happens to Julie and Roger from that point onwards.
Penny Serenade begins very well, it immediately catching my attention to the point where I was looking forward to watching the whole film. It isn't often something can grab and absorb me that instantly, so I considered this a definite plus, and I felt the way of presenting the story to be interesting - possibly original for its time.
The acting throughout Penny Serenade is first class from the whole of the main cast, although it must be said that it is very much in the style of the era in which the film was made. Irene Dunne perfects the role of Julie, a young woman who although not feisty, is grounded, balanced and calmly strong - she does have a more whimsical side to her personality too. Cary Grant is also superb as Roger, a bit of a roving spirit who is good-natured, but doesn't want to take the more earthbound, practical side of life too seriously, because at root, it scares him. Interestingly, Cary Grant in this role was required to express a myriad of emotions, which he nailed with a smooth finesse.
Beulah Bondi is also very good as Miss Oliver, the dignified lady from the adoption agency who is very cool, calm and pleasantly collected, but does have a sentimental side beneath her veneer of comportment. I loved the three children who played the part of little Trina, the first two making an appearance as a baby then a toddler, with Eva Lee Kuney delightfully, cutely and very charmingly taking on the role of Trina at age six.
My overall favourite was Edgar Buchanan as Applejack, Julie's and Roger's good friend and assistant. Buchanan perfected this laid-back, mildly amusing, quietly wise individual who although may not seem overly bright on the surface, underneath possesses a wry, borderline amusing wisdom.
The music to Penny Serenade is comprised partly of the score written for the film, which is a little too heavy on the sentiment and violins....yet very typical of its era...and partly of the songs contained on each record that Julie plays which introduce each separate section of her life with Roger. These songs are popular music from the early 1940s, with a distinctly romantic, but not soppily so, flavour.
Penny Serenade is a film which has some deeply serious parts, yet these are peppered with a decent amount of lightness, bordering on the comical at various points. From the aspect of seriousness, I did prefer the beginning part of the film, as at the approximate halfway point when life gets very tough for Julie and Roger, I felt that there was a little something missing from the atmosphere. However, I did enjoy the lightly whimsical element that pops its head up now and again, with one little scene actually managing to make me laugh.
I suppose the crux of the storyline of Penny Serenade is a test to see if a relationship between two people in love can weather a few storms, and how each one emerges when they come out the other side. I'm not sure if such would have been intended, bearing in mind the era in which this film was made, but I detected an underlying 'Mars and Venus' syndrome in that it highlights - whether deliberately or by accident - the way men and women cope differently with life's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Here, we see Julie remaining relatively calm, yet needing to talk about her feelings, whereas Roger tends to bottle things up inside, burying himself in his work and sporting activities, seeing no point in sharing what's going on in his mind.....his philosophy is one of sharing it won't change it, so why bother?
I did very much enjoy Penny Serenade, although it does go a little too far into the sentiment of emotions which arise when problems rear their heads, but in this particular film, I accept such as being par for the course and the general psychology of the way people viewed life back in those days. I have to say that it wasn't overly or unbearably mawkish...just a touch too sentimental here and there, yet the remainder of the film is strong enough to pull it back to terra firma.
The only thing I would really like to change about Penny Serenade, is that it is a bit too long, with the middle part dragging on unnecessarily, perhaps to the point where it clouded certain other issues which I'd like to have seen drawn to the fore. I do consider this to be a minor issue though, and it overall didn't ruin my viewing pleasure.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Penny Serenade (which is made in black and white) very much more than I expected, and would thus heartily recommend it as a sometimes heartwarming, sometimes amusing and sometimes sad tale. It also would make very suitable family viewing despite the PG certification, perhaps for a Sunday afternoon matinee on TV when everybody might like to sit down together and watch something pleasurable, largely undemanding and containing a little bit of humour, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of romance and a little bit of tragedy.
Do I recommend Penny Serenade? Absolutely, although it may appeal slightly more to women than to men, and when deciding to view, one must accept that it is a very old film, made in black and white, plus done in the style typical of its era.
At the time of writing, Penny Serenade can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from 99p to £34.00
Used: from 72p to £5.47
Collectible: only one copy currently available @ £2.50 (appears to be used)
Some DVDs on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Penny Serenade is a 1941 film written by Martha Cheavens and Morrie Ryskind and directed by George Stevens. The film is told in flashback through the use of songs played on an old phonograph by Julie (Irene Dunne) as she remembers the heartbreak and joy of life with husband Roger (Cary Grant) and packs to leave him. Will they get back together again before the film ends? This was the last pairing of Cary Grant and Irene Dunn onscreen and is an unashamedly sentimental tearjerker that won Grant an Oscar nomination (he lost in the end to Gary Cooper). Grant was obviously more of a film star and light comedian than an out and out dramatic actor but then if you had the looks and charm of Cary Grant you probably didn't need to worry too much about not being the greatest Hamlet ever to walk on a stage. Although he was sort of just Cary Grant in every film he made he was probably more versatile than he was sometimes given credit for. He could do rambunctious comedy (Bringing Up Baby) and was game enough to try some more dramatic roles. Penny Serenade is not a Ken Loach film and borders on the saccharine but you'd have to be fairly heartless to dislike it and the sincere performances by Grant and Grant help make the dramatic elements and sadness in the script feel more genuine and less manipulative than they might have been with a lesser pair of leads. It's just an old fashioned heartwarming film that still has a lot of charm.
The film begins with begins their kind hearted factotum Applejack Carney (played wonderfully by Edgar Buchanan) starting to play "You Were Meant For Me" (the film's theme and probably best known for its association with Singin' in the Rain) but being told to stop by Julie because it triggers memories that are too sad to think about right now. She's packing her stuff to leave Roger and asks for a lift to the train station later on. When she's alone though she can help herself from putting a record on and the film begins its retrospective telling with their first meeting. Roger and Irene meet when he sees her through the window of a record shop where she is working and buys a big stack of records just so he can talk to her - despite the fact that he doesn't have anything to play them on. This is a nice scene and draws us into the film. Grant is believably nervous as he tries to think of the right thing to say and Irene Dunn commands the screen without even saying anything. They give her a big close up when she first looks up from the counter and sees the handsome mug of Cary Grant standing there. Record shops were a lot more stylish in the olden days if this film is anything to go by. The black and white looks pretty too. This is a nice film to watch with the rain splattering against the windows outside.
Roger is a newspaper man and they marry on New Year's Eve before he is sent on assignment to Tokyo. Julie is pregnant and joins him there but tragedy is about to strike. An Earthquake (this is an impressive rendering of a real life event) causes Julie to lose the baby she was carrying and also robs her of the ability to have any more children. The main story then becomes their struggle to overcome this tragedy, keep their marriage together and adopt a child. The film is structured so that each song triggers a flashback that begins bathed in happiness but will lead to a poignant event. Roger decides he wants to quit his job as a hotshot reporter and start his own newspaper in his local town. This causes more strain because the paper doesn't do very well and their finances are soon in dire straights. A big part of the film becomes their attempt to adopt a little girl (Eva Lee Kuney) - fighting red tape and the various obstacles thrown in their way. What the film does really well is build the characters and give them a history so that we come to care about their fate. The star duo had worked together in more comedic fare like My Favourite Wife and The Awful Truth and so had real chemistry and although Penny Serenade is a different sort of film they are both excellent.
It's interesting to see the improbably handsome Grant (he wears a hat a lot in this and looks the spitting image of Clark Kent from the comics) in more of an everyman role and Irene Dunn is superb, bringing real heartfelt warmth to the part of Julie. Beulah Bondi is great too as the kind Mrs Oliver who helps them with their adoption plans and the film wouldn't be the same without Buchanan's Applejack Carney. One of the great tearjerking scenes in the film comes when a blubbing Grant must explain to a judge why they should be allowed to keep the little girl despite the fact that his business has failed and he has no regular income. "I'm sorry Judge, but we weren't as fortunate as most people. We would've had one of our own only... well you don't know how badly my wife wanted a child. It wasn't so important to me. I don't know, I suppose most men are like this but children never meant a great deal to me. Oh I liked them alright I suppose, but well what I'm trying to say is your Honor the first time I saw her... she looked so little and helpless. I didn't know babies were so little. And then she took hold of my finger and I held onto it. She just sort of walked into my heart Judge... I didn't know I could feel like that! I'd always been well, kind of careless and irresponsible. I wanted to be a big shot. And 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 that I can prove to you I can support a little child that doesn't weigh quite twenty pounds."
I think the film is maybe a little too long for its own good and throws at least one too many tragedies at the viewer for my liking but ultimately this is a cosy and old fashioned story of redemption where you always want everything to turn out ok for the characters in the end. I like the structure of the film too. The way our cues to scenes are through phonograph platters (the only thing we hear on the soundtrack). Reminded me a little of the way Woody Allen used a similar device in Radio Days. Penny Serenade is probably not a great film but it is a charming melodrama with two very appealing leads. At the time of writing you can buy this for less than five pounds but don't expect any extras.