The Fabulous Forties #37: Penny Serenade (dir by George Stevens)


How many tears can be jerked by one tear jerker?

How melodramatic can one melodrama get?

These are the type of questions that I found myself considering as I watched the 36th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set, 1941’s Penny Serenade.

Penny Serenade opens with Julie (Irene Dunne) announcing that she’s planning on leaving her husband, Roger (Cary Grant).  Fortunately, before Julie goes through with her plan, she listens to a song called You Were Meant For Me.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the song is included on an album called The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  As she stares at the spinning vinyl, Julie starts to have flashbacks!

No, not flashbacks of the LSD kind.  (Though, interestingly enough, Cary Grant was reportedly a big fan of LSD…)  Instead, she has flashbacks of her marriage to Roger.  We see how she first met Roger while she was working in a music store.  Roger stopped by the store to tell her that a record was skipping and it was love at first sight.  However, Roger had no interest in getting married.  Or, at the least, he didn’t until Julie opened up a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “You get your wish — a baby!”

Julie continues to stare at the spinning record and we discover that eventually, she and Roger did get married.  Julie did get pregnant but, as the result of an earthquake, she lost the baby.  (Curse you, fortune cookie!  CURSE YOU!)  Meanwhile, Roger took over a small town newspaper and revealed himself to have absolutely no idea how to handle money.

Because of the earthquake, Julie will never be able to have a child.  (DAMN YOU, FORTUNE COOKIE!  DAMN YOU FOR YOUR LIES!)  However, they can still adopt!  She writes to Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi), the head of the local orphanage.  Julie demands to be given a baby with “blue eyes and curly hair.”  Fortunately, Miss Oliver apparently has a surplus of curly-haired, blue-eyed babies but she’s still reluctant to approve the adoption.  After all, Julie is such a terrible housekeeper!  However, she is impressed by how much both Julie and Roger want a baby so Miss Oliver puts aside her concerns and allows them to have a baby for two years.

At the end of the two years, Roger and Julie have to go to an adoption hearing.  Unfortunately, the paper has gone out of business, the family has absolutely no money, and the fortune cookie has stopped giving advice.  Fortunately, Roger is Cary Grant and who can say no to Cary Grant?  Roger promises the judge that he’ll always love and take care of the baby…

But that’s not all!  The movie is not over yet.  And even as Roger makes his plea, we can’t help but think about the fact that this movie is being told in flashback and that present day Julie is still planning on leaving Roger.  Now, I’m not going to spoil the movie by going into why or revealing what happens in the end.  I’ll just say that it involves more tragedy and more melodrama.  In fact, it includes so much tragedy and so much melodrama, that it starts to get a little exhausting.  How much bad stuff can happen to Cary Grant!?

And the record just keeps spinning…because what goes up must come down, spinning wheel got to go round…

Over the course of his long career, Cary Grant only received two Oscar nominations.  Penny Serenade was his first nomination and, as a fan of Cary Grant’s comedies, it saddens me to say that Cary’s nominated performance really wasn’t that good.  Watching this film, you can tell that Cary felt that this was his chance to prove himself as a dramatic actor and, as a result, he acts the Hell out of every scene.  Of course, Cary’s undying popularity comes from the fact that he rarely seemed to be acting.  His charm was in how natural he was.  In Penny Serenade, he never seems natural.  He’s trying too hard and it’s just odd to see Cary Grant trying too hard.

If you want to see Cary Grant at his best, check out The Awful Truth.  Or maybe The Philadelphia Story.  Those are two great films that prove that Cary Grant was a great actor.  Even a rare misfire of a performance can’t change that fact.

Until next time…

Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel spin. … Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel turn.

Cleaning Out The DVR #23: The Adventures of Robin Hood (dir by Michael Curtiz)

(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)


Flamboyant.  Athletic.  Joyous.  Determined.  Handsome.  Outspoken.  Bigger than life.  Revolutionary.  Anarchist.  Sexy.  Libertarian.  Is there any doubt why Errol Flynn remains the definitive Robin Hood?

And. for that matter, is there any doubt why the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood remains not only the definitive Robin Hood film but also one of the most influential action films in history?

The Adventures of Robin Hood tells the story that we’re all familiar with.  The King of England, Richard The Lionhearted (Ian Hunter), is captured while returning from the Crusades.  His brother, King John (Claude Rains, in full autocratic villain mode), usurps the throne while Richard is gone and immediately raises taxes.  He claims that he’s only doing this to raise the money to set Richard free.  Of course, the real reason is that John is a greedy tyrant.

The only nobleman with the courage to openly oppose John is Sir Robin of Locksely (Errol Flynn).  Sir Robin protects his fellow citizens from John’s main henchman, Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, also in full autocratic villain mode).  In fact, Robin is so brave that, on multiple occasions, he even enters Sir Guy’s castle so that he can specifically tell King John and Sir Guy that he has no use for their laws.  This, of course, always leads to Robin having to make a dramatic escape while arrows flies and swords are unsheathed all around.

And through it all, Robin Hood keeps smiling and laughing.  He’s a wonderfully cheerful revolutionary.  He may be fighting a war against a ruthless and unstoppable enemy and he may be the most wanted man in England but Robin is determined to have fun.  One need only compare Robin to his humorless foes to see the difference between freedom and bureaucracy.

(We could use Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood today, though I suspect our government would just blow him up with a drone and then issue a statement about how, by stealing money from the rich and giving it to the poor, Robin was keeping the government from being able to rebuild bridges and repair roads.)

When Robin isn’t exposing the foolishness of organized government, he’s hanging out in Sherwood Forest.  He’s recruiting valuable allies like Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette) and Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.)  He’s playing constant pranks and promoting revolution and, to his credit, he’s a lot more fun to listen to than that guy from V For Vendetta.  He’s also romancing Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland) and good for him.  Two beautiful people deserve to be together.

Even better, he’s doing it in glorious Technicolor!  There’s a lot of great things about The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The action scenes are exciting.  The music is thrilling.  The film is perfectly cast.  Errol Flynn may not have been a great actor but he was a great Robin Hood.  But what I really love about the film is just the look of it.  We tend to take color for granted so it’s interesting to watch a film like The Adventures of Robin Hood, one that was made at a time when color film was something of a novelty.  For those of us who spend a lot of time talking about how much we love old school black-and-white, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a film that says, “Hey, color can be great too!”

But what I mostly love about The Adventures of Robin Hood is just the pure joy of the film.  Just compare this Robin Hood to the grimly tedious version played by Russell Crowe.

(True, nobody in The Adventures of Robin Hood shouts, “I declare him to be …. AN OUTLAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWW!”  Actually, now that I think about it, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood would have worked much better if Oscar Isaac and Russell Crowe had switched roles.)

The Adventures of Robin Hood was nominated for best picture and it probably should have won.  However, the Oscar went to Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.