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.