If you have seen the fabulously funny My Favorite Wife, then like me you might be duped into thinking Irene Dunne and Cary Grant‘s presence in Penny Serenade also promises a plethora of laughs. You’d be wrong though. Penny Serenade is a compelling story and is well acted, especially on Dunne’s part, but if you sit down expecting a comedy, you will be greeted with a deluge of depression.
The story is told in flashback as a sad Dunne as Julie plays records that take her back to when the songs were first heard. The primary tune is one that caught the ear of Grant’s Roger as Julie simultaneously caught his eye. The man enters the record store where the young woman works and finds a way to get her alone in a sound booth for the rest of the day. There the romance begins.
We move through their relationship that progresses into a hasty New Year’s marriage ahead of newspaperman Roger’s transfer to China for a several-year stint. Julie eventually joins him and finds he has purchased a nice home for them … on credit. She is already pregnant but that will not last when an earthquake shakes their home apart, leaving the woman infertile.
Roger’s next move is to buy a small-town newspaper, and he moves the wife into the home above the printing presses. Family friends press the couple about adopting a child and eventually both spouses relent. They take in baby Trina, but the paper goes under during the adoption trial period and, without income, the orphanage must repossess the child. In his most dramatic show of the flick, Roger emotionally persuades a judge to allow them to keep the girl.
Trina grows up to age 6 (Eva Lee Kuney) when she participates but does not appear in the Xmas pageant. She plays an echo and moves bits of scenery about. She is promised the role of an angel for the following year but will fail to fulfill that destiny.
Penny Serenade in many ways is hard to watch. Grant’s Roger is obnoxiously foolhardy (at least for a frugal viewer such as myself), and we sympathize with Julie who will express her concerns but not put her foot down. The story follows the growing together and apart and together and apart of this couple. Dunne does a great job of wearing her emotions on the surface and has always been an equally talented dramatic actress as she is a comedic one. Grant, on the other hand, really is at his best in comedies. He does, however, finally prove to us that he actually cares about the kid in his plea to the judge, which is truly a scene worth witnessing for the Cary Grant fans out there.
I cannot deny that Penny Serenade is a good movie, but it does turn me off in some ways. It is hard to convince oneself to watch such a gloomy movie, no matter how well acted –and I’m not trying to suggest this is “Romeo and Juliet” depressing– but the couple’s moments of happiness are quickly chased with distress. I additionally am such a fan of My Favorite Wife that I cannot help but compare the two and put Penny Serenade in last place.