PENNY SERENADE (1941) |★★★ 1/2
Penny Serenade (1941) stars Irene Dunne and Cary Grant as Julie and Roger, a happy young couple who fall in love and get married. When a tragic circumstance results in Julie becoming sterile, the two look to fulfill their wishes to become parents in the event of an adoption, which gives way to unexpected joy and heartbreak. The story is told through a series of flashbacks provoked by a stack of Victrolas played by a nostalgic Julie as she reflects back on what she and Roger had and lost. Beulah Bondi costars as the the orphanage caretaker.
There were things I liked about this movie, and things that I didn't like as much. Over all, I thought it was an average but enjoyable film, and there's no drastic reason not to give this a viewing.
It had been quite a while since I had seen one of Irene Dunne's movies - I remember watching more of her when I just began to watch old films, a handful of her best - Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), My Favorite Wife (1940), I Remember Mama (1948). She is always a pleasure to watch on screen, a warm and sweet actress with a terribly infectious smile. (I would like to think she's grossly underrated as well, I believe she never won an Oscar). The best thing about Irene was that she had a quick wit for comedy but finely tuned emotions for drama, and she gets to use both of them in this film. More of the latter but there are a few chances for her to show off a hint of her comedic flair, as well. She's enjoyable and endearing as Julie, breaking our hearts bit by bit, and you can hardly help but not sympathize with her.
There's no need to wonder what I thought of Cary Grant in this movie, because, of course, I thought he was perfect - but I do think that about anything he was ever in. (Cary Grant could try to sell me Oxy-Clean in an informercial and I would buy it, just because of him.) As he always is, he's witty, charming, and marvelous. He gets more of the witty lines than Irene, like when their adopted child begins to cry and he says flatly to Irene, "Well, make her stop!"
As a pair, they are adorable, especially with the addition of a small baby, then it's almost too much. I like the idea of how the film is told through a sentimental journey of memories brought on by a "serenade" - the title song is "You Were Meant For Me," and if that sounds familiar, it probably is: it was also used in Singin' in the Rain (1951). There are cute scenes and sweet scenes. But the movie also drags a bit too long and it ends in yet another tragedy that seemed completely unnecessary. In the end, it comes off looking a little too sappy and heartbreaking.
The pairing of Dunne and Grant was done twice before: The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940), both of which, as I mentioned before, I have already seen. Out of the lineup Serenade comes off as the most average but it's still an enjoyable movie with warm performances. I would say that the film's main fault is trying to be too sad (which is often the case with movies like this), and it eventually feels as if it's harnessing itself to our heartstrings and tugging until it tears. Whatever can go wrong for this couple seems to, which works for a while but then ultimately is a bit too corny. Still; it's most certainly not a bad film and you could definitely give it a watch all the while!