Cast & Crew
Applejack Carney pulls from a shelf an album of records entitled "The Story of a Happy Marriage" and places the song "You Were Meant for Me" on the Victrola. Julie Adams, Applejack's old friend and owner of the album, asks him to turn off the tune and announces that she is leaving her husband Roger. After glancing at the nursery, Julie restarts the song and remembers meeting Roger years earlier: The same ballad is playing over the loudspeakers at the San Francisco music store where Julie works. When the record begins to skip, passerby Roger Adams enters the store and meets Julie. The two begin to date, and while at the beach one day, Julie breaks open a fortune cookie, which reads "you will get your wish --a baby." Roger, a confirmed bachelor who has no patience with children, hides his fortune, which predicts a "wedding soon," and replaces it with "you will always be a bachelor." Roger, a reporter, changes his mind, however, when he bursts into a New Year's Eve party with the news that his paper is assigning him to a post in Japan and asks Julie to marry him that evening. Knowing that they will not see each other for three months until Roger can earn enough money for Julie's passage to Japan, the newlyweds kiss goodbye in Roger's train compartment. As they embrace, the train pulls out, and as a result, Julie stays in Roger's compartment until the train stops the next morning. Three months later, when Julie is reunited with Roger in Japan, she reports that she is pregnant. Julie becomes concerned for the future of her family when she learns that Roger has lavishly furnished their house by spending advances on his salary. Later, when Roger inherits a small sum of money and announces that he has quit his job so that they can travel the world, Julie, disturbed by her husband's financial irresponsibility, goes upstairs to pack. At that moment, a violent earthquake strikes, demolishing the house and causing Julie to lose the baby. Roger and Julie return to San Francisco, and while hospitalized there, Julie learns that she will never be able to have children. Roger tries to console her by telling her that he wants to settle down and buy a small town paper, but Julie responds that a baby is all she ever wanted. Soon after, Roger buys the Rosalia Courier Press , and the couple moves into the apartment above the newspaper office, which is equipped with a small nursery. Roger hires their friend Applejack to manage the paper, but despite their hard work, circulation remains low. Two years later, while Roger is working late one night, Applejack encourages Julie to adopt a child, and when Roger returns home, Applejack prods him into agreeing to consider adoption. When Julie writes to the orphanage to request a two-year-old boy with curly hair and blue eyes, Mrs. Oliver, the administrator, interviews the prospective parents and later pays a surprise visit to their home. At first disapproving because the Adams house is a cluttered mess, Mrs. Oliver is charmed by the little nursery and tells Julie that a five-week-old baby girl is available for adoption. When Julie and Roger protest that they wanted a two-year-old boy, the age their own baby would have been, Mrs. Oliver assures them that this is the child for them. Roger and Julie consent to see the infant, and when Julie falls in love with the baby, Mrs. Oliver allows them to take her home for a one-year probation period. One year later, as the time for the adoption hearing approaches, Mrs. Oliver visits the family to update her records. When Julie admits that the paper has gone out of business and that Roger has no income, Mrs. Oliver solemnly caps her pen. Steeling themselves to return their baby, whom they have named Trina, to the orphanage, Roger bundles up the infant and proceeds to the judge's chambers. When the judge denies the adoption, Roger, near tears, begs to keep the little girl, pleading that she is like his own child. Moved by Roger's plea, the judge relents and grants the adoption, prompting Julie cheerily to proclaim that nothing can take Trina from them now. Years pass, and Trina's proud parents watch their daughter sing the echo to "Silent Night" in her school's Christmas play. When Trina slips on a platform while onstage, she worries that she will not be allowed to play an angel in the play the following year. The next Christmas, Mrs. Oliver receives a tragic letter from Julie, notifying her of Trina's death after a sudden, brief illness. Julie confides that Roger is punishing himself for Trina's fate and behaves like a stranger to her. At the Adams home, as Julie and Roger sit wordlessly in their living room, they hear a knock at the door. Julie answers it and finds a mother, frantic because her car is stalled and her son is due to perform in the school play. Julie and Roger offer to drive the mother and child to the play, and when the car arrives to the sound of children singing "Silent Night," Roger gets out and proclaims that he never again wants to see anybody or anything that reminds him of Trina. Julie's thoughts return to the present, and she takes the record off the turntable just as Applejack climbs the stairs to deliver her train ticket. At that moment, Roger returns, despondent, but as he picks up Julie's suitcase to drive her to the train station, the phone rings. It is Mrs. Oliver, calling to offer the couple a two-year-old boy, who is the image of the youngster they requested years earlier. Their faith and hope restored, Julie and Roger begin planning a new life with their son.
Eva Lee Kuney
Baby [joan] Biffle
Baby [jane] Biffle
Nee Wong Jr.
Ed Peil Sr.
Fred E. Ahlert
Nacio Herb Brown
John L. Golden
W. Frank Harling
Frederick Knight Logan
J. R. Shannon
M. W. Stoloff
Penny Serenade on Blu-ray
Always a hit in lighter fare, star Cary Grant wasn't as consistently successful in straight roles. Teamed here with the multi-talented Irene Dunne, Grant plays in a much more vulnerable key, and gives what is possibly his best dramatic performance. The film earned him his first Oscar nomination.
The movie is structured as a series of flashback episodes, each cued by the music from records that Julie Gardiner (Irene Dunne) plays as she prepares to leave her husband, journalist Roger Adams (Cary Grant). Their story begins ten years before when Roger sees Julie working in a music store. They are soon an item, with Julie concerned that the charming Roger isn't taking the relationship seriously. He suddenly announces that in just three hours he will be leaving for a job in Japan: will she marry him right away? The initial months of excitement are soon tempered, first by money issues and then by a personal tragedy when they're caught up in the great Tokyo earthquake of 1933. Back in California, the couple struggles to make a go of a tiny newspaper, The Courier. But their troubles seem to be just starting. Repeatedly frustrated in their dream of adding a baby to the family, Roger and Julie begin to feel that their marriage is doomed.
Sentimental domestic dramas like Penny Serenade work when audiences can identify with the problems of the leading characters. The silent classics The Crowd and Lonesome place their lovers in the lower working class, but audiences often preferred to see beautiful stars leading glamorous lives. But movies about disadvantaged people struggling in the Depression could be just as problematical as airy fantasies about the idle rich. In Torch Singer penniless single mother Claudette Colbert must give her baby up for adoption, and when she becomes a wealthy entertainer, goes to great lengths to get her back. The feelings of the adoptive parents aren't taken into account. More than one movie concocted a third act conflict by putting a baby's health in jeopardy. David O. Selznick's shameless Weepie Made for Each Other drums up tension by showing a crucial baby-saving serum being flown in through a blizzard, while James Stewart and Carole Lombard blubber in big close-up.
Penny Serenade steers a middle course, and doesn't magnify its emotions beyond all proportion. Julie Gardiner's romantic dream begins with an amorous send-off on a train and continues through a sojourn in Japan -- a rather fanciful one, considering the unlikely detail of Julie dressing in a formal Japanese kimono. Before one can say Frank Lloyd Wright, the entire wooden city collapses onto the couple. The earthquake ends on a very unsubtle note, when a falling beam obliterates Julie's old fortune cookie keepsake ("You will have a baby").
Penny Serenade is realistic about life's unexpected turns, which can indeed be as dramatic as an earthquake. The screenplay is also honest about marriage when it establishes that Roger and Julie have joined themselves together without really knowing each other very well. The pragmatic Julie disapproves of Roger's carefree talk about trips around the world, to be paid for by an inheritance that seems to shrink to nothing even as he describes it. We can tell that something is missing in Julie's life. After their setbacks, she and Roger develop difficulties in facing each other emotionally.
At this point enters a writer's invention even bigger than the Japanese earthquake. The endearing Applejack Carney (Edgar Buchanan) is a family friend and mechanical troubleshooter in the press room. Jack gets a busted linotype machine to work, fixes the plumbing, and provides substantial marriage counseling. He intervenes so far as to introduce the notion of adoption. When they finally get their baby, Roger and Julie are so afraid of hurting it that Applejack must step in to give the kid its first bath at home. Stevens films this in one very long take, and it's delightful. Viewers with children nod in approval of Edgar Buchanan's baby-wrangling skill; those without experience realize that they'd be intimidated too. A middle-aged man demonstrating his expertise in a baby's nursery? American films seldom depicted ordinary life of this kind, which may be an unintended side effect of a Production Code that discouraged realistic portrayals of many basic human functions, even pregnancy.
The Applejack character relieves the movie of the need for additional characters. No visible relatives or friends appear to give advice or guidance to Julie and Roger. Applejack ably serves both functions. I always thought it was interesting that Edgar Buchanan's haircut as Applejack makes him look very much like director Stevens...
Worry, trouble and tragedy keep hitting the Adams family. The frequent flashback interruptions to a morose, defeated Julie playing another record remind us that more bad news is on the way. The only other major character in the film is Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi), an adoption agent. Miss Oliver talks a pessimistic line but bends the rules to help Julie and Roger. When a child is finally part of the story, our feelings are divided between delight -- Julie and Roger seem so happy to have a baby of their own -- and dread that something will happen to it. For its entire second half Penny Serenade risks going too far with its tragedies. Yet it remains bearable even when the worst happens. Too proud to face their feelings of guilt and failure, the parents drift into separate melancholy states. None of this insight is overstated. Penny Serenade transcends the Weepie subgenre.
Only briefly do Ryskind and Stevens play cruel games. To animate a star for her school Christmas pageant, the Adams's tiny daughter climbs a catwalk on stage. For a few uncomfortable minutes we fear that she'll fall and break her neck. Mercifully, the story's worst news is delivered softly, after the fact: we find out what happened as someone in 1940 might, through a letter written in longhand. The flashbacks are selective slices of Julie's memory.
Irene Dunne is once again her utterly charming and captivating self. She strikes a different note when Roger tells Julie that he doesn't want to adopt a baby girl. Julie has bonded with the infant from the moment she picked her up. She shoots Roger a flash of concentrated maternal fury that says he'd better not try to separate them, if he values his life. It's a tiny but tellingly true moment.
Second-billed Cary Grant has a few privileged moments of his own. Grant probably gives the best straight scene of his career when Roger pleads his case before a judge, begging for his baby not to be taken away. Stevens wisely plays the scene in medium shot, leaving Roger alone and defenseless in the middle of the room, his voice cracking. Neither does Stevens insert slobbering emotional close-ups of Julie or Miss Oliver, to tell us how to react. We're never certain that "all will be okay."
The most successful bittersweet tearjerkers exercised restraint, and director Stevens tastefully avoids abusing the emotions of his audience. His partly improvised scenes add freshness and a human dimension, especially when events unspool in real time as in the baby bath scene. This technique prompts comparisons with director Leo McCarey, who was noted for making on-the-set inspirations an important part of the filmmaking process. Both directors' output was variable, of course. Compared to Stevens' earlier Vigil in the Night, a rigid book adaptation that rings almost totally false, Penny Serenade is a fresh approach. George Stevens' winning quality during these years may have been his essential humility. He seems to have personally been very much in touch with life as led by ordinary people.
Penny Serenade seems to have made a big impact on Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart's empowered grandstanding in that movie are made from a position of moral strength, whereas Cary Grant's 'don't take my baby' speech in Penny Serenade is the honest plea of a defeated man. Unlike Stewart, Grant isn't outraged and isn't lecturing to people less enlightened than himself. The less manipulative Stevens is more trustful of both the material and his audience. At one point Grant struggles with a stuck door, reminding us of Stewart's loose banister knob in the Bailey house. Most tellingly, Capra borrows and extends an emotional telephone scene idea from Penny Serenade. When Miss Oliver calls with more adoption news, Roger and Julie must stand close together to hear her tiny voice on the phone receiver.
American movies from the pre-war decade often communicate a different attitude toward life than the one promoted in our modern consumer culture. Roger and Julie haven't the luxury of making casual "lifestyle choices", and instead struggle with life problems that don't offer a choice. Penny Serenade reminds us that life has no guarantees, and that something as precious as a child should never be taken for granted. The movie may be a 'Weepie', but it communicates some of the joy of life amid its painful problems and cruel accidents.
Olive Film's Blu-ray of Penny Serenade is yet another welcome surprise. The title has long existed in Public Domain eyesore versions, with splices, degraded video and scratchy sound. A few tiny scratches aside, this copy is in perfect condition. We can even appreciate the careful iris wipes that begin and end the flashback episodes -- in a couple of cases the incoming scene is a freeze-frame. The 1941 titles credit ownership to Columbia Pictures, which either goofed in not renewing the copyright, or was prevented from doing so by a legal Catch-22.
Olive provides no extras and no subtitles, but we still marvel at the cinematic riches the company has licensed from Paramount -- odds and ends that include dozens of abandoned, orphaned or shelved classics. This will be a welcome release indeed for collectors.
By Glenn Erickson
Penny Serenade on Blu-ray
The tearjerker begins as Dunne's character Julie is ready to leave her husband Roger Adams, played by Cary Grant. She begins to listen to old records, and the couple's life together is told in flashbacks related to the songs, including "Penny Serenade," "You Were Meant For Me," and "Poor Butterfly."
She reminisces about the two meeting, marrying and traveling to Japan, where reporter Roger is on assignment. They try to start a family but Julie miscarries. A return to the United States and adoption follow. But tragedy strikes again when the girl they adopted dies. Julie, unable to cope with Roger's grief or her own, is ready to end the marriage. But then hope returns in the form of another possible adoption and brings the two back together.
Grant's emotional performance was hailed by the critics, and he was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award®, losing to Gary Cooper in Sergeant York. Dunne said later that Grant astounded everyone with the depth of his performance. "He was very apprehensive about nearly everything. So apprehensive, in fact, that he would get almost physically sick. If the script, the director, an actor, or a particular scene displeased him, he would be greatly upset. I remember one scene in Penny Serenade where he had to plead with a judge to keep an adopted baby. He was so disturbed. I had to talk to him and talk to him." (On-Screen, Off-Screen Movie Guide by Ted Sennett).
Helping the heart-broken couple are Beulah Bondi, as head of an adoption society, and family friend Applejack, played with comic sweetness by Edgar Buchanan. Buchanan, later known to TV audiences as Uncle Joe on Petticoat Junction, provides some of the lighter moments in Penny Serenade, such as when he attempts to give the baby a bath.
The restrained and tasteful direction by George Stevens (Shane, 1953, The More the Merrier, 1943, A Place in the Sun, 1951) prevented the film from becoming too excessively maudlin and, most critics and moviegoers regarded it as a warm and moving portrait of a marriage.
Penny Serenade was one of three films in which Stevens directed Grant, with Gunga Din in 1939 and the 1942 comedy The Talk of the Town rounding out the trio. Dunne also had great success with the director. Along with Penny Serenade, Stevens steered Dunne in I Remember Mama (1948), a role that earned her a fifth Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Dunne and Grant were no strangers by the time they made Penny Serenade. In the years before, they had teamed up for the rollicking romantic comedies The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940), both box office hits. But Dunne always said that the romantic drama Penny Serenade was her personal favorite.
Producer/Director: George Stevens
Screenplay: Morrie Ryskind (based on the story by Martha Cheavens)
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Music: W. Franke Harling
Cast: Irene Dunne (Julie Gardiner Adams), Cary Grant (Roger Adams), Beulah Bondi (Miss Oliver), Edgar Buchanan (Applejack), Ann Doran (Dotty), Wallis Clark (Judge).
BW-119m. Closed captioning.
by Amy Cox
Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Richard Fiske in the cast, his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. A November 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Joseph Walker replaced Frank Planer as photographer after an illness forced Planer to withdraw from the project. According to materials contained in the George Stevens papers at the AMPAS Library, Columbia paid $25,000 for the rights to Martha Cheavens' magazine story and hired Cheavens as a script consultant. Stevens used popular songs to mark the passage of time in the film, and his papers reveal that he spent a great deal of care in selecting the appropriate tunes. In his papers, there are detailed charts listing the chronology of the songs so that the music would be matched to the proper time period. Among the popular songs included in the background score were: "Japanese Sandman," "These Foolish Things," "Just a Memory," "Three O'Clock in the Morning," "Ain't We Got Fun?" and "The Prisoner's Song."
An article in New York Herald Tribune reveals the difficulties Stevens faced in filming the babies used in the picture. California law mandated that a baby could spend only two hours per day in a film studio. In addition, the baby could be kept for only one hour on a sound stage, and could work only twenty minutes at a time under the studio lights. To circumvent these restrictions, Columbia hired twins to play Trina as an infant and as a one-year-old, thus doubling Stevens' shooting time. Penny Serenade was Stevens' first picture under his Columbia contract. Grant who, according to modern sources, considered his role in Penny Serenade to be his best, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance. Robert Taylor starred with Barbara Stanwyck in a April 27, 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story, with Beulah Bondi and Edgar Buchanan reprising their roles. Irene Dunne reprised her film role in a second Lux radio version on May 8, 1944, co-starring Joseph Cotten. Phyllis Thaxter and Don Taylor played the leads in a Lux Video Theatre adaptation on January 13, 1955.
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States March 1987
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States March 1987 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (UCLA Movie Marathon: A Tribute to Cary Grant) March 11-26, 1987.)