Sunday, February 17, 2013


I always thought that one of the great injustices of Hollywood was never to give Cary Grant an acting awards. I mean seriously – Cary Grant never won an acting award. Grant made countless movies that should have won him some sort of an award, but in my humble opinion if any film should have gotten him an Oscar it should have been Penny Serenade (1941). The film also holds a close personal tie to me. My grandfather and I were close, and he instilled in me a love of classic movies. One of the movies we would sit and cry over was Penny Serenade. Being 100% German, my grandfather had a hard time showing a lot of affection and emotion, but he did not care when it came to watching this movie of love, heartache, and tragedy.

Penny Serenade starred Grant and the underrated Irene Dunne and was released by Columbia Pictures in 1941. Grant received an Oscar nomination for the role, but he lost it to Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Sergeant Alvin York in Sergeant York.

I don’t want to telll the entire plot of the film, but as the title suggests, music plays an important part in the story. It is used as a means of introducing flashback scenes. We are shown a record being played and as the music swells and the disc spins we are taken back in time and shown the history of Julie and Roger Adams. We see how they met at the record store. Their courtship is sweet – he continues to buy more and more records in order to spend time with her. Soon he wins her over, and they are married. They long to start a family, but throughout the movie the worst possibly tragedy that can happen to parents do. The tragedy pulls them apart to a place where they are living almost separate lives but in the end there is a glimmer of hope when a surprise gift almost literally lands in the couple’s arms.

Penny Serenade was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the November 16, 1941 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in their original roles. It was also presented as an hour-long drama on Lux Radio Theater, first on April 27, 1942 with Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, then on May 8, 1944 with Joseph Cotten and Irene Dunne. Dunne again starred in July 1953 on CBS Radio's General Electric Theater. A television adaptation for Lux Video Theatre, starring Phyllis Thaxter, was broadcast in January 1955 on NBC. Despite these many adaptations though, there is no version better than this film version with Grant and Dunne.

The film was released by Columbia Pictures, with George Stevens' production firm owning the copyright. In 1968, the film went into the public domain. As a result there are about a dozen companies who have issued the movie on DVD. Many of their copies are inferior and of poor quality.

Although her name is not heard much today, Irene Dunne was a hug star during Hollywood’s golen age. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she starred in a string of box office hits. Her first big movie was Cimarron in 1931, and it was the first western to win the Oscar for Best Picture. She also appeared in the 1936 version of Showboat, and opposite Charles Boyer in the original Love Affair in 1939 for which she was Oscar nominated. Like Grant, Irene Dunne was nominated several times but never won. Penny Serenade was her third teaming with Cary Grant after The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940). Unlike those two hilarious comedies, Penny Serenade is a heartbreaking tearjerker.

One particular scene will rip at your heart is when Grant must face a judge and explain how he expects to keep his adopted child when he has no income from his business. It is a gut wrenching scene as we see a man, whose self indulgence has placed his family in jeopardy, beg to keep his little girl. It is a strong turning point in his life of this proud man who has finally realized what is really important to him. Alas, more tragedy is in the cards for him and his struggling family. The film is a dark drama of struggle, enlightenment, and self discovery. It will grab at the strongest of hearts and will make viewers ask themselves what is really important in their lives.

Even though watching Penny Serenade always brought a tear to my eye, I could get through most of the movie. Now that I have a family and children, the tragedy that the movie characters face tear me apart to the point that I can barely watch the movie anymore. Just writing this review of the film, I have teared up a few times. The movie is full of sadness, heartache, and grief, but even in the movie’s darkest moments there is also a little bit of hope. Despite making this movie sound completely depressing, do yourself a favor and watch the movie if you have not seen it. Cuddle up on the couch with your loved one and box of tissues and enjoy a sad but well made movie…



  1. What a great post, David! And what a lovely memory of your grandfather.

    I love love love "Penny Serenade." It's among my 10 favorite movies of all-time (about at #6, I think), and easily in my top 4 movies of the entire 1940's.

    I am with you on thinking Cary Grant ought to have won the Academy Award for his work in "Penny Serenade." I think it is his finest hour, and despite the fact that I am a huge Gary Cooper fan, I have long-said that I believe Cary ought to have won in 1941.

    As one who has dealt with fertility issues and adoption roadblocks, I am touched by this film in a way I am touched by no other. In the hospital scene, where Roger is telling Julie all the things they'll be able to do just the 2 of them, her words have been my words. I cannot watch this movie without major sobs.

  2. My late father was of the opinion that "Penny Serenade" featured Grant's finest performance. It's the scene you highlight with the plea to the judge that always get to him.

    When the sad parts of the movie start to overwhelm you, just think of how cute the new parents are trying to give the little one her first bath. It's so adorably true and sweet.

  3. David, a most sympathetic post on one of Hollywood's superior tearjerkers. I just watched "Two for the Road" last night, and more than twenty-five years later movies like this about the rise and near-fall of a romantic relationship, bolstered by a talented director and two mega-watt stars, were still being made. Irene Dunne is one of my own favorites of the studio era, and for my money she was Cary Grant's best screen partner. I'm pleased you gave Dunne her due here. You're right about the injustice of Grant never getting an Oscar. It's right up there with Garbo and Hitchcock's Oscarless careers. I thought Beulah Bondi and Edgar Buchanan really shone in their supporting roles as well.

  4. Your memories of watching this film with your grandfather are really touching. And of course, nobody can watch Grant's plea to the judge without being moved. I like that Dunne and Grant were so fond of each other in real life; it makes their pairing seem that much more heartwarming.

  5. Super post David. I haven't seen Penny Serenade. I'm a big fan of Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife, I guess I've been avoiding the sadness of this one. Thanks for emphasizing its qualities and that of those two wonderful actors.

  6. David, as others have said, Cary Grant and Irene Dunne were a great couple on the silver screen. I agree that Cary was under-appreciated as an actor, perhaps because he was considered such a fine comedian. But clearly, he was a gifted serious actor as shown here and in other films (especially NOTORIOUS).

  7. Absolutely agree that Grant and Dunne were a great screen pair - he saying that she was his favorite co-star. While nobody can top Cary in my book, Irene Dunne is right up there with the gods. Every film they made together was a diamond, but this one came with a few tears. Great post on a great and much-loved film.

  8. Dunne is one of my favorite classic comedic actresses. It was refreshing to see her in a bonafide dramatic role here. This really pulls on your heartstrings. Nice pick.

  9. David,
    I really enjoyed your review of Penny Serenade and the fact that it means so much to you and you have such fond memories of watching it with your grandparents is something I'm glad you shared with us. It certainly does pull at your heart strings.

    I can't imagine hearing the Luxe radio adaptation with Stanwyck and Taylor after seeing the perfect screen performances by Dunne and Grant.

    It's no secret that I'm very fond of Grant so I couldn't agree more that he deserved an acting Oscar. (When I think about it or even Chaplin not getting one during his career I get very emotional.)

    I also consider Dunne a very big actress during her day. Perhaps if she had gotten meatier roles like Greer Garson or Luise Rainier her legacy would have been even bigger.

    So glad you chose this film to review as a look back at the Fabulous 40s without it wouldn't feel right.


  10. "Penny Serenade" is the George Stevens I prefer - his work at RKO where he consistently turned out gems, one after the other.

    As for Grant, while we can look back and say he deserved the Oscar that year, the Oscars frequently aren't about the best performance of the year, but how the work is reflecting society at the time. With America just entering the war, Gary Cooper's performance as the greatest of World War I heroes, struck a chord that year with Academy voters. Still, it is shame he never got an acting Oscar and if he did, then "Penny Serenade" would have been one of his top contenders.

  11. Kevin is right about calling this a gem. I first saw this on TV many moons ago as I was just becoming a classic movie fan. I knew nothing of it but watched because Cary Grant was in it. I didn't even know he had been Oscar-nominated for it. I was mesmerized because of how beautiful a job it did with the difficult emotions on screen. I've always loved this film and, like everyone else, feel Grant was overlooked for an Oscar and this is the performance that should have won him the statue. Wonderful post!

  12. I can't tell you how happy I am that someone posted a entry honoring "Penny Serenade" as a worthy 1940s film. To start, Mr. Grant was a treasure - he not only did it all, he did it all great! He deserved the Oscar for this film AT THE VERY LEAST. Sorry, I'm emotional about this! He also happens to co-star in "Penny" with his greatest co-star - the one with whom he had the best chemistry, which is saying a lot given the magnitude of other talents he co-starred with. Ms. Dunne was also his favorite co-star. It shows. I absolutely adore this film. It is my earliest film memory, one of the first movies I saw when I arrived in this country at five years old. A wonderful choice! It's nice to see it means as much to you as well. Thank you.


  13. "Penny Serenade" is one of the few films I'll watch or record whenever it turns up on TCM. It was shown on TV often when I was a little girl and I'm sure my reaction was love at first sight. So tender and sweet and heartbreaking. I still think of this movie whenever I hear "You Were Meant for Me." And I also still think Irene Dunne was, without question, Cary Grant's very best leading lady. Absolutely wonderful together in the three films they made. Both deserved competitive Oscars. I love your story of how you and your grandfather bonded over classic movies - and that "Penny Serenade" brought a tear to his eye (I had a 100% German grandfather with a gruff exterior, too).

  14. I need to re-watch this one. I remember it being a tearjerker which is why I've avoided it since childhood. Up until then a Cary Grant movie to me meant adventure and fun. So Penny Serenade stunned me.

    Love the personal touch - mentioning your grandfather's love of the film. I often wonder how bloggers come across certain films.


  15. This is such a wonderful film and a tearjerker!
    It's really one of those that I did neither Dunne or Grant get nominated for this? I will boldly say I think its one of Grant's best roles....if not the best.