Penny Serenade

So I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Cary Grant. He oozes gentlemanly charm and is incredibly beautiful. He is able to play the baffling idiot, the straight guy, the angry man, the paranoid loner, and various other roles at the drop of a hat. One of my favorite films of all time, The Philadelphia Story, has him paired with one of my favorite actresses, Katherine Hepburn, and their chemistry is palpable. What makes him a great actor is that he is able to manufacture chemistry between with his female co-star so easily that you really do believe that he is in love with her despite what his character says. This is never one-sided because he is usually paired with unbelievably talented women, but he brings a willingness to be charming to any situation that it is hard to resist. However in this film he seems to be off of his game a little.

Cary Grant plays a journalist who falls in love with a young woman. He finds out that he has a gotten a promotion and is going away to Japan and decides to marry this young woman (who happens to be Irene Dunne). After a little while he brings her out there and she realizes that he is stretching the limits of his income. This is especially troubling because she finds out that she is pregnant. She gets mad at him and leaves to go to her room when an earthquake happens (because Japan is a hot bed of earthquakes even then apparently.), causing her to miscarry and mess up her junk enough to never let her have children. She is devastated, because every woman wants children. Grant then decides to settle down in the states and buy his own newspaper. They go through an adoption process and get a young girl. This young girl ends up being the light of their life but unfortunate circumstances intervene and they are penniless and without children. Their “loving” relationship falls apart.

I do not like it when films rely too much on gimmicks. The gimmick here is that Irene’s character loves records. As she is leaving her husband, she plays records that remind her of different times in their life together. So I am supposed to believe as the viewer that she is remembering these very detailed memories that in reality have no connection to the bland song she puts on in the space of time that the song plays. These are not symphonies. They are “penny serenades,” songs that many young couples used to dance to at high school proms. They are maybe three minutes each, but these memories last fifteen minutes, twenty minutes and longer. So much so that you forget that this memory is being supplied by a song and that the film is going to cut off the memory at some point and return to Irene’s face looking all wistful and for her to put on a different record. This break in the story line makes the story feel incomplete and quite annoying. It dulls the relationship between Grant’s character and Irene’s character because you don’t see it grow naturally.

there are some scenes that I found really great, especially the scene when they bring home the girl for the first time. They try very hard not to wake up the snoozing baby, but everything in their house seems to make some sort of noise. They don’t have a crib, so they put chairs up against a small bed. She gets up and brings the child to sleep with her, and he gets up afterward to feed the baby only to see that it is gone. He starts freaking out and wakes up his wife only to realize that it was sleeping right next to him. These slapstick comic moments are what Dunne and Grant are best at and sadly there are not enough of them.

Although this film can be moving at times, the emotions in the characters hardly ever feel earned. There was not enough fleshing out, not enough focus on the attributes that each one brings to the relationship, and not enough Applejack (he is the best character in the whole film… really good character work). I hope this film served as a lesson to filmmakers after it to teach that gimmicks are never really worth it. They fall into themselves too quickly.


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