Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in Penny Serenade (1941)


(director: George Stevens; screenwriters: Morris Ryskind/Martha Cheavens; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Otto Meyer; music: W. Franke Harling; cast: Cary Grant (Roger Adams), Irene Dunne (Julie Gardiner Adams), Edgar Buchanan (Applejack), Beulah Bondi (Miss Oliver), Ann Doran (Dotty ‘Dot’), Eva Lee Kuney (Trina, age 6); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Stevens; Columbia; 1941)
“A women’s weepie picture.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sentimental classic soap opera by George Stevens (“Shane”/”A Place in the Sun”) before he became arty and his films less natural. It tells of a sincere couple who adopt a child after losing their own baby and after learning how to be good parents suffer further when their adopted baby girl suddenly dies. The film makes much ado over so little, but is so well-observed that it leaves a lasting impact. Its been fairly branded as a women’s weepie picture.

Warning: spoilers throughout review.

It’s framed around a flashback of memories, as Julie Adams (Irene Dunne) tells friend Applejack (Edgar Buchanan) she is leaving her husband Roger Adams (Cary Grant) and then reminisces about how they met in a record store where she was a clerk (as the gramophone plays “Penny Serenade,” the song they both first listened to when they met). Roger bought a number of records and then walked her home, convincing Julie to let him inside and play the records on her gramophone. After dating for a few months, the newspaper man gets a career break and is assigned as a reporter in Japan. He asks to marry her and they impulsively wed, and she joins him later on when he buys a luxury house for $1,000. Carefree Roger feels on top of the world because he inherited $10,000 and wants to take a delayed honeymoon trip around the world, but she feels he’s acting like a child and is upset he quit his newspaper job. Things come crashing down on them when the 1923 earthquake destroys their house.

The couple return to San Francisco and Julie becomes heartbroken when she learns she can’t have children. Roger refuses to work for anyone else and buys a small country newspaper named the Rosalia Courier. They live in an spacious second-floor apartment using the first-floor to operate their printing press. Applejack becomes the press manager and printer, and their closest friend. When he sees how sad Julie has become, he takes the initiative of speaking for Roger and suggests they adopt a child; further saying Roger is all for it. Roger good naturedly agrees, and they visit the adoption agency run by the prim Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi). She tells them there is a long waiting list and the couple must undergo a thorough investigation. They tell her they want a 2-year-old boy with blue eyes and curly hair. Miss Oliver makes a surprise house visit and tells them she has a girl of six weeks. The young couple are inexperienced but after much practice become excellent parents to their daughter Trina. A year later on a routine check of the couple’s finances, Miss Oliver is informed they have no income because the newspaper was a flop. The case goes before a judge, and Miss Oliver takes the couple’s side that they should keep the child because they are such fine parents. When their daughter reaches 6 they attend a school Christmas play, where she’s the echo of an angel. What soon follows is their daughter’s death from an illness, as Julie sends Miss Oliver a letter and also mentions they are both so distraught that their relationship has become strained. A few days later Miss Oliver calls to tell them a special baby boy, just like the one they always wanted, has come up for adoption. This good news brings the couple back together.