Penny Serenade (1941)


Cary Grant and Irene Dunn star as a couple whose marriage is on the verge of collapse. The reason is explained through a series of flashbacks, as Dunn listens to records that contain songs of special significance in their lives. We learn how they met (at a record store no less), and how they desired to start a family. Tragedy strikes during an earthquake in which Dunn miscarries, and hardship continues to follow them through their attempts to adopt and foster a child.

Penny Serenade is perhaps more episodic and disjointed than it really needs to be. I could do without the flashback mechanism all together. But the story really comes into focus once Grant and Dunn begin adoption proceedings. The film is at its charming best when Grant and Dunn, suddenly new parents of an infant girl, weather the trials of parenthood — whether it’s sneaking up a creaky staircase without waking the baby, or bathing and diapering the child for the very first time.

This film is particularly notable for containing what is perhaps Cary Grant’s most moving, dramatic performance. There’s a scene where he sits before a judge to prove his and Dunn’s ability to continue caring for the baby. He’s temporarily unemployed and expects the judge will rule against him, but he nonetheless implores the judge to believe that he and Dunn will move heaven and earth to make sure the baby never goes hungry or wants for anything. Grant rarely cracked the veneer of his cool, confident fa├žade, so this scene truly stands out as a high point in his long and storied career.

The film ends on a bit of a false note, but there’s a lot here to appreciate. Beulah Bondi is well cast as the adoption agent who sympathizes greatly with Dunn’s and Grant’s predicament. Edgar Buchanan is very sweet as an old friend of the couple who helps them run their newspaper business and raise their child. Directed by George Stevens.

Oscar Nomination: Best Actor (Cary Grant)

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