January 28, 2016

Penny Serenade (1941)
Grade: 61/100

Director: George Stevens
Stars: Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Edgar Buchanan

What it's about. Cary Grant is tall, dark, and irresponsible. He is a newspaper writer, and his target is lovely and classy Irene Dunne. The two are marriage and move to Japan, where Grant lands a plum position. When a moderate inheritance comes in, Grant quits his job and moves to small town America.

There, he buys a minor newspaper, and hires his old friend Applejack (Edgar Buchanan) to keep the presses running. Applejack, a good family friend, sticks around after the paper folds. Meanwhile, Grant and Dunne adopt a baby, courtesy of kindly and deeply sympathetic orphanage keeper Beulah Bondi. The baby grows up to be tiresome post-toddler Eva Lee Kuney.

How others will see it. Cary Grant received a Best Actor Oscar nod, but otherwise this weeper romance failed to resonate during 1941. It was not a box office smash, and was the last of three films that paired Grant with the ageless Dunne.

Today, Penny Serenade has a mixed effect on audiences. Some find it boring, others find it bogus, and others are moved to tears. At imdb.com, it is understandable that women like more than do men, with the spread widest (7.5 versus 6.8) in the 30 to 44 age group. The 4450 user votes are middling for an A-list Cary Grant movie.

How I felt about it. One rule in Hollywood, for some thirty years, was that Cary Grant always got the girl. Here, he is financially irresponsible and burdened by depression, and he still ends up with Dunne. I was surprised to learn that Dunne was 42 and five years older than Grant. She must have received favorable lighting here.

Penny Serenade is supposed to be a weeper, but it not only left me dry-eyed, but I had some difficulty enduring the movie. It is good, as are most George Stevens films, but the film is slow, and I had difficulty understanding why Applejack would leave steady employment with a big city newspaper to work on Grant's "crummy" small town paper, or why Applejack is still around after the paper folds. Was it Dunne's cooking, or did he hide a crush on her?

I thought that Edward Buchanan, as Applejack, did a fine job here, so I looked up his filmography. He worked steadily in Hollywood, often in westerns, from 1940 until 1958, when he found television more rewarding. He is best known for playing Uncle Joe in 222 episodes of "Petticoat Junction", plus 16 episodes of "Green Acres" and three episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies". How this plugger came to the attention of George Stevens is anyone's guess.

Cary Grant played no end of romantic leading men, but here he reminds me of his character in a different (and better) movie from the same year, Suspicion. Only Irene Dunne doesn't have any money, so she doesn't have to worry about Grant trying to kill her. It is well known that Cary Grant never won a Best Actor Oscar, and in fact, despite all his many good-to-great Hollywood films, only received two Best Actor nominations, for the present movie and the unheralded None But the Lonely Heart (1944).