October 04, 2015

Penny Serenade (1941)

  • Release Date: April 24, 1941
  • Production Date: October 14, 1940 - January 15, 1941
  • Duration (in minutes): 118-120
  • Color: B/W
  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation
  • Production Text: A George Stevens Production
  • Producers: George Stevens and Fred Guiol (associate producer)
  • Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation
  • Directors: George Stevens and Gene Anderson (assistant)
  • Writers: Morrie Ryskind (screenplay), Martha Cheavens (screenplay consultant) - Based on the short story "Penny Serenade" by Martha Cheavens in McCall's (Aug 1940).
  • Photography: Joseph Walker and Franz Planer 
  • Art Direction: Lionel Banks and Cary Odell (associate)
  • Film Editor: Otto Meyer
  • Set Decoration: Harry Hopkins
  • Dialogue Director: William Castle
  • Sound: Jack A. Goodrich (sound engineer)
  • Music: M. W. Stoloff (musical director), W. Franke Harling (music), Paul Mertz (musical advisor), Sidney Cutner (orchestrator) (uncredited), Carmen Dragon (orchestrator), Leonid Raab (orchestrator)
  • Songs: "You Were Meant for Me," music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed; "Poor Butterfly," music by Raymond Hubbel, lyrics by John L. Golden; "My Blue Heaven," music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by George Whiting; "I'm Tickled Pink with a Blue Eyed Baby," music by Pete Wendling, lyrics by Charles O'Flynn; "The Moon Was Yellow," music by Fred E. Ahlert, lyrics by Eric Leslie; "Silent Night, Holy Night," music by Franz Gruber, lyrics by Joseph Mohr, English lyrics, anonymous; "The Missouri Waltz," music by Frederick Knight Logan, lyrics by J. R. Shannon.

Cast (in credits order)
  • Irene Dunne as Julie Gardiner Adams
  • Cary Grant as Roger Adams
  • Beulah Bondi as Miss Oliver
  • Edgar Buchanan as Applejack Carney
  • Ann Doran as Dotty
  • Eva Lee Kuney as Trina (at the age of 6 years)
  • Leonard Willey as Doctor Hartley
  • Wallis Clark as Judge
  • Walter Soderling as Billings
  • Jane Biffle as Trina (at the age of 1 year) (as Baby Biffle)
  • Joan Biffle as Trina (at the age of 1 year) (as Baby Biffle)

Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
  • Stanley Brown as Man (scenes deleted)
  • Bess Flowers as Mother (scenes deleted)
  • Eddie Laughton as Cab Driver (scenes deleted)
  • Adrian Morris as Bill Collector (scenes deleted)
  • Edward Peil, Sr. as Train Conductor (scenes deleted)
  • Grady Sutton as Man (scenes deleted)
  • Dorothy Adams as Mother in Stalled Car (uncredited)
  • Billy Bevan as McDougal (uncredited)
  • Mary Bovard as Girl (uncredited)
  • Lynton Brent as Reporter (uncredited)
  • Jack Buchanon as Minor Role (uncredited)
  • Albert Butterfield ... Boy (uncredited)
  • Henry Dixon as Old Printer (uncredited)
  • Georgia Ellis as Girl (uncredited)
  • Edmund Elton as Minister (uncredited)
  • John Ferguson as Father (uncredited)
  • Diane Fleetwood as Trina as an Infant (uncredited)
  • Judith Fleetwood as Trina as an Infant (uncredited)
  • Charles Flynn as Bob (uncredited)
  • Iris Han as O-Hanna-San (uncredited)
  • Otto Han as Cook Sam (uncredited)
  • Doris Herbert as Minister's Wife (uncredited)
  • Arline Jackson as Girl (uncredited)
  • Payne B. Johnson as Boy in Christmas Play (uncredited)
  • Donald Kerr as Man Dancing at Party (uncredited)
  • Ben Kumagai as Rickshaw Boy (uncredited)
  • Lani Lee as Chinese Waitress (uncredited)
  • Frank Mills as Chubby Printer (uncredited)
  • Frank Moran as Cab Driver at Doorway, New Year's Party (uncredited)
  • Rollin Moriyama as Rickshaw Boy (uncredited)
  • Cy Schindell as Elmer - the Bootlegger (uncredited)
  • Ben Taggart as Policeman (uncredited)
  • Fred Toones as Porter (uncredited)
  • John Tyrrell as Press Operator (uncredited)
  • Beryl Vaughn as Flower Girl (uncredited)
  • Dick Wessel as Joe Connor, Man Dancing with Dotty (uncredited)
  • Lillian West as Nurse (uncredited)
  • Nee Wong, Jr. as Sung Chong (uncredited)

Did You Know?

According to materials contained in the George Stevens papers at the AMPAS Library, Columbia paid $25,000 for the rights to Martha Cheavens' magazine story and hired Cheavens as a script consultant.

Penny Serenade was Stevens' first picture under his Columbia contract.

George Stevens used popular songs to mark the passage of time in the film, and his papers reveal that he spent a great deal of care in selecting the appropriate tunes. In his papers, there are detailed charts listing the chronology of the songs so that the music would be matched to the proper time period. Among the popular songs included in the background score were: "Japanese Sandman," "These Foolish Things," "Just a Memory," "Three O'Clock in the Morning," "Ain't We Got Fun?" and "The Prisoner's Song."

Grant who, according to modern sources, considered his role in Penny Serenade to be his best, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance.

Irene Dunne often said that this was one of her favorite films because it reminded her of her own adopted daughter.

Third of three movies that paired Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. The other two were The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife.

Joseph Walker replaced Frank Planer as photographer after an illness forced Planer to withdraw from the project.

Film is in the public domain. Look for the remastered version.

The Daytona Beach Morning Journal Review of Penny Serenade
July 10, 1941

"Penny Serenade" at the Empire

Here is a picture aimed straight at the heart and the tear ducts—and both take a beating. For "Penny Serenade" is strictly a four-handkerchief film. Oh, there are plenty of laughs and good ones and the picture ends on the up-beat, but it's hard to fight off the subtle feeling of impending disaster.

The story is worked out in the flash-back manner with the tunes of yesteryear turning the pages. Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, who have been so charmingly gay in the "The Awful Truth" and "My Favorite Wife," lose none of that charm when disarmed of their wisecracks and fey ways.

They are both marvelous in that most chucklesome scene where they being home the five-week-old baby from the orphanage with "Fragile, handle with care" marked figuratively all over it. And their stage fright at baby's first bath had the audience in plain and fancy stitches.

"Penny Serenade" also gives plenty of footage to that new character actor, Edgar Buchanan, who plays homespun Applejack — I hope we see more of him, but soon.—Liz.

The New York Times Review of Penny Serenade
By Bosley Crowther - May 23, 1941

When you go to the Music Hall this time, take along a couple of blotters and a sponge. In fact, if you are prone to easy weeping, you might even take along a washtub. And don't be disturbed if your neighbor, unprovided, drips and splatters all over you. For this time the comic muse very frequently gives way to tears. This time Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, whose previous cinematic marriages have been more or less on the frivolous and nicely indecent side, are so blissfully and properly united that it takes a tragedy to threaten briefly to tear them apart. This time the new picture is Columbia's "Penny Serenade."

When you think about it coolly and dispassionately—and after an interval of at least an hour—you can't help but feel that somebody has slipped a fast one over on you. Maybe it is Producer George Stevens, who has put together a film which employs not one but six or seven of the recognized sob-story tricks. Maybe it is Miss Dunne, who originally succumbs to one of the most severe cases of galloping nostalgia we have ever witnessed on the screen. And maybe it is Mr. Grant, that worldly and jocular chap, who shamelessly permits a tiny tot to play "Home, Sweet Home" on his heart-strings. The thing is you never suspect these people are going quite so soft on you until—bam!—they are wallowing in sentiment and your eyes are leaking like a sieve.

But that's the way it is. From the moment that Miss Dunne sadly turns on the old gramaphone and, to the plaintive strains of "You Were Meant for Me," the scene fades back to her first meeting with Mr. Grant, you may recognize that you are in for a reminiscent wrench. Then, as she successively replenishes the music box with such nostalgic tunes as "Just a Memory," "Missouri Waltz," "Poor Butterfly," "Blue Heaven," etc., right out of a book, you follow the couple as they marry, suffer countless little woes, buy a country newspaper, adopt a baby and finally lose the child they love so much.

And slowly, without being aware of it, you drift with them and the film from brittle, sophisticated comedy to out-and-out softy stuff, from the quixotic plighting of their troth at a New Year's Eve party to the first fearful bathing of baby in the familiar new-parents comedy vein. And then you are sniffling and gulping as little daughter takes part in her first school play and you know that the teacher's promise that she can be "an angel next year" is irony. Somehow, it all goes down, despite a woefully overlong script—all but Mr. Grant's recalcitrance after the little one is gone. It's hard to believe that a man could treat his ever-loving wife so wretchedly, at a time when both would be drawn even closer together by grief. And their sudden joyful willingness to adopt another child is open to doubt.

But some very credible acting on the part of Mr. Grant and Miss Dunne is responsible in the main for the infectious quality of the film. Edgar Buchanan, too, gives an excellent performance as a good-old-Charlie friend, and Beulah Bondi is sensible as an orphanage matron. Heart-warming is the word for both of them. As a matter of fact, the whole picture deliberately cozies up to the heart. Noel Coward once drily observed how extraordinarily potent cheap music is. That is certainly true of "Penny Serenade."

PENNY SERENADE, screen play by Morrie Ryskind; based on the story by Martha Cheavens; produced and directed by George Stevens for Columbia Pictures. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Julie Gardiner . . . . . Irene Dunne
Roger Adams . . . . . Cary Grant
Miss Oliver . . . . . Beulah Bondi
Applejack . . . . . Edgar Buchanan
Dotty . . . . . Ann Doran
Trina, aged 6 . . . . . Eva Lee Kuney
Doctor Hartley . . . . . Leonard Willey
Judge . . . . . Wallis Clark
Billings . . . . . Walter Soderling
Trina, aged 1 . . . . . Baby Biffle

Variety Review of Penny Serenade
By Variety Staff - April 16, 1941

Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, who a short time ago had audiences howling at their antics in "The Awful Truth," return to the Columbia banner in "Penny Serenade," and the same customers are going to have just as fine a time sniffling and weeping over a very sentimental story about husband, wife and adopted child.

Exhibitors would be smart to furnish handkerchiefs at the box office.  Incidentally, they had better lay in a big supply.  This is the best tear-jerker that has come to the screen since the first production of "Madame."  And that's going way back.

Produced with less skill and acted with less sincerity, "Penny Serenade" might have missed the mark by a mile, but George Stevens' direction and the excellence of the stars' playing make the film an entry for top bookings and extended first runs.  It is fashioned for the family trade everywhere, with special matinee appeal.  The characters are young home folks and could be duplicated in an instant from any local phone book.

Here's the story. Miss Dunne and Grant adopt a six weeks old baby and raise her until she is six, when she dies, after a brief illness.  Then they adopt a boy of two.

That's all, but the telling of it from an excellently written screenscript by Morrie Ryskind, who found inspiration from a McCall's Magazine story by Martha Cheavens, occupies nearly two hours, in the course of which there are tenderness, heart-throb, comedy and good, old-fashioned, gulping tears.  Half a dozen times the yarn approaches the saccharine, only to be turned back into sound, human comedy-drama.

Film marks the return of Miss Dunne after an extended vacation, the only effects of which seem to be that she proves again her place among the handful of women screen stars.  In the role of not too prosperous wife of a small-town struggling newspaper publisher, she is gay and earnest, and plays the sentimental passages with restraint.  She has had more spectacular roles, but none that required sustaining quite the mood of her latest film.

Grant, also, takes the assignment in stride, scoring in several bits as a baby nurse and pleading foster-father.

Supporting cast includes Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan and Ann Doran.  Despite the tuneful title, the only melody heard is via a few phonograph platters.

Film should turn out to be a serenade of quarters at the box-office.

Complete Plot Summary of Penny Serenade

Don't want to spoil anyone's fun by posting a complete plot summary of the film. Click here to read one.

Penny Serenade on the Radio

"Penny Serenade" on General Electric Theater: July 23, 1953 - Irene Dunne

"Penny Serenade" on The Hallmark Playhouse: July 1, 1948 - Frances Robinson, Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, Margaret MacDonald, Ed Begley, Anne Whitfield

"Penny Serenade" on Lux Radio Theatre: April 27, 1942 - Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan

"Penny Serenade" on Lux Radio Theatre: May 8, 1944 - Irene Dunne, Joseph Cotten, Edgar Buchanan

"Penny Serenade" on The Screen Guild Theater: November 16, 1941 - Cary Grant, Irene Dunne

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