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Penny Serenade is a 1941 American melodrama film starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Beulah Bondi, and Edgar Buchanan. The picture was directed by George Stevens, written by Martha Cheavens and Morrie Ryskind, and depicts the story of a loving couple who must overcome adversity to keep their marriage and raise a child. Grant was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance.

Penny Serenade
Penny Serenade 1941 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Stevens
Produced byGeorge Stevens
Screenplay byMorrie Ryskind
Based onPenny Serenade
(1940 McCall's story)
by Martha Cheavens
Music byW. Franke Harling
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byOtto Meyer
George Stevens Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • April 24, 1941 (1941-04-24) (USA)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$835,000[1]

Plot summaryEdit

Applejack Carney pulls from a shelf an album of records entitled "The Story of a Happy Marriage" and places the song "You Were Meant for Me" on the Victrola. Julie Adams, Applejack's old friend and owner of the album, asks him to turn off the tune and announces that she is leaving her husband Roger.

After glancing at the nursery, Julie restarts the song and remembers meeting Roger years earlier: The same ballad is playing over the loudspeakers at the Brooklyn music store where Julie works. When the record begins to skip, passerby Roger Adams enters the store and meets Julie. The two begin to date, and while at the beach one day, Julie breaks open a fortune cookie, which reads "you will get your wish --a baby." Roger, a confirmed bachelor who has no patience with children, hides his fortune, which predicts a "wedding soon," and replaces it with "you will always be a bachelor."

Roger, a reporter, changes his mind, however, when he bursts into a New Year's Eve party with the news that his paper is assigning him to a post in Japan and asks Julie to marry him that evening. Knowing that they will not see each other for three months until Roger can earn enough money for Julie's passage to Japan, the newlyweds kiss goodbye in Roger's train compartment. As they embrace, the train pulls out, and as a result, Julie stays in Roger's compartment until the train stops the next morning.

Three months later, when Julie is reunited with Roger in Japan, she reports that she is pregnant. Julie becomes concerned for the future of her family when she learns that Roger has lavishly furnished their house by spending advances on his salary. Later, when Roger inherits a small sum of money and announces that he has quit his job so that they can travel the world, Julie, disturbed by her husband's financial irresponsibility, goes upstairs to pack. At that moment, a violent earthquake strikes, demolishing the house and causing Julie to lose the baby.

Roger and Julie return to San Francisco, and while hospitalized there, Julie learns that she will never be able to have children. Roger tries to console her by telling her that he wants to settle down and buy a small town paper, but Julie responds that a baby is all she ever wanted. Soon after, Roger buys the Rosalia Courier Press, and the couple moves into the apartment above the newspaper office, which is equipped with a small nursery. Roger hires their friend Applejack to manage the paper, but despite their hard work, circulation remains low.

Two years later, while Roger is working late one night, Applejack encourages Julie to adopt a child, and when Roger returns home, Applejack prods him into agreeing to consider adoption. When Julie writes to the orphanage to request a two-year-old boy with curly hair and blue eyes, Mrs. Oliver, the administrator, interviews the prospective parents and later pays a surprise visit to their home. At first disapproving because the Adams house is a cluttered mess, Mrs. Oliver is charmed by the little nursery and tells Julie that a five-week-old baby girl is available for adoption. When Julie and Roger protest that they wanted a two-year-old boy, the age their own baby would have been, Mrs. Oliver assures them that this is the child for them. Roger and Julie consent to see the infant, and when Julie falls in love with the baby, Mrs. Oliver allows them to take her home for a one-year probation period.

One year later, as the time for the adoption hearing approaches, Mrs. Oliver visits the family to update her records. When Julie admits that the paper has gone out of business and that Roger has no income, Mrs. Oliver solemnly caps her pen. Steeling themselves to return their baby, whom they have named Trina, to the orphanage, Roger bundles up the infant and proceeds to the judge's chambers. When the judge denies the adoption, Roger, near tears, begs to keep the little girl, pleading that she is like his own child. Moved by Roger's plea, the judge relents and grants the adoption, prompting Julie cheerily to proclaim that nothing can take Trina from them now.

Years pass, and Trina's proud parents watch their daughter sing the echo to "Silent Night" in her school's Christmas play. When Trina slips on a platform while onstage, she worries that she will not be allowed to play an angel in the play the following year.

The next Christmas, Mrs. Oliver receives a tragic letter from Julie, notifying her of Trina's death after a sudden, brief illness. Julie confides that Roger is punishing himself for Trina's fate and behaves like a stranger to her. At the Adams home, as Julie and Roger sit wordlessly in their living room, they hear a knock at the door. Julie answers it and finds a mother, frantic because her car is stalled and her son is due to perform in the school play. Julie and Roger offer to drive the mother and child to the play, and when the car arrives to the sound of children singing "Silent Night," Roger gets out and proclaims that he never again wants to see anybody or anything that reminds him of Trina.

Julie's thoughts return to the present, and she takes the record off the turntable just as Applejack climbs the stairs to deliver her train ticket. At that moment, Roger returns, despondent, but as he picks up Julie's suitcase to drive her to the train station, the phone rings. It is Mrs. Oliver, calling to offer the couple a two-year-old boy, who is the image of the youngster they requested years earlier. Their faith and hope restored, Julie and Roger begin planning a new life with their son.


  • 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 "Dot"
  • Eva Lee Kuney as Trina (6 years old)
  • Leonard Willey as Doctor Hartley
  • Wallis Clark as Judge
  • Walter Soderling as Billings
  • Jane Biffle (listed as "Baby Biffle" in end-credits) as Trina (1 year old)

The part of Trina was played by two pairs of identical twins at different ages.[2]


Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in Penny Serenade

Time said "Grant and Dunne cannot overcome the ten-little-fingers-and-ten-little-toes plot. Written by scripter Morrie Ryskind, produced and directed by George Stevens (Alice Adams), it is too often a moving picture which does not move. Skillful direction saves it from turning maudlin."[2] Bosley Crowther, in a somewhat ambivalent review, concludes "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. Noël Coward once drily observed how extraordinarily potent cheap music is. That is certainly true of Penny Serenade."[3]

Grant was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, losing at the 14th Academy Awards to Gary Cooper's portrayal of Sergeant York.

On the film review website Rotten Tomatoes, Penny Serenade receives a "Fresh" rating with 93% (15 of 16) of its T-meter critics reviewed the film positively.[4]


Penny Serenade was dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the November 16, 1941 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in their original roles.[5] It was also presented as an hour-long drama on Lux Radio Theater, first on April 27, 1942 with Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck,[6] and then on May 8, 1944 with Joseph Cotten and Irene Dunne.[7] Dunne again starred in July 1953 on CBS Radio's General Electric Theater.[8]

A television adaptation for Lux Video Theatre, starring Phyllis Thaxter, was broadcast in January 1955 on NBC.[9]

Copyright status and home videoEdit

The copyright on Penny Serenade was not renewed when its initial 28-year term expired and it entered the public domain in 1970.[10] Subsequently, the film has seen many releases by budget labels on various home video formats, but all are of very poor quality and most are missing a pivotal five-minute courtroom scene.[11]

The original elements are now with Viacom (under Paramount Pictures), via the company's former Republic Pictures library. Using these elements, Penny Serenade has been released uncut and in high quality on Blu-ray and DVD in the US (Olive Films, 2013) and Germany (Alive, 2017).[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dick, Bernard Dick (1993). The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, p. 160.
  2. ^ a b "The New Pictures". Time. May 5, 1941. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  3. ^ Bosley Crowther (May 23, 1941). "Cary Grant and Irene Dunne Play a Penny Serenade at the Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  4. ^ Penny Serenade. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 2008-08-13.
  5. ^ "Your Radio Today". St. Petersburg Times (Florida). 1941-11-16. p. 38. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  6. ^ "Pittsburgh Radio Programs". The Pittsburgh Press. 1942-04-27. p. 7. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  7. ^ "Complete Radio Programs". The Milwaukee Journal. 1944-05-08. p. 2 (Green Sheet section). Retrieved 2018-01-31.
  8. ^ "RADIO: Program Preview". Time. July 20, 1953. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  9. ^ "TELEVISION: Program Preview". Time. January 17, 1955. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  10. ^ "Welcome to the Public Domain". Stanford University Libraries.
  11. ^ "Penny Serenade DVD Comparison". DVD Compare.
  12. ^ "Penny Serenade Blu-ray Comparison". DVD Compare.

External linksEdit

Streaming audio