November 28, 2014

Cary Grant, Penny Serenade


Leave it to the Academy to flat out ignore Cary Grant's excellent comedic performances in some of the most acclaimed comedies of the time again and again, and then finally throwing him a bone for an utterly forgettable (and totally mediocre) melodrama. It often feels peculiar to be judging Grant for this particular performance, partly because he's a little bit out of his element and partly because he is stifled by a real clunker of a movie. As a result, it never feels like Grant is truly "on" in this movie like he is in his more iconic films, and the entire film and nomination feels so hasty, as if the Academy was saying, "look! we're acknowledging him! look at him here! he's so dramatic!"

Penny Serenade is a mostly frustrating film that starts off interesting and then abruptly shifts into territory that panders much too hard on making your heart swell. I was surprised to find that Irene Dunne pretty much steals the film, and for much of the time it feels like more her story than Grant's. So I'm not sure what it is about Grant in this film that caught the Academy's eye outside of the fact that this is a relatively wholesome performance where the film's star is allowed an uncharacteristically dramatic turn. Grant's Roger is not nearly as fleshed out or as interesting as Dunne's Julie, but I did find Grant to be believably realistic in his earlier scenes, particularly the ones where he is courting Dunne. He's as different as I've ever seen him...up until this point I had become so accustomed to the sassy smooth talker we've seen in The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday, and The Philadelphia Story. And here he was, romantic and genuine instead of sarcastic and comedic. It's certainly refreshing to see, but then the film enters what Time Magazine calls "the ten-little-fingers-and-ten-little-toes plot", which pretty much forces Grant into about a half hour's worth of nothing but droll reaction shots and petty "parenting" moments. In fact, I can't say that Grant is able to achieve anything for much of the the latter half of the film save a passionate and impressively done monologue as well as a competent final scene. In said monologue, he's unexpectedly emotional and moving, definitely an abrupt departure from his usual schtick, and most certainly the one highlight of his performance and film...but literally everything else about the performance is hampered by run-of-the-mill material. Grant very clearly gives the role his all, (it doesn't feel at any point that he's coasting or drumming along like a certain Gary Cooper) but in this case there's just not much there to care about. This is a makeup nomination if there ever was one, and it's as forgettable a makeup nod as they come.


  1. My predictions failed.

    I love Grant, but I never saw this film. :(

  2. Notorious and North By Northwest - those are the ones that come to mind when I think of Grant in drama. I saw Serenade years ago, and certainly remember it as a decent movie, but far from a definitive Grant showcase, drama or comedy.

  3. This film is strange. It's an utterly bland melodrama with trite situations, bad dialog and uninteresting characters. It also plods along at a snail's pace until the story peters out. Grant, charming as always, has almost nothing to do and the film's focus seems more on Dunne's mannered affectations than Grant's thesping. Nothing award-worthy about this film.