I generally like movies which star either Cary Grant or Irene Dunne but for some reason "Penny Serenade" has never done very much for me. I put it down to the curious mixture of story and tone because on one hand we have quite a dramatic storyline which features a marriage in trouble, a miscarriage, crisis and death but then there are numerous humorous moments which are genuinely entertaining but the whole thing jars. So do the performances because one moment there will be some typical Cary Grant fun where he flashes a smile but then the next he snaps and the tone is shattered. Maybe that was the intention, to highlight the joy and pain of parenthood but it makes for a very up and down movie.
As she prepares to leave her husband Julie Gardiner Adams (Irene Dunne - My Favorite Wife) puts on a record which reminds her of when she first met her husband Roger (Cary Grant - The Philadelphia Story) when he came into the record store where she worked. As she listens to one record after another they remind her of important times in their life from the happiness of marriage through to the devastation of a miscarriage in Tokyo during an earthquake and on to their life in a small town when they decide to adopt.
Now there is no denying that the storyline is dramatic from the opening shot of Julie declaring that she is leaving to such scenes such as the earthquake in Tokyo which leads to the miscarriage. And to be honest when the movie focuses on the traumatic side of the story it is highly emotional, without giving too much away the various events which lead to the trouble in the marriage are captivating. Out of all of these there is an impassioned speech by Roger in front of a judge as they desperately try to hold on to their child.
But as I said the drama often jars because it suddenly flicks to humour and whilst all these comedy scenes work be it trying to turn off a noisy alarm clock or Roger rocking the baby to sleep are funny the inconsistency in tone ruins things for me. Having said that there is a priceless scene where Julie tries to bath their baby for the first time and their friend, print worker Applejack steps in when she can't do it. It is a great scene thanks to the gentle humour of Edgar Buchanan and the sort of scene which you don't see these days.
Now Edgar Buchanan provides plenty of comedy relief but then so do Cary Grant and Irene Dunne yet they also do just as good a job with the dramatic side of the movie. In fact their dramatic performances are superior to the humorous side of things especially when Cary Grant delivers that impassioned speech to the judge. But again because of the inconsistency in tone neither of them feel like they are sure what sort of movie this is.
What this all boils down to is that "Penny Serenade" is a good movie, it has a good storyline, even a surprising storyline and some fun moments. But the mix of comedy and drama doesn't work leaving it a disjointed movie.