Sometimes I am addicted to movies that make me ugly cry. The other night I figured it would be safe to watch a classic old black and white movie by myself because I knew no one in my family would be mad that I watched it without them. It was called Penny Serenade. I love Irene Dunne and Cary Grant is pretty easy on the eyes as they say, so I thought I would give it a whirl. Spoiler Alert: It begins with a woman looking somberly past an empty child’s room so I knew right away that it was gonna get sad and pretty quick. Then you find out that the couple is going to get a divorce -which sets you off to wonder what sort of tragedy has caused this, so you know that you better get out your box of Kleenex and fast.
The concept of the movie plays out where each record the woman pulls out of her album titled, The Story of a Happy Marriage reminds her of different parts of her life. Viewers get to hear the music and see the history of her life connected to each song. Part of the reason why I love old movies is that I can become a sort of armchair cultural anthropologist as I watch them. How old record stores worked, for instance- it was fascinating. There is a piano where someone can play sheet music for you or a listening room to choose your music, how else would one hear these songs without the internet? Also anthropologically speaking, seeing how a printing press worked with all of the moving parts was fun to witness. I enjoy studying how the roles of men and women in the US are portrayed in each era. Their behavior didn’t seem too far off from how things are today. Early on in their marriage when the man immediately quit his good job when he got a small inheritance and the wife asked: “oh, was it a lot more than we thought?” And when he admitted it was a lot less, she said, “well I don’t understand, why you would quit a perfectly good job.” This made me laugh and think yes, this scenario is timeless. Later in the movie when they didn’t have any income coming in I found it frustrating that they didn’t consider sending the woman out to find work. Witnessing how the adoption process worked was also amusing. Pretty free and easy according to Hollywood. Heres a baby, she’s meant for you, what you have no clue how to look after her and don’t have any diapers?— well just pick stuff up on your way home.
Spoiler alert: My favorite scene was the first night and the following morning after they come home with an infant. The fear and ungainliness of trying to bath and diaper her that first morning were perfectly portrayed, for me this was the winning scene. As an armchair cultural anthropologist, it was fun to have a diaper folding lesson, the one pin kind. What -no bamboo diapers with velcro fasteners? I also loved to see how society once existed in a plastic-free world. I am always on a lookout for scenes in the kitchen and how food is served up etc. Glass baby bottles were the only option in this era.
The little girl is a show stopper both when she is a chubby little happy one year old and when she is the echo in the Christmas play. These film writers know how to wring out your heart. Especially because of oodles of foreshadowing from the start, you know that things are not going to work out- but like a car wreck, you can’t look away.
Is this film schlocky and full of Hollywood tricks? Yes. Did it make me have an enjoyable time sniffling away and letting the story “play on my heartstrings?” Yes.
Sometimes I just want to be whisked off into someone else’s problems, problems that make you weep and not in a pretty way.
This is my (almost) free therapy. Our TCM channel is included with our internet bundle so it is still fairly cheap. Throw in a bowl of homemade popcorn and your night with therapy included is quite economical.
On a scale of 1- 5 Kleenex tissue box rating system, with 5 as the highest rating, I give it a 4.5 for a tear jerker.
Click below for a 10-minute clip- squeaky stairs and all.