Penny Serenade is a 1941 film melodrama 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 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
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.