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Old Embers

Old Embers for New Torches: Penny Serenade
By Fritz Spencer
Oct 3, 2008 - 11:51:21 PM

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Anyone who sees through Hollywood's mystifying pretense of "popular entertainment" and discovers what really lies at its rotten core - a sinister preoccupation with, and promotion of the darker side of human existence - may easily conclude that modern day moviemakers are not concerned with values at all. They would be mistaken. Although Hollywood continues to heap trash on the heads of the movie-going public, those who control what we see and hear are careful not to offend certain core values indispensable for their own survival.

Among the core values Hollywood continues to uphold are a shallow optimism, a desire for power and influence, a faith in external goods, and a cowardly submission to public opinion. Who can deny that we Americans often want a shinier car, a bigger home, flashier clothes, in an attempt to seem wealthier or more important than we really are? In doing so, we fail to notice that our neighbors are as hollowed-out as we are. We can all profit from Mother Teresa's sublime insight that America is indeed "the poorest country in the world."

For that reason, Penny Serenade starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne may strike the viewer as the most untypical of American movies. In one sense, it may also be the most Christian movie Hollywood ever made.

The movie tells the story of a young American wife played by Irene Dunne who begins an idyllic married life in Japan with her foreign correspondent husband, played by Cary Grant. After settling into a beautiful Japanese home, the wife is injured in an earthquake, and is left unable to bear children. Returning home, the couple adopts a child, but before long, tragedy intervenes.

Grant is eminently believable as the callow, bungling husband, and Dunne plays the role of a soft-spoken conscientious housewife to perfection. As much as Julie loves and desires to have children, Roger is oblivious to her needs. Their many misunderstandings gently remind us what married life should be. Each line spoken by the actors is a sous entendu about the higher principles regarding marriage.

The movie rejects many of the values Americans take for granted. Public opinion regarding the couple's lack of a fine home is exposed as a superficial judgment on their true, inner worth. Poor in material goods, the couple is rich in Christian charity; and this aspect of their character shapes their destiny, and saves them in the end. Instead of optimism, there is a brooding sense of fate which hangs over the actors from the beginning. Everyday events foreshadow that deep personal loss is just around the corner. Yet these same humble everyday things proclaim a higher purpose behind marriage which is beyond the power of any of us to understand. Through the dark moments there shines a divine purpose which brings the couple together, threatens to drive them apart, then unites them again - eternally.

The movie also shows a loving tenderness towards children and a respect for motherhood which is far removed from Hollywood's usual portrayal of "liberated" women. The ending of the film reminds us that children are after all, the purpose of marriage, and are an unmerited gift from Heaven. All this makes Penny Serenade the ultimate pro-life movie.

Given the Christian message of the movie, it is not surprising to learn that the author of the story, Martha Cheavens, was the daughter of a Baptist Missionary, who grew up on the mission field. Nor will it surprise us to learn that Irene Dunne, who many say is the most beautiful woman ever to come out of Hollywood, went on to be active in conservative and Catholic causes. Penny Serenade is a superb, uplifting movie which shows how we can recover much of what modern day America has lost.


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