If Cary Grant is not nominated for the 1941 Academy Award, it will prove one of two things. Either we're going
to see some marvelous acting by other Hollywood male stars during the remainder of the year - or there's
no justice. At the moment I can think of no screen actor who is likely to top Mr. Grant's performance in "Penny
Serenade". So we stick our neck out and make our choice - Cary Grant as one of the nominees for the award
to be given for the best performance by a motion picture actor during 1941.
Frankly, however, this department is betting on Mr. Grant because of just one scene in "Penny Serenade".
Aside from this sequence, Mr. Grant does a highly competent job. But in this particular bit he offers one of the
most convincing emotional scenes I've ever witnessed on screen or stage. It's the scene during which he pleads
with the judge not to take away his adopted daughter.
In case you haven't yet seen the picture, the situation is this: Irene Dunne and Cary, a young married couple,
adopt a little girl. The authorities check up after a probationary period to determine whether the adoption is
working out to the mutual benefit of the parents and the child. Irene and Cary have become deeply attached to their
adopted daughter, but Cary's business has failed, and they have no income. So the case goes to court. The judge
reads the evidence and declares that as a matter of routine the child must be returned to the orphanage. That is
the law. Then Cary makes his plea. First, he is angry as he stands before the judge and cries out against the jurist's
reference to such a vital issue as a "routine" matter. But he quickly realizes the foolishness of losing
his head and apologizes. And with the apology he begins to explain to the judge why it is so difficult to be rational.
He begins weaving a word picture of what that child has come to mean to his wife and to him. Occasionally he chokes
as his emotions form an intensely moving reflection of his words. Finally his voice breaks and he stands before
the seat of judgment, his head hanging, silently shaken by sobs, and with tears running down his cheeks.
Hardly a month passes that some film performer does not attempt to do such a scene as this. We have all watched
it time and again. I have seen the situation so many times that I am instantly on the defensive when it is dragged
into a motion picture or a play to arouse the sympathy of the audience. That's why Cary Grant's effort is being
described here at such length. He has made a moment of life come true - a moment that has been experienced by every
person in the world who, through any circumstances, has lost or almost lost a child.
Whenever I see an especially fine bit of screen pretending, I'm always consumed with the curiosity to know just
what made it possible. And believe me when I tell you it isn't easy for an actor to present an honest emotional
moment on the screen. Usually he has to speak some writer's words which do not convey his on feelings on the matter,
and he has to go through motions thought up by a director. Then the rushes of the scene are shown to five or six
"experts", half of whom have been kicking around in this phony business so long they wouldn't recognize
and honest, natural emotion unless it came complete with a guarantee and a price tag.
Here's what made Cary Grant's great scene possible. He told me about it himself one night at Edith Wilkerson's
house. She was giving a buffet supper. We were sitting on some steps that lead into Edie's living room - Cary,
Frances Langford, her husband Jon Hall, and I. It may be well to establish one fact before going further: Cary
Grant is one of the most responsive and appreciative persons I have ever known (and that includes everybody, not
just movie people). So when Frances and Jon and I told him what we thought of his work in "Penny Serenade",
he was more pleased than you would believe.
"But about that scene with the judge", I said, " - how long did it take you to get it?" (What
I really meant was how many days.)
"We did it all in one afternoon, " said Cary. "And how did you break it up?" Frances asked.
"We didn't," Cary told her. "It was shot in one take with three cameras." Which means, of course,
that he did the whole scene without a break in the dialogue and with three cameras recording the action from different
"Well," remarked Jon, "I'll say one thing. It's seldom that I'm impressed with a man shedding tears.
But, brother, you really shook me." To which I added, "And thank heaven they didn't stick the camera
in your face to record each tear individually, as they usually do."
Cary looked up at us with a rather sheepish grin. "They would have done just that, if I could have had my
way," he admitted candidly. "After working myself up to that pitch, I didn't want to waste any of it
often but George Stevens, the director, was smarter. He said he knew it would be more natural and more effective
without close-ups. I can be thankful for that." We agreed heartily.
Then I asked Cary about the dialogue, which sounded as if it had not been rehearsed. "That's right,"
Frances agreed. "I thought you were doing parts of it ad lib."
Cary nodded. "That's close. What George actually did was to let me speak the lines my own way -- get the sense
of the dialogue rather than repeat the words as they were written."
"You didn't even make retakes in a couple of places where you stumbled over lines," said Jon, "and
I never heard anything sound more convincing than this sort of uncertainty. It was just as a man would speak who
was emotionally upset."
Cary smiled. "Believe it or not," he said, "the tried to get that effect. Which was no trouble for
me. I never have to try to stumble over lines; it comes naturally. Just a gift, I guess."
Well, so much for Mr. Grant and his Academy Award weeping. (And I can just see the Academy president as he hands
the Oscar to Cary and announces, "The award for the best performance by an actor in 1941 -- to Mr. Cary Grant,
for crying out loud!") Considering the remarkable effect that his emoting in "Penny Serenade" has
had on the general public (especially the ladies), Mr. Grant should experience no difficulty, from now on, getting
any little thing his heart may desire. All he will have to do is point to it -- and start crying.
The rest of the article has very little to do with Cary Grant
and so is not included it here.