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February 04, 2013

My Funny Valentine...a 'Penny Serenade'

(Talk of the Town photo provided/Susie Duncan Sexton Collection) Below, Susie's parents, Roy and Edna Duncan, are shown here shortly after their elopement in 1930. The original photo is faded, dog-eared and much loved -- carried in a wallet for years and years.

By Susie Duncan Sexton

Dutifully responding to my shameless suggestion, my son Roy bought me another book!  David Denby impressed me terrifically as a guest on the Charlie Rose show, defending movies "the way they were" when author Denby and  I both fell loyally, tenaciously in love with the cinematic industry -- without reservation.  At the height of the awards season, everybody and his brother pay closer attention to all of the creativity, talent, hype, and multi-faceted Herculean tasks underscoring favorite "final products" emanating from Hollywood prior to any one of us easing  into a comfy chair while clasping a tub of popcorn and a jumbo Coca-Cola.  The New Yorker reviewer notes in his Introduction of "Do the Movies Have a Future?": "At its best, the new Internet cinephilia  generates an unstoppable, exfoliating mass of knowledge and opinion, a thickening density of inquiries, claims, reference points, agreements, outraged and dulcet tweets, rebuttals, summations, dismissals."  This author claims that all of our premier critics (Pauline Kael among them) --whose "household word-ish" bylines once mesmerized an adoring spellbound public -- presently would be bloggers rather than  formerly "sought after" celebrity experts.

Well, Roy blogs fabulously via his "Reel Reviews" (www.reelroyreviews.com), and his Facebook audience and at least two Detroit newspapers (and one UK blog!) urge him at every turn to PUBLISH his rapidly expanding collection of fair and honest and loving critiques; each one shines, as gems always do!  Reel Roy's brilliant, witty, reverent love letters -- laced with gentle candor -- entice me to leave the house, the sole purpose being to either confirm his evaluations or argue with his appraisals the very next time he visits.  He, still the epitome of youth, open-mindedly appreciates special effects, unlimited sequels, Claymation, and comic book characters replacing Gable and Cooper as super-heroes!  We once engaged in a blistering argument, aching to settle whether his Madonna or my Marlene Dietrich more honestly deserved the title of "legendary icon for the ages" status. 

Not particularly a fan of "romance movies", I do know one when I see one…and "date night chick flicks", which plagued the conclusion of the 20th and the start of the 21st centuries, pale miserably by comparison to perhaps my all-time single favorite of that genre!   PENNY SERENADE (1941)!   Believe me when I say that not even Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee and Troy Donohue qualify as romantic in my book.  (Perhaps the magnetic coupling of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in the fifties' "Place in the Sun", based on Hoosier author Theodore Dreiser's  perfect novel "An American Tragedy", moves my heart-ometer.  Maybe…)  Neither any screwball comedy starring Ft. Wayne native Carole Lombard nor an "unending rapid-fire fun and quips at the newspaper office" piece of pizzazz featuring some wise-cracking Roz Russell type dame nor a sob-story chronicling "Camille" as portrayed by Greta Garbo who coughs to death in the arms of Robert Taylor -- although all entries being vintage which is my preference -- earns a spot as THE most romantic cinematic endeavor of all time!

Denby writes of that magic era of film classics dating from 1934 to 1941: "Many of the heroines were heiresses, who, in those days, were prized for their burbling eccentricities -- Carole Lombard's howl, Irene Dunne's giggle, Katharine Hepburn's Bryn Mawr drawl.  Pampered and dizzy, they were nevertheless smart enough, when choosing a man, to favor spontaneity over security, spirit over solidity."  Wait, David!  NOT IRENE DUNNE (seldom ditzy but certainly always "smart enough")… as the down-to-earth, (yes, sometimes giggling), independent-thinking, peppy, mildly ambitious, record store clerk who falls instantly yet believably-deeply in like-respect with a regular fellow (Cary Grant portraying THE most credible, somewhat spontaneous, spirited and SOLID regular fellow ever --trust me!) at first glance, through a store window.  They marry.  They struggle with finances.  They work together to earn barely a decent living.  They adopt an infant.  Circumstances push the two of them to face facts that they no longer care for one another. They remember that indeed they do. Their time together evokes much genuine laughter and demands a handy, well-stocked carton of Kleen-exes.  Just like life.  The most perfect story captured within approximately two hours, I can honestly report, that I have ever watched…  Now, please "follow the bouncing ball", and let us segue into exquisitely appropriate song lyrics for this time of the year:

My funny Valentine
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you're my favourite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

But don't change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine stay
Each day is Valentine's day  (from the musical "Pal Joey" written in 1940 by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart)


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