6.5/10
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68 user 44 critic

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

Trailer
3:06 | Trailer
During the Great Depression, a sheet music salesman seeks to escape his dreary life through popular music and a love affair with an innocent school teacher.

Director:

Herbert Ross

Writers:

Dennis Potter (written for the screen by), Dennis Potter (based on original material by)
Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Steve Martin ... Arthur
Bernadette Peters ... Eileen
Jessica Harper ... Joan
Vernel Bagneris ... The Accordion Man
John McMartin ... Mr. Warner
John Karlen ... The Detective
Jay Garner Jay Garner ... The Banker
Robert Fitch Robert Fitch ... Al
Tommy Rall ... Ed
Eliska Krupka Eliska Krupka ... The Blind Girl
Christopher Walken ... Tom
Francis X. McCarthy ... The Bartender (as Frank McCarthy)
Raleigh Bond Raleigh Bond ... Mr. Barrett
Gloria LeRoy Gloria LeRoy ... A Prostitute
Nancy Parsons ... The Old Whore
Learn more

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Storyline

In Chicago during the 1930s depression, sheet music salesman Arthur Parker is trying to sell his products, but it's not easy to convince unwilling music store owners to buy them. Although he's already married to the somewhat drab Joan, when he meets school teacher Eileen in a music store, he falls in love with her. Written by Mattias Thuresson

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

There's a world on both sides of the rainbow where songs come true and every time it rains, it rains...

Genres:

Drama | Musical | Romance

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

When asked in Rolling Stone about the film's box-office failure, Steve Martin said: "I'm disappointed that it didn't open as a blockbuster and I don't know what's to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy. I must say that the people who get the movie, in general, have been wise and intelligent; the people who don't get it are ignorant scum." See more »

Goofs

Early on, a sexually frustrated Arthur zips his fly. In 1934 he would have had to button it. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Arthur Parker: Joan... Joanie? Sugar? C'mon, Joan... sugar... wake up, baby.
Joan Parker: No, Arthur, don't.
Arthur Parker: Oh, baby... come on, sugar.
Joan Parker: No, it's too early, Arthur.
Arthur Parker: Oh, Joan.
Joan Parker: Arthur, there isn't time.
Arthur Parker: Oh, there's always time for this. Joan, come on.
Joan Parker: Stop it, Arthur! No, don't!
Joan Parker: [getting out of bed] No... I said no!
[...]
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Ken Adam: Designing Bond (2000) See more »

Soundtracks

The Glory of Love
(1936) (uncredited)
Written by Billy Hill
Sung by Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, and chorus
See more »

User Reviews

 
Flawed could've-been-masterpiece
28 November 2007 | by n_r_kochSee all my reviews

This film has so many good things in it and so much talent worked so very hard on it that it's just baffling to me that so much of it doesn't work. I love '30s and '40s musicals, and I saw this film in 1981, and I've seen it about 10 times more on DVD. I like a lot of it, but somehow it's just not a very good movie, and I still can't figure out why.

The music is good. The musical numbers are creatively shot and well-executed; the Walken number alone took weeks to film. The sets, costumes, photography, and color are beautiful and give the film a real Depression feel. Clearly, no expense was spared. The actors give it their all. The re-creations of photos and paintings (including "Nighthawks" which is actually from WW2) are breathtaking. They must have been very hard to set up, light, and shoot. But, in keeping with the film's low-key style, they're not lingered on at all, and if you look away you can miss them.

Is the problem Steve Martin? This choice caused some controversy in 1981. He lacked film experience and he might not have been the ideal choice, although it's hard to guess what other leading man could have done that vaudeville stuff in 1981. Martin, at least, doesn't obviously fall down on the job; the verdict is still out. But Peters, who even apart from this film seems to belong to the '30s, holds up her end of things.

Maybe it's the script and the way the film is conceived. If the idea is to realize what these '30s drudges fantasize about-- and to do it in a '30s-musical style, as if they imagine themselves the heroes of musicals-- then there has to be something to the drudges that makes us care what they fantasize about. But there isn't enough to these people. They're drawn as thin types; yet the material is played very slowly, as if they were supposed to turn into real people at some point. They never do, and so by the end it all peters out (no pun intended). I also thought the subplot with the young girl was a maudlin absurdity, right out of a Mary Pickford tear-jerker.

Perhaps the real problem can be traced back to the origins of the project. It plays almost like an English musical made in an American style, and it doesn't work very well. The humor in the book is too tedious, too black, and too obsessed with tit jokes to be American. And the musical numbers are too slick, loud, and overproduced to be English. The filmmakers couldn't find a way to make these two parts fit together. And so they are just jammed together over and over again. One is constantly aware of the bad fit. It just doesn't come together, but in the various parts there are still more than enough reasons to see it.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

1 January 1982 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Pennies from Heaven See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$22,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$9,171,289

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$9,171,289
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Black and White ("Follow the Fleet" dream sequence)| Color (Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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