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Pennies from Heaven (1981)

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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)
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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
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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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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

1 January 1982 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Dinheiro do Céu 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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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film's finale musical sequence "Glory of Love" featured 126 dancers. 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 Chicago (2002) See more »

Soundtracks

Love Is Good for Anything That Ails You
(1937)
Written by Cliff Friend (uncredited) and Matty Malneck (uncredited)
Performed by Phyllis Robins (as Phyllis Robbins) with Orlando and His Orchestra
Courtesy of EMI Records
Mimed onscreen and Danced by Bernadette Peters (uncredited) and school children
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Spactacular; possibly the most underrated film of the last 20 years
7 May 2006 | by robb_772See all my reviews

An Americanized adaptation of the six-part 1978 British miniseries, underrated director Herbert Ross' brilliant PENNIES FROM HEAVEN was a huge commercial flop in US when originally released. Audiences of 1981 did not seem to understand the concept of a depression-era musical, where the actors lip-synch to original recording from the in 1930s in elaborate fantasies that are far removed from the actual world in which they inhabit. Though extremely unconventional, this device is absolutely heart-wrenching as the dreariness of the real world breaks away to the brightly-colored, perpetually optimistic fantasy land that only lives in the lyrics of popular songs. It is the eternal agony of the dreamer that is expressed; the cold reality that leaves us destined to reach for the sky, but doomed to walk the earth.

This leaves the film's cast with a difficult task, as they must not only contend with their dramatic art, but also be well versed in a variety of demanding dances and highly disciplined choreography. Comedian Steve Martin is far from the first choice to portray the downtrodden protagonist in any film, but the actor acquits himself expertly in both the film's demanding dance and drama. Mousy Jessica Harper delves into her eternally repressed character so deeply that one is never certain where one stops and the other begins; a triumph of form for any thespian. Renowned dancer Vernel Bagneris is mesmerizing as the film's most ambiguous character, and his density-defying dance to Arthur Tracy's heartbreaking rendition of the title song is one of my favorite moments in any film.

Even more impressive is tough guy actor Christopher Walken's then-unexpected prowess on the dance floor, as he delivers a riotously funny and surprisingly sexy striptease to Irving Aaronson's "Let's Misbehave." In this sequence, Walken pulls off the difficult hat trick of satisfying both seasoned viewers and film neophytes, while still managing to leave both groups wanting more. Best of all, however, is the lovely Bernadette Peters in a superb, Golden Globe award-winning performance. Never before has Peters' slightly tarnished Kewpie-doll personae been better utilized, and the actress' transformation from repressed schoolmarm to hardened prostitute feels both stunningly and horrifyingly real.

Herbert Ross and his creative team manage to bind all of the pieces together into one seamless collage of lost hope, forced optimism, and never-ending desperation. Gordon Willis' cinematography is never less than completely awe-inspiring, and the combined efforts of top-drawer art and set direction and Bob Mackie's seemingly authentic period costumes helps cement the look and feel of desolate decade that the film represents. Over all films in every genre, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN would be a likely contender to receive my vote for the single most underrated film masterpiece of the last twenty years. It exudes all of the contradictory joy and heartbreak that the movies offer, and serves it all up in one stunning presentation.


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