Pennies from Heaven

"Excellent"

Pennies from Heaven Review


From the start of his career, Steve Martin was eager to kill his image as the man with the arrow through his head, the wild and crazy guy, the Jerk. But in 1981, when he took on the lead role in this quirky, somber and elegant musical set in Great Depression Chicago, both critics and audiences balked. After a decade of tough-guy '70s flicks, a sepia-toned melodrama with strange casting - Christopher Walken dances! -- wasn't anybody's idea of a good time. Two decades after its flop, though, it's worth discovering, or re-discovering - a charming first glimpse of the gravitas that Martin fought hard for as an actor.

Martin plays Arthur, a down-on-his luck sheet-music salesman worn out by his loveless marriage to Joan (Jessica Harper) - loveless, in part, because his life with Joan can't match the fantasies produced by the lyrics he sells. Hitting the road, he meets Eileen (Bernadette Peters), a mousy but sweet school teacher. Together, they fall in love, and express that love in dance and song. Sort of: They're actually lip-synching to songs of the '30s, riffing on old music the same way that Martin would riff on old films less successfully a few years later in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. After Arthur gets cold feet about the relationship - not before dancing quite well - Eileen falls into the dastardly clutches of Tom (Walken), a pimp. It's Walken's performance that makes the film - a dowdy but charming tap-dance striptease to Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave." With a pencil-thin mustache and a lecherous leer, he has all the fearfulness he showed in The Deer Hunter with a sophistication he never showed off often enough.

In the end, though, there were too many quirky notions floating around Pennies from Heaven to make it a success; its failure scared MGM off from musicals for years. A few decades of deeply ironic Hollywood films makes its high-concept attack easier to swallow, but just as importantly it's a pleasure to look at. Director Herbert Ross, along with cinematographer Gordon Willis, captures the look and feel of '30s America, both in the wide shots of dank city alleyways and tight interiors of sleazy bars and bedrooms. One shot deliberately echoes Edward Hopper's famous painting "Nighthawks," and that's the mood Pennies from Heaven evokes: Dark as night but perfectly lit, a little sad but with a song in its heart.

The cast and crew reunite for a 20 year reunion (done live after some screening) included on the DVD. Film critic Peter Rainer offers minimalistic commentary on a handful of scenes (What, couldn't get through the whole thing? Huh.).

Heavens to Betsy!



Pennies from Heaven

Facts and Figures

Run time: 108 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st January 1982

Distributed by: Warner Home Video

Production compaines: Columbia Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Larry Poole, Madge Evans as Susan Sprague, Edith Fellows as Patsy Smith, as Henry, as Gramp Smith, John Gallaudet as J. C. Hart, William Stack as Clarence B. Carmichael, Nana Bryant as Miss Howard, as Crowbar Miller, Nydia Westman as Slavey - Hotel Maid, Mickey Daniels as Hay Wagon Driver (uncredited)

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.