Pennies From Heaven (1981)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: A complicated little musical, Pennies from Heaven is a dazzling, tragic spectacle.


Movie Info

Based on a British mini-series penned by Dennis Potter, this extravagant musical drama, set during the Great Depression, centers on a sheet music salesman (Steve Martin) who dreams of being wealthy. Already selfish and vain, he becomes blinded by his dreams and in trying to make them real, callously destroys the life of a school teacher (Bernadette Peters).

Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Romance, Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By:
Written By: Dennis Potter
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 27, 2004
Runtime:
Warner Home Video

Cast


as Accordion man

as Mr. Warner

as Detective

as Banker

as Blind Girl

as Bartender

as Mr. Barrett

as Old Whore

as Elevator Operator

as Motorcycle Police

as Motorcycle Police

as Young Policeman

as Prostitute

as Schoolboy

as Counterman

as Counterman

as Father Everson

as Pool Player

as Hangman

as Customer

as Bar Patron

as Bar Patron

as Bar Patron

as Bar Patron

as Bank Secretary

as Bank Secretary

as Bank Secretary

as Bank Secretary

as Bank Secretary

as Bank Customer

as Bank Customer

as Bank Customer

as Bank Guard

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Bank Teller

as Counterman
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Pennies From Heaven

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (6)

Perhaps this was not the project on which to lavish so many MGM millions. The BBC show was an enchanted cottage; this is the Las Vegas Grand Hotel.

Full Review… | February 2, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Almost as if he were directing Pinter, Herbert Ross has actors speak a line, then wait two beats before delivering the next phrase. Technique smothers such ordinarily lively performers as Martin, Peters and Harper.

Full Review… | May 20, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Let's face the music and dance, indeed.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Pennies from Heaven is dazzling and disappointing in equal measure.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The movie, though, is not easy to respond to. It's chilly without being provocative in any intellectual way.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

he point is made endlessly, though it's in the film's favor that it's made with seriousness, consideration, and a certain amount of imagination.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Pennies From Heaven

½

Based off of the titular BBC miniseries from several years prior, this American production features Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in the lead roles. The film features dozens of iconic songs from the thirties and forties, several backgrounds painted from the original thirties musicals, and huge numbers akin to the heyday of MGM. Throughout the film the actors lip sync to the iconic singing of people like Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, The Boswell Sisters, and Ruby Vallee. Though the actors in this film do not sing, they are very talented performers. Steve Martin learned tap dancing for six months in preparation, Peters is a Broadway mainstay, and Christopher Walken had been trained in tap dancing prior, giving one of the more astounding performances of his career. The story follows Martin as music sheet salesman Arthur as he cheats on his wife, runs from the cops, and tries to find happiness in Depression Era America. The story is pretty grim, making Arthur's fantasies that much more heartbreaking. The juxtaposition illustrates that musical numbers really are fantasies in and of themselves, and the people going to see musicals during the Depression were trying to escape their disparity and poverty. Astaire reportedly hated this film because he believed that this period was innocent, and showing its realities was tawdry. In reality, this film was eye opening, and beautiful in its assessment of true life.

FrizzDrop
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

People trying to escape to a fantasy world where songs make up for the harsh reality they live in is a subject I find utterly appealing, even more if there is a lively, playful mastermind behind it to inject a good measure of black humour to the mix. Too bad Dennis Potter's amazing writing wasn't adapted to the silver screen by an equally sharp mind. But I pass things like that because I love the period, Gordon Willis' lightning and the lovely tunes. Also, Christopher Walken shows what a great dancer he is.

pier007
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

As fun as the musical numbers are, there is some very dark drama in this movie. I liked how everyone lip-syncs to the actual songs recorded in the 1930s. Here Steve Martin shows what a good actor he is as well as a dancer. Christopher Walken strip-teaseling to "Lets Misbehave" then telling Bernadette Peters "You'd better not be a tease . . . cause I'll cut your face" is a great scene. I can't speak to this being better than the original miniseries because I haven't seen it, but this film on its own is very good.

Alec Barniskis
Alec Barniskis

Super Reviewer

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