Pennies From Heaven

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 26


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,691
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Pennies From Heaven Photos

Movie Info

Adapted from Dennis Potter's landmark British TV miniseries and relocated to the United States during the Depression, Pennies from Heaven dramatizes how popular songs both shaped and reflected the thoughts of people living through economic (and emotional) hardship. Arthur Parker (Steve Martin) is a sheet music salesman who believes that he can spot a hit a mile away and wants to open his own store. But he can't get a bank loan and his wife Joan (Jessica Harper), who has savings left to her by her father, refuses to give him the money. Also, while Arthur has a fierce sexual appetite, Joan generally refuses his advances. While on the road, Arthur meets Eileen (Bernadette Peters), a shy schoolteacher as desperate for affection as Arthur is hungry for sex. They begin an affair, which leads to tragedy for both. Punctuating the drama of Pennies from Heaven are elaborate musical numbers in which the characters lip-synch to popular songs of the day, which at once lift their hopes and reflect their fears. Arthur's buoyant tap number to "My Baby Said Yes" and Eileen's saucy rendition of "Love is Good for Anything That Ails You" are reflections of their needs for money and love, and their pas de deux on "Let's Face the Music and Dance" is at once an escape and an acknowledgement of their hopelessness.

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Vernel Bagneris
as Accordion man
John McMartin
as Mr. Warner
John Karlen
as Detective
Jay Garner
as Banker
Eliska Krupka
as Blind Girl
Frank McCarthy
as Bartender
Raleigh Bond
as Mr. Barrett
Gloria Le Roy
as Prostitute
Nancy Parsons
as Old Whore
Jack Fletcher
as Elevator Operator
Arell Blanton
as Motorcycle Police
George P. Wilbur
as Motorcycle Police
M.C. Gainey
as Young Policeman
Mark Martinez
as Schoolboy
Duke Stroud
as Counterman
Joe Medalis
as Counterman
Will Hare
as Father Everson
Richard Blum
as Pool Player
Jim Boeke
as Hangman
Luke Andreas
as Customer
Paul Valentine
as Bar Patron
Bill Richards
as Bar Patron
John Craig
as Bar Patron
Alton Ruff
as Bar Patron
Robin Hoff
as Bank Secretary
Linda Montana
as Bank Secretary
Karla Bush
as Bank Secretary
Dorothy Cronin
as Bank Secretary
Twink Caplan
as Bank Secretary
Lillian D'Honau
as Bank Customer
Barbara Nordella
as Bank Customer
Dean Taliaferro
as Bank Customer
Wayne Storm
as Bank Guard
Joe E. Ross
as Bank Teller
Gene Ross
as Bank Teller
Edward Heim
as Bank Teller
Dave Adams
as Bank Teller
Greg Finley
as Bank Teller
Paul Michael
as Bank Teller
Joe Ross
as Bank Teller
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Critic Reviews for Pennies From Heaven

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (22) | Rotten (4)

  • Literal-minded moviegoers will find it easy to hate Pennies from Heaven. But those willing to go along with the device will find the film a source of constant surprise and delight.

    Oct 22, 2018 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Feb 2, 2009 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    May 20, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Let's face the music and dance, indeed.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Pennies from Heaven is dazzling and disappointing in equal measure.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • The movie, though, is not easy to respond to. It's chilly without being provocative in any intellectual way.

    Aug 30, 2004 | Rating: 2/5

Audience Reviews for Pennies From Heaven

  • Aug 16, 2011
    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.
    Pierluigi P Super Reviewer
  • Jul 13, 2011
    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.
    Spencer S Super Reviewer
  • May 26, 2008
    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 B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 31, 2007
    The most depressing musical of all time. Easy 5 stars. I wonder if Lars Von Trier saw this?
    Christopher B Super Reviewer

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