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Pennies from Heaven

Pennies from Heaven

Director: Herbert Ross

Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Walken


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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
In 1981, Steve Martin was known primarily for his "wild and crazy guy" persona, thanks to his live performances, platinum-selling comedy albums, and such early movie vehicles as The Jerk. This Americanized version of Dennis Potter’s highly praised BBC-TV miniseries represented a risky departure for Martin, and while the film was not terribly successful in its theatrical run, it has found an appreciative audience in the years since, thanks to video and cable-TV exposure. This new DVD edition should win over a new group of fans. Martin plays Arthur Parker, an unsuccessful sheet-music salesman disenchanted with both his career and his marriage to drab, passionless Joan (Jessica Harper). Arthur escapes reality by inhabiting a fantasy world in which the songs he loves spring vividly to life. In this Technicolor world of the imagination, his tawdry real-life affair with schoolteacher Eileen Everson (Bernadette Peters) seems like a joyous romance straight out of a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical. Director Herbert Ross (Play It Again, Sam) has his hands full trying to put a positive spin on this downbeat story, but he shrewdly employs the terpsichorean talents of cast members in several showstopping dance numbers. Christopher Walken, in a small but pivotal role as a lecherous pimp, practically steals the movie with one bravura tap dance solo. Martin’s character is not especially sympathetic, but his adroit portrayal of the amoral Arthur shows surprising depth. It’s really a tour de force, and although it disappointed some of his fans back in 1981, today this characterization ranks among his very best screen performances. Given a second chance, Pennies from Heaven invariably benefits from reappraisal.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
A dazzling downer of a musical and one of the more interesting works to emerge from the last gasps of '70s-era critical Hollywood, the film version of Dennis Potter's remarkable BBC series Pennies From Heaven (1981) provocatively dissects the power of movie-made fantasy. Contrasting bleak, Edward Hopper-esque Depression era reality with sumptuous Art Deco illusions, Potter and director Herbert Ross illuminate the divide between sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker's sordid life and the musical dreams that give him hope. Stars Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters masterfully dance and lip-synch their way through elaborately imagined 1930s numbers (including outrageous Busby Berkeley spectacles and a potent reworking of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' "Let's Face the Music and Dance"), but the showstopper is Christopher Walken's saucy "Let's Misbehave" tap solo. Still, bucking the usual musical uplift, Martin's Arthur remains a doomed sex addict and Peters' Eileen an unrepentant fallen "good girl." Along with an Oscar nomination for Potter's screenplay, Bob Mackie's costumes earned Academy approval, while Gordon Willis' rich cinematography garnered several critics' prizes. Despite favorable reviews and Martin's star status, however, audiences did not appreciate either his serious performance or the film's modernist conception, and Pennies From Heaven failed.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Archives
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Steve Martin Arthur
Bernadette Peters Eileen
Christopher Walken Tom
Jessica Harper Joan
John McMartin Mr. Warner
John Karlen The Detective
Robert Fitch Al
Eliska Krupka The Blind Girl
Richard Butler Actor
Jay Garner Banker
Joseph Medalis Counterman
Conrad Palmisano Actor
Nancy Parsons Old Whore
Bill Richards Actor
Thomas Rall Ed
Vernel Bagneris Accordion man
Frank McCarthy Bartender
Raleigh Bond Mr. Barrett
Gloria Le Roy Prostitute
Shirley Kirks Tart
Jack Fletcher Elevator Operator
Arell Blanton Motorcycle Police
Jim Boeke Hangman
George Wilbur Motorcycle Police
M.C. Gainey Young Policeman
Duke Stroud Counterman
Richard Blum Pool Player
William Frankfather Pool Player
James Mendenhall Warden
Robert Lee Jarvis Policeman
Luke Andreas Customer
Will Hare Father Everson
Joshua Cadman Jumbo
Paul Valentine Bar Patron
John Craig Bar Patron
Alton Ruff Bar Patron
Karla Bush Bank Secretary
Robin Hoff Bank Secretary
Twink Caplan Bank Customer
Wayne Storm Bank Guard
Gene Ross Bank Teller
Greg Finley Bank Teller
Joe E. Ross Bank Teller
Melissa Hayden Actor
Dave Adams Bank Teller
Paul Michael Actor

Technical Credits
Herbert Ross Director,Producer
Ken Adam Associate Producer,Production Designer
Christopher Burian-Mohr Set Decoration/Design
Ralph Burns Score Composer
Bernard Cutler Art Director
Danny D. Daniels Choreography
Warren Hamilton Sound Editor
Marvin Hamlisch Score Composer
Philip Harrison Production Designer
Martha Johnston Set Decoration/Design
Nora Kaye Producer
Garrett Lewis Set Decoration/Design
Bob Mackie Costumes/Costume Designer
Richard Marks Editor
Billy May Score Composer
Rick McCallum Executive Producer
Al Overton Sound/Sound Designer
Dennis Potter Original Story,Screenwriter
Glen Robinson Special Effects
L. Andrew Stone Asst. Director
Fred Tuch Art Director
Gordon Willis Cinematographer


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