The Full Wiki

Pennies from Heaven (1981 film): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pennies from Heaven

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Herbert Ross
Produced by Rick McCallum
Herbert Ross
Nora Kaye
Written by Dennis Potter
Starring Steve Martin
Bernadette Peters
Christopher Walken
Jessica Harper
Music by Ralph Burns
Con Conrad
Marvin Hamlisch
Billy May
Cinematography Gordon Willis
Editing by Richard Marks
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) December 11, 1981
Running time 108 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $22,000,000

Pennies from Heaven is a 1981 musical film. The movie was based on a 1978 BBC television drama. In 1981, Dennis Potter adapted his own screenplay for a film of the same name for American audiences, with its setting changed to Depression era Chicago. Potter was nominated for the 1981 Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. The film starred Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, and Christopher Walken. The director was Herbert Ross and the choreographer was Danny Daniels.



This was Steve Martin's first dramatic role in a film. Martin had watched the original miniseries and considered it "the greatest thing [he'd] ever seen".[1] He trained for six months learning to tap dance. Christopher Walken trained as a dancer as a young man and he was able to use his dancing skills in the film.

According to a 1990 article in The Times, MGM had Dennis Potter rewrite the script 13 times and required him to buy back his copyright from the BBC, for which he paid BBC "something over $100,000". In addition, MGM prohibited broadcast of the BBC's original production for ten years. Around 1989, at the prompting of Alan Yentob, the controller of BBC2, producer Kenith Trodd was able to buy back the rights from MGM for "a very inconsiderable sum." In February 1990, the BBC rebroadcast the original Pennies From Heaven for the first time since its original transmission.

In the same Times article, Trodd stated that Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell, the stars of the original series, "were terribly upset that they weren't considered for the film. I think they still blame Dennis and me in some way, but there was no way to argue the point with MGM."

Four paintings are recreated as Tableaux vivants in the film: Hudson Bay Fur Company and 20 Cent Movie by Reginald Marsh, and New York Movie and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Three of the four were painted after 1934, when the movie takes place, and all depict scenes in New York City, not Chicago, the setting of the movie.

Plot summary

In 1930s Depression America, Arthur Parker, a sheet-music salesman, is having a hard time, both in his business and at home with his wife Joan. His business is failing and Joan is not amorous enough for Arthur and refuses to give him money to start his own business. His dream is to live in a world that is like the songs he tries to sell. In his travels, Arthur meets a shy, beautiful but plain school teacher, Eileen. Arthur expresses his instant attraction by lip-synching to the song "Did You Ever See A Dream Walking", as Eileen, converted to a brighter version of herself, dances. He convinces her that he loves her and they embark on a short affair, but Arthur leaves her and returns to Joan. However, Eileen becomes pregnant and is fired (she will later have an abortion). She is then taken in by a stylish pimp, Tom. When Arthur meets Eileen again --as "Lulu"--she is dressed provocatively and has adopted an aggressive manner. They resume their romance, and Eileen leaves Tom and her sordid life. A blind girl is raped and killed (by a man that Arthur gave a ride to earlier in the film) and innocent Arthur (who crossed paths with the girl prior to the murder) is captured and convicted of the crime. At the gallows, he recites the lyrics from the song "Pennies from Heaven", as if trying to tell the audience not to take life for granted as he had. Arthur and Eileen wind up in a dream-happy ending, with Arthur saying "We've worked too hard not to have a happy ending."

The style of the movie balances the drab despair of the depression era and the characters' sad lives with brightly colored dream-fantasy lavish musical sequences. The characters break into song and dance to express their emotions. For example, Eileen turns into a silver-gowned torch singer in her school-room, with her students lip-synching and dancing ("Love Is Good For Anything That Ails You"). Tom seduces Eileen with a tap dance/striptease routine on top of a bar ("Let's Misbehave"). Arthur and Eileen go to a movie ("Follow the Fleet") and wind up dancing, in formal wear, first with, then in, the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical number "Let's Face the Music and Dance", that was introduced by Fred Astaire in the movie Follow the Fleet in 1936. All the songs are lip-synched except Martin singing/speaking the title song at the end, but Arthur, Tom, and Eileen dance.

Cast of Characters


The film grossed slightly more than $9 million at the box-office against a budget of $22 million.[2]

When asked in Rolling Stone about the film's box-office failure, Martin said: "I'm disappointed that it didn't open as a blockbuster and I don't know what's to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy. I must say that the people who get the movie, in general, have been wise and intelligent; the people who don't get it are ignorant scum."[1] It was Martin's second starring role in a film, following 1979's comedy hit The Jerk, and fans were confused to see Martin in a serious role. "You just can't do a movie like Pennies from Heaven after you have done The Jerk", Martin said in a BBC interview.

The film was given a rapturous review by Pauline Kael in The New Yorker : " Pennies from Heaven is the most emotional movie musical I've ever seen. It's a stylized mythology of the Depression which uses the popular songs of the period as expressions of people's deepest longings - for sex, for romance, for money, for a high good time..there was never a second when I wasn't fascinated by what was happening on the screen." [3]

Fred Astaire, who was powerless to prevent the reuse of his old footage, detested the film: "I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life. Every scene was cheap and vulgar. They don't realize that the thirties were a very innocent age, and that [Film] should have been set in the eighties — it was just froth; it makes you cry it's so distasteful."[4]

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Awards--
    • Best Costume Design --Bob Mackie (nominated)
    • Best Sound (nominated)
    • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium--Dennis Potter (nominated)
  • Boston Society of Film Critics Awards
    • Best Cinematography--Gordon Willis (WON)
  • Golden Globes
    • Best Motion Picture Actress - Comedy/Musical--Bernadette Peters (WON)
    • Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical (nominated)
    • Best Motion Picture Actor - Comedy/Musical--Steve Martin (nominated)
  • National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA
    • Best Cinematography--Gordon Willis (WON)


  1. ^ a b Fong-Torres, Ben (February 18, 1982). "Steve Martin Sings: The Rolling Stone Interview". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  2. ^ Business Data for Pennies from Heaven
  3. ^ Pauline Kael, reprinted in Taking It All In ISBN 0-7145-2841-2
  4. ^ Satchell, Tim (1987). Astaire, The Biography. London: Hutchinson. p. 251. ISBN 0-09-173736-2. 

External links



Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address