"should be an indication of something very special. For those expecting a happy, upbeat film reflecting the moony-spoony lyrics of the tin-pan alley song of the same name will be sorely disappointed. For those who love originality and can imagine the possibility of a singing/tap-dancing depression-era musical drama about seriously flawed people, each needing love which, even during the Great Depression, is harder to find than money... Well, maybe you get the picture.But probably not. This film is almost impossible to describe but contains Steve Martin tapdancing through a fabulouly produced Busby Berkeley number, an amazing barroom tap dance dance number by Christopher Walken (yes, that Christopher Walken) and the title song interpreted by New Orleans performer Vernel Bagneris - a surreal elastic-body number in which it actually rains gold coins outside a seedy diner. The scene where teacher Bernadette Peters' first- grade classroom erupts into song and magically re- appear in tiny sequened tuxedos to tap dance on top their tiny desks is as surreal as it is refreshingly unexpected, like everything in this movie.This film is brilliant. It's a thinking person's gem which juxtaposes the real world of The Great Depression with those happy-go-lucky songs of the same era that somehow helped people forget how bad things really were. This movie joyously, mischeivously, and darkly unites them. It's an amazing and truly original film. Don't miss it. ."
A rare and unusual treat: a musical shrouded in darkness
J. Bongiorno | Valley Stream, NY United States | 08/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film for thinking people who love movies and aren't afraid to try something very different. The fact that this picture was made was a miracle in itself as it is almost unrelentingly grim, melancholy and dark, but so gorgeously shot, well-acted, and hauntingly scored that many will find quite a measure of joy in watching this film. The brilliant musical numbers (performed to perfection by the cast) are up to the standards of the Gingers/Rogers films of old, yet are so contrary to them thematically. Instead of the standard feel-good joi de vivre, they serve here instead to atually underscore the tragedy of the characters lives and demonstrate just how far away they are from the joyous visions the songs describe. So, if you're looking for a happy-go-lucky lightweight return to the MGM of the past, this likely isn't the picture for you. On the other hand, if you want a stunning homage to the musicals of the 30's, but one which does not sacrifice artful storytelling and an almost picture-quality reproduction of the grief, sorrow and anger of the Depression-era 30's, this is the pinnacle of filmmaking (and with sumptious musical numbers to back it).
IMO, this is hands down Steve Martin's best role and as well as Bernadette Peters (who should have been won the Academy that year). Both are incredible, as is Christopher Walken and Jessica Harper. As the main protagonist of the film, it is a rare distinction for Martin (as well as for this genre film) that he is not really a nice guy -- yet nor is he a true villain. There are sympathetic qualities to his character, but also irremedially selfish, childish ones. One of the great elements of this film is that all of the characters are fully three-dimensional and you don't really know where these characters are going to go or what decisions they're going to make. Behind the stylization, cinematography and dance numbers lies subtle artistic, poetic and psychological underpinnings wherein lie real people and their tragedies and the sorrow they bring upon themselves. Martin plays the frustrated husband who begins an affair with an innocent schoolteacher, destroying all of their lives, including his own, in the process. Make no mistake, this is a dark film which deals powerfully with themes of yearning and lost innocence, and which is fueled by an almost sexual rage. Sexual anger permeates nearly all of the musical numbers in ways that are surprising and original, yet almost always sad. Sex represents the catalyst for doom and evil in this film. There is hypnotizing -- almost trance-like -- and surreal quality to the way this film is shot, and the mood is pervasive and not one a mature film-lover is likely to forget right away...
As far as the DVD transfer is concerned: I'm very glad that it's in anamorphic widescreen as it should be. The color palette is deep and rich, and although there is some artifacting and pixellation, it is hardly distracting. A major treat is the commentary track by film critic Peter Rainer, a man who really understands the brilliance of this movie and its underlying themes. There is also a 20th Anniversary Cast and Crew Reunion (which unfortunately lacks Peters and Walken). The one sore spot of this disk is that it's missing deleted scenes, which is inexusable IMO, especially as one of crew discusses some beautiful scenes he was upset to cut out for the sake of pacing. Let's hope we get a Special Edition sometime in the near future.
Another musical didn't emerge again until Moulin Rouge and Chicago, both of which received great accolades. Without disprect to those, Pennies from Heaven is a far superior film in many ways: Uncompromising and artful, with touches of noir and mystery; at times a strange ride, and profoundly sorrowful, this is one of those rare classics that has not been seen by enough people."
Vernel Bagneris' dance number has haunted me for years
Wind Chimes | United States | 11/23/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The title piece done by Vernel Bagneris has stayed with me since I saw this movie in the theater years ago. I just watched the movie again, and that wonderful and amazing dance in the rain, Christopher Walken's strip tease (who knew he was a fabulous song-and-dance man?), the classroom production number, and the wonderful cinematography all had me rewinding and watching things over again. This movie is tailor-made for someone who likes quirky musicals starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters with a supporting cast of great talent. What's not to love?"
Excellent dark comedy/melodrama
Wind Chimes | 11/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Pennies from Heaven is a most unusual film - a combination of musical fantasy and melodrama. Great acting and performances from all the leads. This is probably Steve Martin's best effort to play a serious role with deep characterization. Bernadette Peters is vulnerable and tantalizing. This film could have been their breakthrough feature, if the audience had accepted Steve Martin as anything other than for his zany comedies. I remember Steve Martin jokingly said to Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show that those who liked this movie were intelligent and humanistic. I think it is not far from the truth."
A breathtaking adaptation of Dennis Potter's masterpiece.
firstname.lastname@example.org | New York, NY, USA | 03/08/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While the radically shortened film of Potter's British television mini-series necessarily leaves out a great deal--including some of what was most devastating in the original, this adaptation written by Potter and directed by, of all people, Herbert Ross, is a major work, too. It uses the big screen to full advantage, turning the lip-synched numbers into full Busby Berkeley-esque parodies. And none of the original's brilliance or darkness has been lost. Know--this is no light-hearted romp. It's probably the bleakest work of art ever made for TV, and the film's very modest commercial success is undoubtedly a testament to that. But it's really something. You'll never forget Vernel Bagneris's dance to the title number. And both Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters give the performances of their careers. Their eyes will haunt you. END"