In Chicago during the 1930s depression, sheet music salesman Arthur Parker is trying to sell his products, but it’s not easy to convince unwilling music store owners to buy them. Although he’s already married to the somewhat drab Joan, when he meets school teacher Eileen in a music store, he falls in love with her.
Pennies from Heaven is a 1981 American musical film adapted from a 1978 BBC television drama. Dennis Potter adapted his own screenplay from the BBC series for American audiences, changing its setting from London and the Forest of Dean to Depression era Chicago and rural Illinois. Potter was nominated for the 1981 Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay, but lost to On Golden Pond. The film starred Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Christopher Walken and Jessica Harper. The director was Herbert Ross and the choreographer was Danny Daniels.
The film includes musical numbers consisting of actors lip-syncing and dancing to popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s, such as “Let’s Misbehave”, “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, and the title song.
About the Story
In 1934, Chicago sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker (Martin) is having a hard time, both in his business and at home with his wife Joan (Harper). His business and marriage are failing, and Joan refuses to give him the money she inherited from her father to start his own business.
Arthur’s dream is to live in a world that is like the songs he tries to sell. He is refused a bank loan, although he fantasizes that he gets it. In his travels, Arthur meets a school teacher, Eileen (Peters), and falls in love with her instantly. They embark on a short affair, but Arthur leaves her and returns to Joan, who, desperate to keep him, agrees to give him the money he wanted. Arthur denies having an affair, though Joan is sure he is lying.
Eileen gets pregnant by Arthur and is fired. With nowhere to go, she takes up with stylish pimp Tom (Walken). While Eileen is attracted to Tom’s “badness”, it is quite clear that Tom means business, and arranges for her to have an abortion.
When Arthur meets Eileen again, she is now a prostitute calling herself “Lulu”. They resume their romance, and Eileen leaves Tom and her sordid life. Impulsively, Arthur convinces her to run away together. Having failed to sell his business, Arthur and Eileen break into the store one night and trash it, smashing its phonograph records (except for “Pennies from Heaven”). To supplement their income, Eileen keeps prostituting in spite of Arthur’s objections.
Pennies from Heaven (1981)
Directed by: Herbert Ross
Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Jessica Harper, Vernel Bagneris, John McMartin, John Karlen, Robert Fitch, Eliska Krupka
Screenplay by: Dennis Potter
Production Design by: Philip Harrison
Cinematography by: Gordon Willis
Film Editing by: Richard Marks
ostume Design by: Bob Mackie
Set Decoration by: Garrett Lewis
Art Direction by: Bernie Cutler, Fred Tuch, Seymour Klate
Music by: Ralph Burns, Billy May
Distributed by: United Artists
Release Date: December 11, 1981