Pennies From Heaven (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Pennies from Heaven is a truly odd pseudo-Brechtian musical about a sheet music salesman who tries to eke out a living during the Great Depression. The songs he peddles are also the songs sung by the characters, although the actors do not actually sing, but simply lip synch along with actual period recordings. The point of the film, if there is one, seems to center on the contrast between the syrupy songs and the stark living conditions of that time. When there is no music, the almost colorless scenes picture grim lives filled with infidelity, prostitution, dire poverty and even murder. When the songs begin, the film transforms into a surreal Hollywood confection, and the realistic cityscapes are replaced with gloriously pastel sets, David Mackie costumes, and fantastical Busby Berkeley choreography. When the songs end, the grey faces and grim brown streets return. As you may well guess, this point is firmly established after about ten minutes, which leaves another two hours or so of lip synching to forgotten songs, seemingly with no additional point to make.

Roger Ebert summed it up well when he said. "PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is dazzling and disappointing in equal measure." I really had to struggle through this film, but you may have better luck if (a) you are a fan of Bertolt Brecht, or (b) you enjoy the saccharine popular songs of the depression era, or (c) you just want to see Christopher Walken steal the movie by stripping and lip synching to a falsetto song while dancing his heart out. 



  • The transfer is anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • Commentary by scene-specific by film critic Peter Rainer
  • 20th Anniversary Cast and Crew Reunion


Jessica Harper exposes her breasts very briefly.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • It was budgeted at $22 million for production, and grossed nine million dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, basically an experimental art film, albeit one with a very large budget and major stars. While not a masterpiece, it succeeds in many ways, but they were strange ways, and the producers should have known that this aloof, arty, social lecture of a film could not recoup its expenses, or maybe they did know, but chose to support the arts.

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