Pennies From Heaven (1981)\

Pennies From Heaven, an off the wall, sleazy, bleak musical set during the great depression and adapted from a British television series, was deemed an odd choice for comedy superstar Steve Martin. Coming off the heels of The Jerk, a sleeper hit, and popular appearances on Saturday Night Live, Martin established his reputation as the “wild and crazy guy.” Audiences apparently weren’t ready to see him as anything else. “You just can’t do a movie like Pennies from Heaven after you have done The Jerk,” offered Martin when asked about the commercial failure of the film and its initial bad reaction from a number of critics. Critics, now, look on the film more favorably. I happen to think it’s great film with a number of standout scenes. The one that I’ve chosen to include on my list involves Martin’s costars Bernadette Peters (who’s outstanding) and Christopher Walken (who with very little screen time is unforgettable). The film follows a cheap salesman, played by Martin, who impregnates a schoolteacher named Eilleen played by Peters, and leaves her to fend for herself. She spirals all the way down to prostitution, and takes up with Tom, played by Christopher Walken, a pimp. Before this scene, Tom calmly tells Eilleen, “I’ll cut your face off,” before playing it off as a joke. He later breaks into this song and dance number, using an original depression era recording for Walken to lip sync to, as with all the musical numbers in the film. It’s been noted before and demonstrated on a number of occasions, but it’s still awfully surprising to see how strong of a dancer Walken is. I love this scene mainly for the spectacle of it, how out of place the tone of it is within the story, and how absolutely terrifying and charismatic the great Christopher Walken is. If you can’t appreciate this scene, then don’t bother with the film.

-Walter Howard-

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