MGM mistakenly thought Dennis Potter's acclaimed British television miniseries "Pennies from Heaven" could be profitably condensed into a feature, so they cast Martin in the role originated by Bob Hoskins and asked Martin's flame at the time, Peters, to costar. The result is a moving,
highly eccentric examination of the relationship between "real life" and popular culture that bombed at the box office.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is a musical in which the actors lip-synch to original recordings from the 1930s. There is no attempt to achieve verisimilitude (Martin at one point is seen singing with a woman's voice); rather, in Potter's conceit, the saccharine songs are meant to reflect the characters'
poignantly unrealistic aspirations, or to stand in for emotions which they cannot otherwise articulate. Martin plays a Depression-era sheet-music salesman who falls for Peters, even though he's married to Harper. The intervention of a sinister tramp leads to tragedy.
To many, the movie--with its incredible sets, mammoth dance sequences, and intentional air of melodramatic overstatement--seemed too big in comparison to its supposedly mundane characters and concerns, and it was badly received. Most critics didn't get the point, while those who did tended to
prefer the more modest TV production. Not for everyone, but those who respond to it will find it unforgettable.
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