For Reel

Pennies from Heaven (1936)
August 16, 2016, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Norman Z. McLeod
3.5 Stars
Pennies from HeavenThe 9th annual Academy Awards saw Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” beating out Arthur Johnston’s “Pennies from Heaven” in the Best Song category. Although the musicals the two songs appear in are both affable, crowd-pleasing entertainments, they seem to come from different worlds. Released by Columbia Pictures, Pennies from Heaven was perhaps an attempt to bank on the recent success of the studio’s It Happened One Night in that it similarly grounds itself in Depression-era realism, with Bing Crosby’s troubadour going as far as to risk his life in a carnival stunt out of his affection for an orphan girl (Edith Fellows). If it wasn’t the first musical to strive for socioeconomic realism (Gold Diggers of 1933 is a masterpiece with similar intentions), it’s a striking contrast with the largely escapist fare of the Astaire & Rogers pictures at RKO. Pennies from Heaven largely coasts on the charm of Crosby and its songs, and it is to its great benefit that there an embarrassment of riches in the latter department—in addition to the title song are “One, Two, Button Your Shoe”, “Let’s Call a Heart a Heart”, and Louis Armstrong performing “Skeleton in the Closet.” Armstrong’s musical number occurs during the film’s best episode in which the makeshift family opens a haunted house themed restaurant in which props literally burst out of the tables, providing an endearing sense of youthful creativity that overcomes the humdrum plotting.

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