What do the Jerk and the girl from Suspiria have in common? They, along with Bernadette Peters, were in the most depressing movie musical ever made: Pennies frome Heaven. It was a huge box-office failure, Fred Astaire called it "cheap and vulgar," and I love it. Here's why:
Like the BBC series (starring Bob Hoskins!) on which it was based, the movie used Depression-era recordings as its soundtrack, with the cast lip-syncing and dancing along. The plot is bleak and the pacing is a bit slow, but the dance numbers are fantastic, and the movie has more soul than the audience could handle. It made $9 million at the box office against a budget of $22 million. Steve Martin blamed himself for botching the transition from comedy (this was his follow-up to The Jerk) to a serious role. I think he handled the part well, but it's no surprise that he was out shown by the other performers. If you have the time, watch the title sequence. The dance starts at 1:20, and haunts me.