And we are back again, this time for the 1936 musical Pennies From Heaven, starring Bing Crosby, Madge Evans, Edith Fellows, Louis Armstrong and Donald Meek.
Now, as to plot, we find Bing playing Larry Poole, an old-fashioned troubadour who can usually be found with his guitar (wait, that is incorrect, it is not a guitar, it is a lute, a 13th century lute). We start with Larry in prison, a few weeks away from being released, when he is visited by J.C. Hart, a convict about to be executed. He asks Larry to deliver a letter to the family of a man he had killed. When Larry gets out, he finds that this family, which consists of a little girl named Patsy Smith (Edith Fellows) and her grandfather (Donald Meek), has just been dispossessed from yet another home. Hart’s letter expresses his regret for having killed Patsy’s father, and he offers up a house he had used as a hideout. When they arrive, they find that the locals believe the house to be haunted (apparently a rumor spread by Hart to keep people away). Since Patsy is prone to playing hooky from school and her grandfather is unemployed, they all have to deal with social worker Susan Sprague (Madge Evans). I would say the rest of the movie has to do with Larry, Patsy and her grandfather trying to find a way to support the family, all the while Larry and Susan are starting to fall for each other.
Now, as to what I think of the movie? This is one that I very much enjoy. I would recommend it as a *possible* Halloween movie. As I said, the house that they go to has a reputation of being haunted, and the movie almost feels like a haunted house-type movie for the first few minutes they arrive there. That feeling disappears as they get used to the house, but they do make use of the house’s reputation as they try to turn it into a haunted house café.
Admittedly, the movie does have its flaws, especially for modern viewers. When we first meet him, Larry does come across as being somewhat sexist with some of his comments, although there is a degree to which he is more of a loner who doesn’t want to be saddled with a wife and family (although you can guess his opinion on that will change before the movie is over). Another problem would be Louis Armstrong’s role, since I do think it plays into some racist stereotypes. When we first meet him, he and Larry are talking about how he and his band of seven men were trying to figure out how to divide up the 10% of the take that Larry had promised him, and he asks Larry to only give them 7% instead. Then there is the fact that Louis and his men kind of become chicken thieves. I’m not thrilled with all of this, BUT, racist though some of these things may have been, Louis got this role because Bing wanted to have him in the movie, and, according to IMDB, this was one of the first times that a black actor received top billing with white actors (he was billed fourth, higher than Donald Meek as the grandfather, who had far more screen time than Louis)! It was baby steps in the right direction, something to be said in favor of this movie.
In spite of these flaws, I do think the movie is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the music very much. Louis Armstrong got one specialty song, “Skeleton In The Closet,” which is a lot of fun. Most of the rest of the music is, as well, although most of it is not memorable or popular (at least, not beyond the title song). So I do recommend this movie, in spite of its flaws.
The movie is available on DVD from Sony.
Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes
My Rating: 7/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Rhythm On The Range (1936) – Bing Crosby – Waikiki Wedding (1937)
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