Thursday, April 25, 2019


The big draw of the film was the music. The entire score was written by the great team of Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, who wrote many of Bing’s mid 1930s films. The title song “Pennies From Heaven” was nominated for an Oscar for best song, but it lost out to Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s film Swing Time. The July 24, 1936, recording by Bing Crosby on Decca Records topped the charts of the day for ten weeks in 1936 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. Bing Crosby also recorded the song in a performance with Louis Armstrong and Frances Langford with Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra on Decca and issued as a 12" 78rpm recording.

Crosby recorded the song again for his 1954 album Bing: A Musical Autobiography. The other songs fit well into the Bing mold of songs with the optimistic “One Two Button Your Shoe” and the romantic ballads: “So Do I” and “Let’s Call A Heart A Heart”. Next to the title song, my favorite number from the film was the Louis Armstrong solo “Skeletons In The Closet”. Do yourself a favor and listen to Armstrong’s Decca recording of the song. It is pure audio gold!

Looking back at the reviews from 1936, I am surprised they were not more positive. Variety wrote: 
"Pennies from Heaven may qualify as a fair grosser because of Crosby’s name, but basically it’s a weak picture with a story that has little movement and only a scattered few mild giggles. It’s spread pretty thin over 80 minutes, despite a good tuneful score which should be no handicap… Film won’t advance Crosby although Crosby may overcome its faults to some extent. Best individual impression is by Louis Armstrong, Negro cornetist and hi-de-ho expert. Not as an eccentric musician, but as a Negro comedian he suggests possibilities. He toots his solo horn to a nice individual score, plus his band chores. Crosby has a couple of songs that will be reprised into fair popularity..."

Despite what the critics thought of the film, the movie holds a special place in my heart. A generation divided my Grandfather and I, but when he played me Bing Crosby music, that age gap disappeared, and my Grandfather was one of the best friends I ever had. He instilled in me a love of Bing Crosby, and I can still remember where the scratches were on his Decca 78 of “Pennies From Heaven”. Sitting and watching the film with him in the early 1990s was a simple memory but one of my favorite times. Watching 1936’s Pennies From Heaven not only displays Bing Crosby rise to the top of his performing ability, but it brings back fond memories of my Grandfather. I consider a movie that does that 80 plus years after it was released to be a great movie indeed!


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