Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1981. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, SLM Production Group, Hera Productions. Screenplay by Dennis Potter, based on his original material. Cinematography by Gordon Willis. Produced by Nora Kaye, Herbert Ross. Music by Ralph Burns, Billy May. Production Design by Philip Harrison. Costume Design by Bob Mackie. Film Editing by Richard Marks. Academy Awards 1981. Golden Globe Awards 1981.
The dark days of the Depression are set against the bright lights of Hollywood musicals in this terrific film by Herbert Ross. Steve Martin plays an unhappy travelling salesman who dreams of opening up his own record shop because he believes that no one knows music like he does. He proves this by constantly launching into songs (actual recordings from the period that Martin and the rest of the cast lip-synch to), annoying his sexually withholding wife (Jessica Harper) but eventually charming a straight-laced schoolteacher (Bernadette Peters in her best ever film performance) into falling in love with him. The trouble is, he’s a bit too sure of himself and is constantly acting out when he should be more considerate. This gets him into serious trouble as the film progresses and opposes itself even more starkly to the Busby Berkeley-inspired dance numbers. Peters is divine to watch, though it’s odd to see her in a musical where she doesn’t do her own singing, while Christopher Walken nearly steals the entire show with a rollicking tap dance/striptease number that is one of the film’s most impressive sequences. Some viewers might not like seeing a thirties-style musical that is so depressing, while others will appreciate the irony. Based on the British miniseries by Dennis Potter and starring Bob Hoskins.