Adapted from Dennis Potter's landmark British TV miniseries and relocated to the United States during the Depression, Pennies from Heaven dramatizes how popular songs both shaped and reflected the thoughts of people living through economic (and emotional) hardship. Arthur Parker (Steve Martin) is a sheet music salesman who believes that he can spot a hit a mile away and wants to open his own store. But he can't get a bank loan and his wife Joan (Jessica Harper), who has savings left to her by her father, refuses to give him the money. Also, while Arthur has a fierce sexual appetite, Joan generally refuses his advances. While on the road, Arthur meets Eileen (Bernadette Peters), a shy schoolteacher as desperate for affection as Arthur is hungry for sex. They begin an affair, which leads to tragedy for both. Punctuating the drama of Pennies from Heaven are elaborate musical numbers in which the characters lip-synch to popular songs of the day, which at once lift their hopes and reflect their fears. Arthur's buoyant tap number to "My Baby Said Yes" and Eileen's saucy rendition of "Love is Good for Anything That Ails You" are reflections of their needs for money and love, and their pas de deux on "Let's Face the Music and Dance" is at once an escape and an acknowledgement of their hopelessness.
by Mark Deming synopsis