Philandering 1930s sheet music salesman Arthur Parker escapes from his dull life by fantasizing elaborately choreographed musical numbers in which he and the other characters lip-sync to original recordings of popular 1930s music.
Originally a 1978 BBC miniseries created by Dennis Potter and starring Bob Hoskins, Gemma Craven, and Cheryl Campbell, it was remade in 1981 as a feature film directed by Herbert Ross and starring Steve Martin, Jessica Harper, Bernadette Peters and Christopher Walken.
Includes examples of the following tropes:
- Art Imitates Art: Four paintings are recreated as tableaux vivants in the film: Hudson Bay Fur Company and 20 Cent Movie by Reginald Marsh, and New York Movie and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Three of the four were painted after 1934, when the movie takes place, and all depict scenes in New York City rather than the Chicago setting of the movie.
- Corrupt the Cutie: From meek schoolteacher to hooker in a few months.
- Deconstruction: Of Depression-era musicals.
- Driven to Suicide: The Accordian Man, in the original miniseries.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Accordian Man.
- Foreign Remake: The film version changes the setting from London to Chicago.
- The Great Depression: The film never holds back from showing just how wretchedly awful the characters' lives are and why they are so eager to escape into a fantasy world.
- Groin Attack: When Arthur's wife Joan receives the evidence confirming her suspicions that Arthur's been cheating on her from the police (as they tell her he's suspected of murdering a blind girl - which he's actually innocent of), she angrily demands that they "cut his thing off and bury it!"
- Lighter and Softer: The main point of contention from critics is that it was far more optimistic than the mini-series.
- Miscarriage of Justice: Arthur ends up hanging for the murder of the blind girl who was actually killed by the Accordian Man.
- Nothing but Hits: Averted - many of the songs are rather obscure.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Basically the central concept of both the mini-series and the film version.
- This Is Reality: The film plays quite fast and loose with the idea of fantasy interrupting reality.
- Tranquil Fury: Joan when she leans that he's been cheating on her - she demands his castration with quietly repressed rage.
- Woman Scorned: Joan will settle for nothing less than having his family jewels physically removed (see Groin Attack above) when she learns that Arthur has in fact been unfaithful to her.