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Afternoon Delight's American Musical Series #5: Christopher Walken Dances

by Jerome Weeks 18 Mar 2011 1:00 PM

Precious little of Christopher Walken’s formidable dance talents are preserved on film or video, and here’s one big reason that’s a shame: To the tune of ‘Let’s Misbehave,’ Walken performs what may be the funniest, sexiest male striptease on camera in the 1981 film, ‘Pennies from Heaven.’


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back Monday at 1 p.m. for another one.

This is the last in our weeklong series of scenes from Great American Movie Musicals. It provides proof that it’s a crying shame there aren’t more film or video examples of Christopher Walken dancing. He did a brief happy dance in King of New York, but more memorable was his solo in the tremendous Spike Jonze-Fat Boy Slim music video, Weapons of Choice. It’s a shame because Walken actually was a child dancer before he became a Hollywood actor, and the man could move — as seen in this, a naughty, funny and, because it’s Walken playing a pimp, creepy male striptease.

It’s from a scene in 1981’s Pennies from Heaven, the Hollywood re-make of Dennis Potter’s British TV series from 1978. (Potter was the genius behind the original The Singing Detective.) Typically, Pennies‘ Depression-era story about a sheet music salesman (Steve Martin) trapped in a loveless marriage and fantasizing his escape through musical extravaganzas was so bleak, American audiences couldn’t stay away enough — despite the film’s brilliant recreations of period musical uplift (the title song, “Love is Good for Anything That Ails You,” “You Rascal You”).

In this coy and exuberant, oop-ba-doop version of “Let’s Misbehave,” Walken plays a pimp who meets Bernadette Peters, Steve Martin’s sexually timid wife — and offers her the obvious way out of her starving, lovelorn existence.