The Five Pennies (1959)

five pennies red nicholsDanny Kaye and Louis Armstrong. Need I say more?


First, let me just say that this is BY FAR the best sort-of-biographical film about a cornet player from Ogden, Utah that you will ever see.

It’s actually very, very different from other Danny Kaye movies. It has a much more solemn tone and will tug at the strings of your left ventricle.

It’s very loosely based on the life of Red Nichols, one of the great jazz artists and bandleaders of the early 20th century. He had a lot of famous musicians of the swing era play in his band at one time or another, including Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman. If you don’t recognize any of those names, they were like the Destiny’s Child of the 1940s, except they weren’t exactly in one group, and they were all white males, and one of them didn’t marry Jay-Z…ok, they were nothing like Destiny’s Child.

Red Nichols himself actually did all the cornet-playing for Danny Kaye in this movie. I have no idea who actually did all of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing…

five pennies louis armstrongOH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: If you watch closely you’ll see a brief cameo by Bob Hope. If you don’t know who Bob Hope is, he was like Destiny’s Child.

I love this movie because it makes me rethink “value.”

I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t seen it, but something tragic happens in Red Nichols’ life that causes him to reevaluate both his lifestyle and his priorities.

Those kind of difficult moments—moments that can last months—are what cause us to pause and ask ourselves what really matters most in life. I like how M. Russell Ballard approaches this question:

“We should not need a hurricane or other crisis to remind us of what matters most… What matters most is what lasts longest, and our families are for eternity.”

In other words, perhaps we ought to put our stock in what truly holds its value. And as the film’s signature song suggests, sometimes it only takes five pennies to be a millionaire.


Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give.” – Doctrine & Covenants 67:2

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