Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stairway to Heaven

After Piccadilly and tonight's TCM Import, you can tune in for another excellent movie at 4:00 AM ET: A Matter of Life and Death.

Left-aligned photo David Niven stars as British pilot Peter Carter, returning from a bombing mission in the final days of World War II. Unfortunately, his plane has been stricken and is on fire, with everybody else in the crew either already dead or having bailed. That option isn't available for Carter, as his parachute has been ripped to shreds. He calls for help on the radio, getting June, a young American WAAC operating the radio on the other end (played by Kim Hunter), eventually telling her that he's going to jump out anyway, because he'd rather die in the fall than be burned to death.

Fast forward to morning. Peter is shocked to discover that he's woken up, and is apparently not in heaven, but still on terra firma. In heaven, we discover that there's a problem: the Mr. Jordan-like character (played by Marius Goring) who was supposed to accompany Peter to heaven was unable to do so: it seems as though that blasted English fog caused him to lose track of Peter and let him get away. Peter, having seemingly cheated death, heads for town, where he finds June, and falls in love with her.

But, this isn't a happy ending for the two hunters. Heaven isn't about to allow an administrative error to keep Peter from his appointed date in heaven, as this would cause chaos in the cosmic order, and the heavenly guide eventually finds Peter, informing him that he's going to have to go to heaven as he's supposed to be dead. Peter is unwilling to accept this, as it wasn't his fault that the afterlife screwed up, but he's also not able to make anybody believe his predicament. Eventually, though, he's able to get June and Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) to -- possibly -- believe him, and make a deal with the folks in heaven: there will be a trial to decide whether or not Peter should get a reprieve because of Heaven's error.

A Matter of Life and Death is an outstanding romantic fantasy, even better than Here Comes Mr. Jordan. All the main leads turn in excellent performances, and the cinematography is wonderful. The movie has the conceit of being partly in color and partly in black-and-white, like The Wizard of Oz; unlike Oz, however, the use of color is reversed, with Heaven getting the black-and-white scenes and the real world getting color. It's an interesting idea, and one that, combined with the cinematography and excellent set design, makes the afterlife look timeless. All this excellence, however, shouldn't be a surprise considering that the movie was directed by Michael Powell and has a screenplay by him and his frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger.

A Matter of Life and death has been released to DVD.

No comments: