A Matter of Life and Death (1946) – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

David Niven and Kim Hunter star in this wonderful piece of fantasy that is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film. Also known as Stairway to Heaven, this is a film I had never heard of.

Niven is Peter Carter, a RAF pilot. He and his crew are returning to England after a bombing run. However, his plane is in terrible shape, and while he converses with an American officer, June (Hunter), he prepares to leap from his dying craft.

He leaps, and is lost in the fog.

I say lost, as death came looking for him, and couldn’t find him. This gives him a little extra time on Earth with which he falls in love with June.

When his Conductor (Marius Goring) finally catches up with him, he must make his case before the court of Heaven for the extension of his life. He argues he is owed a second chance, and wants an opportunity to explore it with June.

The script, from the off, is sharp, fun, fanciful, romantic, and very British.

There are some interesting choices here, the world beyond the mortal veil is all in black and white, but the production design is pretty inspired and filled with whimsy, like wings handed out in packages.

I have to say, the court sequences, and the design of the massive room are probably my favourite bits of the film.


As Carter’s late surgeon,  Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) makes his arguments before the court, with Peter’s friend Bob (Robert Coote) keeping a close eye on his friend’s fate.

The discourse on love that is presented in the film’s second half is wonderfully presented, and Niven and Hunter are so joyful and believable together. There is a bliss and magic to this film as it plays on heart-strings, and toys happily with whimsy. This gem is wonderfully crafted.

I sat through the entire film with a big joyous smile on my face as I threw myself into the story.  This one was a revelation to me, I had never even heard of it. And I openly admit, I should be admonished for such an omission. This was an amazing film, and may have found its way into my Top 20, if not the Top 10.

A film like this would never get made today, and if it was, too many people would interfere with it, and remove the purity of the story.

There are so many things to enjoy, revel and love in this film -the reveal at the end of the surgery; the belief, initially, by Reeves that Peter is just ill, and needs to be attended to medically; the way time is frozen; the dialogue; the idea of love being on trial – in a room designed for facts.

And, again, the beautiful set design. The stairway, itself, is a fantastic creation, simple in design, and yet perfectly tailored for the story.

This is a film that just shines. It should be shared, watched repeatedly, and enjoyed with loved ones.

Just wow!



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