Heaven Can Wait (1943) – Ernst Lubitsch

The always likeable Don Ameche stars in Heaven Can Wait, the next title from the What Else to Watch list featured in DK Canada’s The Movie Book following their recommendation of To Be Or Not To Be.

Ameche stars as the recently deceased Henry Van Cleave. He’s just arrived in the rather luxuriously appointed Hades, and as His Excellency (Laird Cregar) hasn’t had a chance to review his file yet, Henry, who is quite ready and resigned to staying in Hell, presents the story of his life, believing wholeheartedly that he deserves eternal damnation.

What follows is an amusing tale written by Samuel Raphaelson, from a stage play by Leslie Bush-Fekete. As Henry regales His Excellency with the details of his existence, we see that he was always surrounded by women, and was able to catch and hold their attention, becoming a bit of a Casanova in the process.

That is until he met Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney) and is immediately enchanted. We see their twenty-five years of their not always easy marriage, checking in on an annual event, his birthday.

Despite the occasional fib, and marital trouble that smooths itself out through communication, any viewer can tell that Henry has no claim on an entry into Hell, and while he may have been a bit of a cad now and again, he is definitely not damned.

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In the end the film is a look at a family, and at their love life, illustrating, however comedically, that marriage, and love have to be worked at and not taken for granted.

Ameche has always been a favourite and when he first appears in old age makeup, I recognised him immediately (as I came to his career later) and delighted in the fact that he looked exactly the same; that tenor voice and pencil thin moustache.

He’s quiet at ease in the role of Henry, and plays wonderfully against Tierney, but there are supporting actors who steal every scene they are in – Henry’s grandfather, Hugo (Charles Coburn), and the Strabel’s butler, Jasper (Clarence Muse). Both of them just steal every moment of screentime they can out from under the cast, and I was delighted each and every time.

This one ends up being a gentle little romantic comedy that entertains, but serves most as a way to look at a couple of the greats playing on the silver screen. It was a delightful little excursion.

And there are more to come as I continue my exploration of DK Books’ The Movie Book. Check it out today and find something amazing to watch.

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