Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death

Director: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, David Niven, Kim Hunter

Cast: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, David Niven, Kim Hunter

     
 
Also known as Stairway to Heaven, A Matter of Life and Death is the remarkable British fantasy film that became the surprise hit of 1946. David Niven stars as Peter Carter, a World War II RAF pilot who is forced to bail out of his crippled plane without a parachute. He wakes up to find he has landed on Earth utterly unharmed...which wasn't supposed to

Overview

Also known as Stairway to Heaven, A Matter of Life and Death is the remarkable British fantasy film that became the surprise hit of 1946. David Niven stars as Peter Carter, a World War II RAF pilot who is forced to bail out of his crippled plane without a parachute. He wakes up to find he has landed on Earth utterly unharmed...which wasn't supposed to happen according to the rules of Heaven. A celestial court argues over whether or not to claim Carter's life or to let him survive to wed his American sweetheart (Kim Hunter). During an operation, in which Carter hovers between life and death, he dreams that his spirit is on trial, with God (Abraham Sofaer) as judge and Carter's recently deceased best friend (Roger Livesey) as defense counsel. The film tries to have it both ways by suggesting that the heavenly scenes are all a product of Carter's imagination, but the audience knows better. Among the curious but effective artistic choices in A Matter of Life and Death was the decision to film the earthbound scenes in Technicolor and the Heaven sequences in black-and-white. The film was a product of the adventuresome team known as "The Archers": Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
A Matter of Life and Death could easily be the most complex movie to come out of World War II. The film is a comedy that often leaves its viewers in tears; a romantic drama that makes audiences laugh; a literate movie with a multi-layered script that gives nods to Shakespeare and Schiller; yet, a film so dazzling in its visuals that it requires more than one viewing to absorb fully. A Matter of Life and Death (released in America as Stairway to Heaven) was the magnum wartime opus of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the writer/producer/director team who spent the years between 1940 and 1955 enthralling the world's filmgoers while outraging British officials and movie critics. A Matter of Life and Death was the first motion picture ever chosen for a Royal Command Performance, yet many critics thought it anti-British in sentiment, while still others felt that the romantic fantasy-comedy was tasteless in its very vivid reminder of the recent casualties suffered in the war. The film was inspired by Powell and Pressburger's awareness of the deteriorating relations between the British and the Americans near the end of the war, and by Pressburger's reading of an account of a Royal Air Force sergeant who had jumped out of a burning plane without a parachute, escaping with only minor injuries. The filmmakers wove the two threads together into a screenplay that presented its action against infinitely large and infinitely small canvases, often in the same scene. The story hinges on stricken pilot Peter David Carter (David Niven), who is at the center of a dispute (which may or may not be imagined) with the powers that rule the universe. From the deepest recesses of the human mind -- rendered in subjective, point-of-view camera shots from a man undergoing brain surgery -- audiences were treated to the fanciful sight of the universe expanding into infinity, and to a "trial" before a heavenly tribunal. In the course of the trial, the virtues and vices of the English and American peoples are satirized, concluding with the discovery of a common belief in justice and a recognition of the universal need for love. The movie's denouement is a celebration of peace and brotherhood reminiscent of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Amid its extraordinary visual trickery and textural richness, A Matter of Life and Death was also one of the funniest and saddest films about death to come out of World War II. The proceedings have an almost Shakespearean complexity, and the script's parallels with the Bard's work are underscored by the rehearsals for an amateur production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that take place in the midst of Carter's adventure. Marius Goring's Conductor 71 is nothing if not a Gallic Puck, working his magic to correct a mismatched romance caused by his own error. (Ironically, Powell had intended Conductor 71 to be German, but the duo's films had been so heavily criticized for being pro-German -- when in fact, they were ferociously anti-Nazi -- that he and Pressburger relented on this point.) The film was still resented in some critical circles in England, but it found a public on both sides of the Atlantic, and anywhere audiences were prepared to embrace its message and its art.

Product Details

Release Date:
07/09/2015
UPC:
0644827412228
Original Release:
1946
Source:
Nostalgia Family
Region Code:
0
Time:
1:40:00
Sales rank:
7,218

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
David Niven Peter Carter
Kim Hunter June
Marius Goring Conductor 71
Roger Livesey Dr. Frank Reeves
Raymond Massey Abraham Farlan
Richard Attenborough English Pilot
Robert Atkins The Vicar
Kathleen Byron Angel
Bonar Colleano American Pilot
Joan Maude Chief Recorder
Edwin Max Dr. McEwen
Robert Coote Bob Trubshawe
Betty Potter Mrs. Tucker
Bob Roberts Dr. Gaertler
Abraham Sofaer Judge
Robert Arden GI
Wally Patch ARP Warden
Tom Duggan American Policeman

Technical Credits
Emeric Pressburger Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Michael Powell Director,Producer,Screenwriter
George Blackler Makeup
George Blackwell Special Effects
George R. Busby Producer
Jack Cardiff Cinematographer
Christopher G. Challis Camera Operator
W. Percy Day Special Effects
Allan Gray Score Composer
Henry Harris Special Effects
Hein Heckroth Costumes/Costume Designer
Alfred Junge Production Designer
Arthur Lawson Art Director
Reginald Mills Editor
Phil Moore Songwriter
C.C. Stevens Sound/Sound Designer
Geoffrey Unsworth Camera Operator
Douglas Woolsey Special Effects

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