Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait

4.0 5
Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn


View All Available Formats & Editions

On the day of his death in 1943, the spirit of Henry Van Cleave (Don Ameche) obligingly heads for the place where so many people had previously told him to go. The immaculately dressed septuagenarian arrives at the outer offices of Hades, where he is greeted by His Excellency (Laird Cregar), the most courteous and gentlemanly Satan in screen history. His Excellency


On the day of his death in 1943, the spirit of Henry Van Cleave (Don Ameche) obligingly heads for the place where so many people had previously told him to go. The immaculately dressed septuagenarian arrives at the outer offices of Hades, where he is greeted by His Excellency (Laird Cregar), the most courteous and gentlemanly Satan in screen history. His Excellency doubts that Van Cleave has sinned enough to qualify for entrance into Hades, but Henry insists that he's led the most wicked of lives, and proceeds to tell his story. Each milestone of Henry's life, it seems, has occurred on one of his birthdays. Upon reaching 15, Henry (played as a teenager by Dickie Moore) naively permits himself to get drunk with and be seduced by his family's French maid (Signe Hasso). At 21, Henry elopes with lovely Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney) stealing her away from her stuffy fiance Albert Van Cleve (Allyn Joslyn), Henry's cousin. At 31, Henry nearly loses Martha when, weary of his harmless extracurricular flirtations, she goes home to her boorish parents (Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main). Henry's grandpa (Charles Coburn) orders the errant husband not to let so wonderful a girl as Martha get away from him. Henry once more declares his love to Martha, and she can't help but be touched by his boyish sincerity. Twenty years later, Henry, now a faithful and proper husband and father, attempts to charm a beautiful musical-comedy entertainer (Helen Walker) so that she'll forsake his young and impressionable son. But Henry's gay-90s romantic approach is out of touch with the Roaring 20s, and he ends up paying the entertainer a tidy sum to rescue his son--a fact that amuses Henry's understanding wife Martha, who now knows that her husband is hers and hers alone. Ten more years pass: Henry dances a last waltz with Martha, whose loving smile hides the fact that she knows she hasn't much longer to live. Five years later, it is "foxy grandpa" Henry who must be kept in check by his conservative son Jack (Michael Ames). Finally, it is 1943: as he quietly drinks in the loveliness of his night nurse (Doris Merrick), the bedridden Henry contentedly breathes his last. His story told, Henry once again asks to be permitted to enter Hades. But His Excellency, realizing that the only "sin" Henry has truly committed is attempting to live life to the fullest, quietly replies "If you'll forgive me, Mr. Van Cleave, we just don't want your kind down here." While he allows that Henry may have some trouble getting past the Pearly Gates, the wait will be worth it, since his loving wife Martha will be waiting for him. His Excellency cordially escorts Henry to the elevator, giving the operator a one-word instruction: "Up." A charming delight from first frame to last, Heaven Can Wait is another winner from director Ernst Lubitsch, and his first in Technicolor. Samson Raphaelson's screenplay was based on Birthdays, a play by Laslo Bus-Fekete.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Very few filmmakers have ever matched the great Ernst Lubitsch when it comes to sophisticated screen comedy. A veteran of the movie industry’s earliest days, first in Germany and then in Hollywood, the director developed his unique “Lubitsch touch” based on an almost preternatural facility in handling actors and an ability to stage scenes that suggested more than they showed. Heaven Can Wait (1943), one of his later films, has the same Continental sensibility Lubitsch brought to his best efforts. It stars Don Ameche as a charming rogue who, at the time of his death, asks Satan for a passport to hell in the belief that he has lived a shockingly sinful life. To prove his case, the playboy recounts a series of misdeeds revolving around his dealings with the fairer sex, from his teenage dalliances with the family maid through his seduction of a cousin’s fiancée…and beyond. Of course, as Samson Raphaelson’s script reveals, Ameche’s character isn’t quite the rake he has assumed himself to be. It’s a great role for this underrated, all-but-forgotten actor -- who, like his contemporary Ralph Bellamy, was equally comfortable in leads and supporting parts. Also effective is costar Gene Tierney, positively radiant as photographed in the lush, old-fashioned Technicolor process. Venerable character actors Charles Coburn, Louis Calhern, and Laird Cregar are all seen to advantage, and everybody has a field day with Raphaelson’s witty, tart dialogue. A whimsical exercise in nostalgia, Heaven Can Wait reflects a style of filmmaking that, sadly, is no longer in commercial favor.
All Movie Guide
Heaven Can Wait was Ernst Lubitsch's last great movie. The enduring classic came at the end of two decades of excellent work, which included such Hollywood masterpieces as Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka, The Shop Around the Corner and To Be or Not to Be. In this era, the "Lubitsch Touch" became a marketable moniker which characterized his impact on the early sound days of Hollywood. Heaven is typical of the "Touch": it's a perfect blend of sophistication, romance, wit and bittersweet sentiment. The benevolent story reveals Don Ameche's life to be as average as any man's, but Lubitsch's genuine tenderness elevates the tale to the majestic. Ameche and Gene Tierney deliver mature, convincing performances, appropriate to the subject matter. Unfortunately, the film has a low-quality look, common to early Technicolor productions; it would be Lubitsch's first and last film shot entirely in color. Heaven was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Cinematography, and was a significant influence on director Frank Capra's beloved It's a Wonderful Life.
New York Times - Dave Kehr
The film's impeccable Gay 90s palette of dusty rose and powder blue [are] lovingly intact. The contrast and detail are so good that you can admire the black satin piping on the black morning coat that is the elegant, passé uniform of Lubitsch's hero....

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Full Frame]
Sales rank:

Special Features

New, restored high-definition transfer; New video conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris; Creativity with Bill Moyers: A Portrait of Samson Raphaelson, a 30-minute 1982 program exploring the screenwriter's life and career; Audio seminar with Raphaelson and film critic Richard Corliss, recorded at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1977; Lubitsch home piano recordings; Original theatrical trailer; Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing; Plus: a new essay by film scholar William Paul

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Don Ameche Henry Van Cleve
Gene Tierney Martha
Charles Coburn Hugo Van Cleve
Marjorie Main Mrs. Strabel
Laird Cregar His Excellency
Spring Byington Bertha Van Cleve
Louis Calhern Randolph Van Cleve
Allyn Joslyn Albert Van Cleve
Signe Hasso Mademoiselle
Eugene Pallette E.F. Strabel
Helene Reynolds Peggy Nash
Aubrey Mather James
Michael Ames Jack Van Cleve
Leonard Carey Flogdell
Clarence Muse Jasper
Dickie Moore Henry (younger)
Dick Jones Albert (younger)
Trudy Marshall Jane
Florence Bates Mrs. Craig
Clara Blandick Grandmother
Anita Bolster Mrs. Cooper-Cooper
Nino Pipitone Jack as a Child
Claire Du Brey Miss Ralston
Scotty Beckett Henry (youngest)
James Flavin Policeman
Alfred Hall Albert's Father
Charles Halton Clerk in Britano's
Grayce Hampton Albert's Mother
Edwin Maxwell Doctor
Michael McLean Henry at Age 15 Months
Doris Merrick Nurse
Gerald Oliver Smith Smith

Technical Credits
Ernst Lubitsch Director,Producer
James Basevi Art Director
Edward J. Cronjager Cinematographer
Leland Fuller Art Director
Eugene Grossman Sound/Sound Designer
Roger Heman Sound/Sound Designer
Rene Hubert Art Director,Costumes/Costume Designer
Thomas K. Little Art Director,Set Decoration/Design
Alfred Newman Score Composer
Guy Pearce Makeup
Samson Raphaelson Screenwriter
Walter Scott Art Director,Set Decoration/Design
Fred Sersen Special Effects
Dorothy Spencer Editor

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Opening Credits [1:17]
2. Above and Below [7:48]
3. Mademoiselle [7:24]
4. Cousin Albert [6:38]
5. "Where Does He Get It From?" [8:56]
6. The Strables [17:05]
7. "I Can't Live Without Her" [6:01]
8. Home Sweet Home [8:30]
9. "It Won't Work" [12:18]
10. Miss Nash and Mr. Jones [7:13]
11. "Don't Ask Me" [8:07]
12. Silver Anniversary [5:38]
13. Sixty [7:00]
14. Sweet Dreams [8:19]


Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Heaven Can Wait 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
but I do know that most films, if not all, from that time period were filmed in what is considered full screen, or pan and scan (full screen is sometimes listed as pre-1954 aspect ratio), Thus the aspect ratio on this disc is already as was intended. I could be wrong, not being familiar with the making of this movie, but I would tend to think it was originally intended full-screen if for no other reason than that this is a Criterion release. For those not familiar with the brand, Criterion prides itself on using the best source material, adhering to directors ' original vision (though I have heard there is some controversy surrounding the Cassevettes box set), and in fact, had a big hand in popularizing and legitimizing releasing movies in their originally intended aspect ratio. For those of you wondering why I have rated a movie I have not seen, I had to rate it to post my comment, and I gave it a four of five so as not to change its current rating.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This movie is truely a treat. Not only is it funny(particularly Charles Coburn as Grandpa) but it is also a warm, romantic movie that will make you feel good all over!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Such a splendid movie, but a Pan & Scan presentation is disgraceful. What were they thinking? Ernst Lubitsch's outstanding film deserves to be shown as he directed it, not as some cut up travesty. The chock-a-block features included on this DVD cannot offset the insult of Pan & Scan. I'll be awaiting a Wide Screen DVD presentation before I buy this all-time favorite!