A Matter of Life and Death (1946) - 9/10
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
I’m not quite sure what brought me to this film, but whatever it was thank you. The names Powell and Pressburger in the opening titles tell you you’re in for a treat, but blimey this really is fantastic. 1945, Peter Carter (David Niven) is the fast talking hero pilot of a beat up Lancaster bomber returning from a raid. The plane is toast, the crew has bailed and Carter without a parachute thinks his number is up. He tells this to June (Kim Hunter), a radio op with the US forces as the two bond over the airwaves. It’s gripping stuff, full of tallyho bravado and quick fire flirting, before Carter jumps to his honourable death and June collapses in tears. It’s foggy though as Carter leaves the bomber. So foggy that he gets… lost. He’s supposed to be on his way to heaven, which is depicted delightfully as a rather functionary black and white place with new souls coming to collect their wings after ascending an escalator. Instead he wakes up on a beach with a naked boy playing a flute to some goats. A bit weird, but he soon twigs he’s not dead. Not only that, he’s dropped fortuitously right on June’s doorstep. Heaven is missing an Angel though. So a rather dandy Frenchman (Marius Goring) is sent to fetch him. Explaining to Carter that he’s supposed to be up in the clouds and not down on Earth falling in love with June. Carter isn’t going to give up easily though. Fearing he’s losing his marbles, he becomes the patient of Dr Reeves (Roger Livesey) who tries to bring logic to an illogical situation on Earth, as Carter plots his defence against a heavenly prosecution. Throughout there’s some beautifully cinematic tricks, wonderful camera work and engaging psychological story telling. It’s zippy stuff, the dialogue going like the clappers. Feeling very Twilight Zone in tone, although of course predating the classic TV twister by over a decade. The cast is stellar, playing with all the style and pomp of the era. Perhaps no more so than The Judge (Abraham Sofaer) who presides over Carter’s trial in heaven, to decide whether he’s to be given more time on earth, whilst getting into some fairly heavy stuff on society and the meaning of love. Whether watching merely the surface action or digging deeper into the questions of the ravages of war, life, death and whatever might lie between. This is a marvellous piece of classic cinema.