A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN) (1946) B/W & C 104m dirs: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
w/David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Robert Coote, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey, Kathleen Byron, Richard Attenborough, Bonar Colleano, Joan Maude, Abraham Sofaer
From The Movie Guide: "Made by Powell and Pressburger at the instigation of the Ministry of Information to promote goodwill between Britain and the US, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN achieves an almost impossible task --- blending fantasy and reality with deftness and impeccable taste.
"The plot concerns an RAF pilot, Niven, who is forced to bail out of his flaming plane as it is dropping out of the sky. With all his fellow crew members either dead or having parachuted to safety and his own chute riddled with bullet holes, Niven gets on the radio and shares what he believes to be his last words with an American WAC, Hunter. Niven, a poet, has a romantic conversation with Hunter and falls hopelessly in love with her voice. When he finally jumps for his life, he lands in the ocean and is washed safely ashore. By some fateful coincidence he meets Hunter and the pair fall in love. Although Niven appears to be healthy, he actually is suffering from brain damage and must undergo an operation. Meanwhile, in heaven it is realized that a terrible mistake has been made, that Niven, who was scheduled to die, has somehow lived. This discovery is made by Heavenly Conductor Number 71, Goring, a Frenchman who was beheaded in his country's revolution. While Goring and his superiors debate Niven's fate, Niven argues that because of their mistake and because he has fallen in love with Hunter, he should be allowed to remain on Earth.
"Shining with surrealistic cinematic bravura (the fantasy sequences were shot in black and white, the earthly ones in color), STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is a marvel, with a notable contribution from production designer [Alfred] Junge. Most remarkable is his monumental stairway which reaches majestically into the heavens, peopled with a cast of history's dead. Niven and Livesey enjoy two of their finest roles, Hunter is warm and appealing, Goring is a quirky delight, and such actors as Coote, Massey and Abraham Sofaer (as God, no less) are clearly having a blast. Chosen as the first of the Royal Command Film Performances, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN garnered some critical acclaim in Britain but was generally attacked by stuffy detractors who felt it was anti-British. It received a far warmer welcome in the US."