A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946)

David Niven and Marius Goring in A Matter of Life and Death
Peter D. Carter: David Niven 
June: Kim Hunter 
Bob Trubshaw: Robert Coote 
An Angel: Kathleen Byron 
An English Pilot: Richard Attenborough
An American Pilot: Bonar Colleano 
Chief Recorder: Joan Maude 
Conductor 71: Marius Goring 
Dr. Frank Reeves: Roger Livesey 
Abraham Farlan: Raymond Massey 

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger 
Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger 
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff 
Production design: Alfred Junge 

Fantasy, especially in British hands, can easily go twee, and though Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had surer hands than most, A Matter of Life and Death (released in the United States as Stairway to Heaven, long before Led Zeppelin) still manages occasionally to tip over toward whimsy. There is, for example, the symbolism-freighted naked boy playing a flute while herding goats, the doctor's rooftop camera obscura from which he spies on the villagers, and the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream being rehearsed by recovering British airmen. And there's Marius Goring's simpering Frenchman, carrying on as no French aristocrat, even one guillotined during the Reign of Terror, ever did. Many find this hodgepodge delicious, and A Matter of Life and Death is still one of the most beloved of British movies, at least in Britain. I happen to be among those who find it a bit too much, but I can readily appreciate many things about it, including Jack Cardiff's Technicolor cinematography (Earth is color, Heaven black and white, a clever switch on the Kansas/Oz twist in the 1939 The Wizard of Oz) and Alfred Junge's production design. On the whole, it seems to me too heavily freighted with message -- Love Conquers Even Death -- to be successful, but it must have been a soothing message to a world recovering from a war.