Sunday, March 6, 2011

191. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written By: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Main Cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey


The only Powell & Pressburger film in the "1001" book that is not currently streaming on Netflix is "A Matter of Life and Death", and it's also the first Powell and Pressburger film that I really, genuinely enjoyed. Let's jump right into it, shall we?

Squadron Leader Peter David Carter (Niven) is a member of the Royal Air Force and as "A Matter of Life and Death" opens, he is in a bad way. His bomber is severely damaged, flaming and his entire crew has bailed out. Carter himself is about to bail out, as he gets in touch with an American radio operator stationed in England, but he is missing a parachute and plans to bail out anyway. As they talk, in what he believes are his final minutes on Earth, he falls in love with her and before he bails out he tells her to send a telegram to his Mother, telling her that he has always loved her, despite not showing it. He jumps and lands on a beach, destined to be dead. However, due to a mistake by Conductor 71 (Goring) from the "Other World", Carter lands on the beach with a small scratch on his head and that is all. It seems that the heavy fog interrupted Conductor 71 from deeming Carter dead and thus he is given 20 hours of free time, when he should've been in the Other World. Carter awakes, thinking he is in the Other World, but soon finding out that he isn't and immediately finds June (Hunter), the radio operator. Conductor 71 eventually comes back and informs Carter of the mistake, but Carter demands an appeal, stating that during the 20 or so hours of borrowed time, that he has fallen in love and it's not his fault that the Other World made a mistake. June seeks the advice of her dear friend, Dr. Reeves (Livesey) to help Peter deal with his "hallucinations".


I was disappointed to see that this will be the last time that I get to enjoy the acting chops of Roger Livesey in a Powell and Pressburger film, but was able to confirm my suspicions - that Livesey was a fantastic actor, as was this entire cast basically. David Niven did a fine job, but it was Livesey, along with Raymond Massey that really impressed me and especially their scenes as they sparred on the court room floor in a war of words and argued the case of Peter Carter in a world resembling Heaven. There really wasn't much to dislike about "A Matter of Life and Death". To me, it was Powell & Pressburger's grandest achievement so far, at least as far as what I've seen. This was their masterpiece, with absolutely stunning set design and glorious technicolor shots mashed together with beautifully shot black and white scenes. The stairway scene was one of my favorites as the set was just a sight to behold.

There's not much left to say about "A Matter of Life and Death" (re-titled "Stairway to Heaven" for American release). If you're looking for brilliant acting - this film has it. If you're looking for a movie that really looks like an epic movie, without the epic time - this film has it. If you're looking for a mash-up of genres - this film has it, mixing a real life love story with the fantastical world of "the other side". I may dock it a few points for a little down time near the middle, where it may have slightly lost my interest. But in the end, there's no denying that this film was grand. Case closed.

RATING: 7/10 Knee jerk. Currently am feeling about a '7', but that could easily go up with time. On a side note, I'm already regretting my "Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" rating, as it should have been higher. Next up: "Black Narcissus".


March 5, 2011 9:11pm


  1. MMmmm interesting.. Full marks to P&P then.. a film intended to promote Anglo/American understanding & relations has mostly worked.

  2. One of the finest movies ever made. A complete masterpiece years ahead of its time. Disappointed this reviewer failed to note Marius Goring as Conductor 71, who, in my opinion, stole the film with a witty performance both light and deep.

    1. Yeah I totally dug Goring and definitely dropped the ball in not mentioning him. Still an amateur reviewer folks...

  3. Ah... Well done again for the 'catch up on new comments on old posts' (concoop??- if we hyphenate catch-up)feature.. great to be taken back, and even better to be able to catch comments on them.
    I remember you were not overly impressed by P&P overall, so it was good to be reminded you quite liked at least one of them. Whilst even I wouldn't go quite as far as calling it one of the finest movies ever made, it's great to hear from someone who very much liked this. Hello Ebenwolfe, I hope you add comments to other old reviews.. I always watch out for them as well.
    You re a little harsh on yourself Andrew.. however a great role M.G. brought, it's not that much of a 'dropped ball' to fail to mention every good actor.. But it was good of Ebenwolf to add the highly honourable mention..

  4. I loved the first half of the film when they were introducing the characters and the Other World concept. I especially enjoyed how they kept open the whole question of whether Peter was really experiencing a spiritual or medical phenomenon, and the way the phenomena blended together. I thought the trial part got a little preachy and sanctimonious, so it lost me a bit. But overall I really enjoyed this one and agree with you that it's my favorite Powell & Pressburger film so far.

    1. Definitely been a while for this one, but I remember it fondly. See, I think I liked the first half less and only really loved the trial part, because it featured some fantastic acting, if I remember correctly.

      Good Powell & Pressburger...I also, for some reason, recall "The Life and Death of Col. Blimp" more fondly than I remember rating it.


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