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Stairway to Heaven (1946)
"A Matter of Life and Death" (original title)

 -  Drama | Fantasy | Romance  -  March 1947 (USA)
8.1
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 11,463 users  
Reviews: 126 user | 63 critic

A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.

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Title: Stairway to Heaven (1946)

Stairway to Heaven (1946) on IMDb 8.1/10

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
...
Robert Coote ...
Bob
...
An Angel
...
An English Pilot
Bonar Colleano ...
An American Pilot
Joan Maude ...
Chief Recorder
Marius Goring ...
Conductor 71
...
Doctor Reeves
Robert Atkins ...
The Vicar
Bob Roberts ...
Dr. Gaertler
Edwin Max ...
Dr. Mc.Ewen
Betty Potter ...
Mrs. Tucker
...
The Judge
...
Edit

Storyline

Returning to England from a bombing run in May 1945, flyer Peter Carter's plane is damaged and his parachute ripped to shreds. He has his crew bail out safely, but figures it is curtains for himself. He gets on the radio, and talks to June, a young American woman working for the USAAF, and they are quite moved by each other's voices. Then he jumps, preferring this to burning up with his plane. He wakes up in the surf. It was his time to die, but there was a mixup in heaven. They couldn't find him in all that fog. By the time his "Conductor" catches up with him 20 hours later, Peter and June have met and fallen in love. This changes everything, and since it happened through no fault of his own, Peter figures that heaven owes him a second chance. Heaven agrees to a trial to decide his fate. Written by John Oswalt <jao@jao.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A NEW EXPERIENCE! (print ad - all caps) See more »

Genres:

Drama | Fantasy | Romance | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

| |

Release Date:

March 1947 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Matter of Life and Death  »

Box Office

Budget:

£320,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)

Color:

(Dye-Monochrome)| (colour) (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The animation scene of the star fields leading to Earth at the start of this film were later re-used in the 1970s as the background image for the Rank Screen Advertising logo. Note this is a J. Arthur Rank film. See more »

Goofs

June's voice is heard before Peter's and she is then seen before Peter is, but the closing credits "in order of appearance" begin with Peter ('David Niven'). See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Narrator: This is the universe. Big, isn't it.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Foreword (Scrolled up the screen at the start of the film): This is a story of two worlds the one we know and another which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life & imagination have been violently shaped by war [Pauses, then scrolls up to reveal] Any resemblance to any other world known or unknown is purely coincidental. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Robert Montgomery Presents: The Sheffield Story (1952) See more »

Soundtracks

Scherzo
(1842) (uncredited)
from "A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.61"
Written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Played on a record at the Shakespeare rehearsal
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
A young WWII airman misses his heavenly call, and challenges the laws of the universe to remain on earth.
20 August 1998 | by (Fort Worth, TX, USA) – See all my reviews

I LOVE this movie. Director Michael Powell once stated that this was his favorite movie, and it is mine as well. Powell and Pressburger created a seemingly simple, superbly crafted story - the power of love against "the powers that be". However, its deception lies in the complexity of its "is it real or is it imaginary" premise. Basically, one could argue that it is simply a depiction of the effects of war on a young, poetically inclined airman during WWII. Or is it? The question is never answered one way or the other. Actually, it is never even asked. This continuous understatement is part of the film's appeal.

The innovative photography and cinematography even includes some nice touches portraying the interests of the filmmakers. For instance, Pressburger always wanted to do a cinematic version of Richard Strauss' opera, Der Rosenkavalier, about a young 18th century Viennese aristocrat. This is evident in the brief interlude in which Conductor 71, dressed in all his finery, holds the rose (which appears silver in heaven). The music even has a dreamy quality.

All of the acting is first rate - David Niven is at his most charming, and he has excellent support from veteran Roger Livesey and relative newcomer Kim Hunter. But, in my opinion, the film's charm comes from Marius Goring as Conductor 71. He by far has the most interesting role, filling each of his scenes with his innocent lightheartedness, brightening the film. It's a pity that some of Conductor 71's scenes were left on the cutting room floor. It is also a pity that Goring's comedic talents are rarely seen again on film, except in the wonderful videos of The Scarlet Pimpernel television series from the 1950s. This is by far and away the most memorable role of his film career. He is a perfect foil for relaxed style of Niven, and his virtual overstatement contrasts so nicely with the seriousness of the rest of the characters. Ironically, also in the mid -1940s, Niven also starred against another heavenly "messenger", played by Cary Grant, in The Bishop's Wife. Their acting styles were so similar that I found the result boring, unenergetic, and disappointing. As a note, according to Powell, Goring desperately wanted the role of Peter Carter, initially refusing Conductor 71. It's a good thing he gave in and gave us such a delightful portrayal.

The movie, "commissioned" to smooth over the strained relations between Britain and the U.S., overdrives its point towards the end. But it is disarming in its gentle reminders of the horrors of war - the numerous casualties, both military and civilian, the need to "go on" when faced with death. There is a conspicuous lack of WWII "enemies" in heaven, but the civilians shown are of indeterminate origin. Powell and Pressburger could have been more explicit in their depiction but it wasn't necessary. The movie may not have served its diplomatic purpose as was hoped for, but its originality continues to inspire moviemakers and viewers alike on both sides of the Atlantic.


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