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

Approved  |   |  Drama, Fantasy, Romance  |  March 1947 (USA)
8.1
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 12,648 users  
Reviews: 129 user | 65 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 English Pilot
Bonar Colleano ...
An American Pilot
Joan Maude ...
Chief Recorder
Marius Goring ...
...
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 motion picture beyond all wonder! See more »

Genres:

Drama | Fantasy | Romance | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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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 inspiration for Peter's medical condition came from the semi-autobiographical novel "A Journey Round My Skull" by Hungarian novelist Frigyes Karinthy. More precise medical detail came from Emeric Pressburger's research in the British Library and consultations with Michael Powell's brother in law, Dr. Joe Reidy, who was a plastic surgeon in London. See more »

Goofs

In the scene where time stands still and the other main characters examine June who is 'frozen in time' her hands can be clearly seen to move, several times. 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 »


Soundtracks

Shoo Shoo Baby
(1943) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by Phil Moore
Sung on the radio by an unidentified man at the trial
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Wonderful if flawed
9 February 2003 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

WW2. RAF pilot Peter Carter's plane is shot to pieces and his parachute is destroyed. In his final distress call he talks to American WREN June on the radio and they bond at that time, when Peter knows he is doomed. They bid farewell and Peter jumps to his death. Later he wakes on a beach to find he survived and he runs to meet June and the two quickly fall in love. However, in heaven there is panic as one of the collectors of souls admits he missed collecting Peter at the moment of his death due to the thick fog all round. When Peter learns of this he appeals and a heavenly court case is convened in order to decide his fate.

This film was made on request from the MOD (ministry of defence). At the time they wanted a film that was set in wartime and stressed the importance of Britain and America overcoming any cultural differences between them and to stand together. The end result could have easily been a big flag waving exercise that would have been historically added to the pile of average propaganda made around the time (albeit for good reason).

However the actual end result is that the film transcends what it could have been and turns into something that is quite wonderful – witty and moving at the same time. The actual story is a little cheesy and on paper sounds like it could be a disaster and in reality it could have been. The film is never clear if it is real or if it is all in Peter's head and it doesn't matter. The plot allows plenty of nice touches as well as romance. The romantic/emotional side of films don't always wash with me but here I was gripped from the start simply by the powerful radio scene. It's very British (stiff upper lip) but still very moving.

The film just about hangs in there during the middle section where Peter falls in love and his supposed hallucinations are discussed by doctors but the film really comes strong in it's climactic court scene. It is witty and plays on national stereotypes really well and makes the point without forcing it down our throats. It works very well and even the sentimentality is well handled and is never as sugary as it could have been.

Niven is superb and is typically British in the lead. Hunter is pretty good but a little too sappy. The strength of the film is in it's support cast – the final courtroom scene relies more on the support cast than Niven or Hunter (who are barely in it towards the end) and yet it works very well. In fact the best characters are all in the afterlife and not the film's real world. The best element of the film is that the direction and sets are great. The gimmick of b/w and colour works better than expected and the use of it really works well – but shouldn't heaven be in colour and earth in monochrome? Maybe that was the point, I guess. The sets are really good and it's easy to be impressed by that staircase even by today's standards – not technically but just in the power of the image.

Overall this is a solid film. I don't think it deserves all the praise that it gets and if I had to list my top 100 then I'm not sure it would be in there but that's not to take away from it because it is a wonderful piece of work. The emotion is powerful without being sentimental and the film is witty and moving in equal measure.


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