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

Approved  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Fantasy  |  March 1947 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 12,964 users  
Reviews: 132 user | 66 critic

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

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Complete credited cast:
Robert Coote ...
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


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 <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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Release Date:

March 1947 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Matter of Life and Death  »

Box Office


£320,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Recording)


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

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Michael Powell's golden cocker spaniels Erik and Spangle make their fourth and final appearance on film in Dr. Reeves' Camera Obscura. See more »


In several scenes the overseas hat worn by June has gold piping for an officer yet she was a Tech Sergeant. See more »


[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 »


Referenced in The Indian Doctor: The Van (2010) See more »


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

20 October 2001 | by See all my reviews

A Matter of Life and Death, what can you really say that would properly do justice to the genius and beauty of this film. Powell and Pressburger's visual imagination knows no bounds, every frame is filled with fantastically bold compositions. The switches between the bold colours of "the real world" to the stark black and white of heaven is ingenious, showing us visually just how much more vibrant life is. The final court scene is also fantastic, as the judge and jury descend the stairway to heaven to hold court over Peter (David Niven)'s operation.

All of the performances are spot on (Roger Livesey being a standout), and the romantic energy of the film is beautiful, never has there been a more romantic film than this (if there has I haven't seen it). A Matter of Life and Death is all about the power of love and just how important life is. And Jack Cardiff's cinematography is reason enough to watch the film alone, the way he lights Kim Hunter's face makes her all the more beautiful, what a genius, he can make a simple things such as a game of table tennis look exciting. And the sound design is also impeccable; the way the sound mutes at vital points was a decision way ahead of its time

This is a true classic that can restore anyone's faith in cinema, under appreciated on its initial release and by today's audiences, but one of my all time favourites, which is why I give this film a 10/10, in a word - Beautiful.

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