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 12,960 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


The Greatest Experience In The Emotion Of Love! 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?


"The Hedda Hopper Show - This Is Hollywood" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on May 17, 1947 with David Niven and Kim Hunter reprising their film roles. See more »


Peter walks slowly up a very wet beach, shedding his flying gear and one boot. The camera switches to a long shot showing a line of gear and Peter in completely dry sand, the surf a long way off. Also, his shadow jumps to a different direction, indicating the passage of at least 3 hours. The pile of clothes behind him also differs between the close and the long shots. 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 100 Greatest Films (2001) See more »


Staircase Theme
Composed by Allan Gray
Recurring theme
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

What a marvel!
15 December 2004 | by (Deserts of vast eternity) – See all my reviews

This movie has the most beautiful opening sequence ever made. I've seen this movie for the first time a week ago, since then every day I see the opening and every time I feel as thrilled as I felt the first time I heard David Niven uttering the immortal words from Sir Walter Raleigh's The Pilgrimage:

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet, My staff of faith to walk upon, My scrip of joy, immortal diet, My bottle of salvation, My gown of glory, hope's true gage; And thus I'll take my pilgrimage (…)

Do you know why it would be a truism to say Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressuburger's lives are thoroughly justified for having crafted such a wonderful opening? Because they had been already admitted in the Paradise of Poets long before they made this movie.

I imagine both of them facing trial during Doomsday and saying nonchalantly to an irate God: I beg your pardon, Sir. So, do You want to know what have we done during our lifetime? Well, well you'll see: We've written directed and produced: I know Where I'm Going, Colonel Blimp, Red Shoes… do you think that enough Sir? It is rather obvious that these two great artists had already fulfilled their duty with God, Nature the Muse or Whatever you may call It when they shot A Matter of Life and Death. The fact that other people's lives would be justified for their deeds could be not apparent to everybody, notwithstanding I feel my life would have a meaning had I never done anything else that to see this movie.

Of course old-timers will be tempted to say: They don't do movies like this one any more. They'll be partially mistaken; they didn't make movies like this in the past times either.

I've have already quoted Keats here, but I'll repeat his words: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

54 of 66 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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