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A Matter of Life and Death
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Reviews & Ratings for
Stairway to Heaven More at IMDbPro »A Matter of Life and Death (original title)

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108 out of 131 people found the following review useful:

Quite simply the best film ever made

10/10
Author: Brian Cullen (leccyflyer) from Cheshire, England
23 November 2000

To me A Matter of Life and Death is just that- simply the best film ever made.

From beginning to end it oozes class. It is stimulating, thought provoking, a mirror to the post war world and the relations between peoples.

The cinematography is simply stunning and the effect of mixing monochrome and Technicolour to accent the different worlds works seamlessly. The characters and plot development are near perfect and the attention to detail promotes a thoroughly believable fantasy.

No matter how many times I watch the film - and I have watched it a lot - it never fails to touch me. It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me think, it makes me cry. It is as fresh today as it was in 1946.

If I were allowed just one film to keep and watch again A Matter of Life and Death would be that film.

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79 out of 87 people found the following review useful:

Timeless Classic

10/10
Author: voiceof67 from United States
21 December 2004

Few movies can be viewed almost 60 years later, yet remain as engrossing as this one. Technological advances have not dated this classic love story. Special effects used are remarkable for a 1946 movie. The acting is superb. David Niven, Kim Hunter and especially Roger Livesey do an outstanding job. The use of Black and White / Color adds to the creative nature of the movie. It hasn't been seen on television for 20 years so few people are even aware of its existence. It is my favorite movie of all time. Waiting and hoping for the DVD release of this movie for so many years is, in itself, "A Matter of Life and Death".

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60 out of 67 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful

10/10
Author: Thom (jonathandoe_se7en)
20 October 2001

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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69 out of 90 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful if flawed

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
9 February 2003

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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41 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

Simply Beautiful

Author: Jmhl3 from Glasgow, Scotland
13 August 2006

A Matter of Life and Death had me stunned when I first saw it. The marvellous opening, makes you feel like you are floating among the stars in a place of your own. Then it moves to the horrors of war and the down side of life, men dead and more to follow. The story has already been told a thousand times by other reviewers who were as enchanted by this film as I was. The cinematography, the story, everything was just right. In my book it is the greatest film ever made. I liked the way that the earth is in sometimes beautiful, sometimes gritty Technicolour, then what is above is in mystical Black and White. To my dying days I will always love this film. See it before you die.

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41 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

A young WWII airman misses his heavenly call, and challenges the laws of the universe to remain on earth.

10/10
Author: Loretta (loretta.crosthwait@telops.gte.com) from Fort Worth, TX, USA
20 August 1998

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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43 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Stunning archery

10/10
Author: Spleen from Canberra, Australia
30 January 2000

The opening flourishes left me purring with delight at their inventiveness - the altered version of the Archers' logo, the introductory disclaimer, the way the camera pans over the cosmos. It's strange to think that `It's a Wonderful Life' came out in the same year. No great coincidence: the 1940s was awash with heaven-and-earth films; but the glowing cotton wool nebulas and cutesy angels of the competition look tattered, something best passed over in silence, when placed next to Alfred Junge's vision.

It continues to look great all the way through, as more and more striking ideas are sprung upon us. I'm not a great fan of mixing colour with black and white in general. One of the two visual schemes almost always looks ugly when placed next to the other. Not so here. Powell dissolves colour into monochrome and monochrome into colour as if it's the most natural thing in the world, a mere change of palettes. Both the colour photography and the black and white could stand on their own.

As for the story ... this may be Pressburger's best script, or at least it would have been had the conclusion been a more logical outcome of preceding events. Other than that it's tight, yet with more going on than I can possibly allude to here. Was the heavenly stuff real or imaginary? (Or both? Perhaps Carter dreamt up a fantasy that was, as it so happened, true.) Everyone says we're meant to neither ask nor answer this question, but I don't see why. I'm sure we ARE meant to ask the question. The film even gives us clues as to what the answer is - indeed, the problem is that there are too many clues and they seem at first to be pointing in different directions. The fact that other things ought to occupy our attention as well doesn't mean that this shouldn't occupy us as well. There is, as I've said before, a lot going on.

Consider the scene in which Abraham Farlan (Heaven's prosecuting lawyer) plays a radio broadcast of a cricket match, and contemptuously says, `The voice of England, 1945.' Dr. Reeves (the defence) acknowledges the exhibit with a great deal of embarrassment, and then produces one of his own: a blues song from America, which Farlan listens to as though he's got a lemon in his mouth. Reeves looks smug.

Snobbery? Well, I don't see why it's snobbish to condemn blues music - and that's not what Powell and Pressburger are doing, anyway. As the song is being played, we get a shot of the American soldiers listening to it: several of them nod their heads to the rhythm, perfectly at home. THEY don't find it incomprehensible. There's something valuable about the song and neither Reeves nor Farlan knows what it is. Reeves probably realises as much. All English audiences (and all Australian, Indian, etc. audiences as well) know without being told that there is something of value in the cricket broadcast, too; and that while Reeves understands THAT, he is unable to explain it to Farlan - hence the blues broadcast, which shows that people can understand each other without sharing an understanding of everything else. It's a clever scene.

One last thing. I found David Niven a bit cold, without the charisma he would acquire later in his career; but even so, I don't think a film has grabbed my heart quite so quickly after the action began, as this one did.

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46 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

What a marvel!

10/10
Author: film-29 from Deserts of vast eternity
15 December 2004

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.

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38 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful

9/10
Author: btillman63 from Arizona
22 April 2004

Enchanting, romantic, innovative, and funny. The vision of this extraordinary film is almost unparalleled, exceeding better known "death romances" such as Ghost. While we know intuitively that Peter and June will find ultimate happiness at the end of that long-long stairway, the joy is in the journey. The moral of the tale, of course, is timeless: love conquers all. But the struggle to achieve that victory is played in a celestial arena of sweeping vision and gripping grandeur. With more than 500 suitably clad extras portraying various ages and cultures, the directors' vision of heaven remains memorable six decades later, far into the CGI era.

Yet for all the cosmic scale, Powell and Pressburger knew an essential truth: the best story is told at the smallest level. The wonderfully, determinedly romantic aspect of "Stairway" is captured with ultimate simplicity: June's teardrop, preserved on a rose petal.

This film, like the story and the set itself, is one for the ages.

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33 out of 39 people found the following review useful:

Between heaven and earth

10/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
19 September 2005

The great talents of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger are noticeable in their wonderful "A Matter of Life and Death". It was part of the recent tribute to Mr. Powell that played at the Walter Reade in New York. This film, in particular, shows us one of the best British films from that, or any other era.

"A Matter of Life and Death" has a brilliant cinematography by Jack Cardiff, a man who knew how to work wonders with a camera. Particularly impressive is the contrast from the monochromatic tones given to the scenes played in heaven, and the colored ones when the action comes back to earth. This was quite a coup, and well ahead of its times. The black and white sequence that involves the long staircase where Peter and the Conductor are chatting has to be one of the most amazing things on any film.

Much has been said in this forum about the film, so our comment will be about the great acting Powell and Pressberger got out of the large, distinguished cast, who responded magnificently to the directors' guidance.

David Niven, is Peter, whose aircraft is hit and his best friend dies as a result of it. This film marked one of the highlights in Mr. Niven's career. He was an excellent film actor as he shows us in this movie. Kim Hunter is surprisingly good as June, the woman who talked to Peter as his plane was falling from the skies. As fate would have it, Peter and June fall in love at first sight.

Some of the best British film actors grace this film with their presence. Robert Coote, is Bob, the man who is admitted to heaven, but he is surprised his friend Peter never made the trip with him. An excellent star turn by Marius Goring, who as the Conductor 71 steals the film. Mr. Goring, who had worked with the directors, is one of the best things in the movie. Also, Roger Livesey, as Dr. Frank Reeves, does one of the best appearances of his career, as well as Raymond Massey, who is seen as Abraham Farlan.

"A Matter of Life and Death" is a timeless film that will always be seen with gratitude toward its creators.

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