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Heaven Can Wait (1943)

An old roué arrives in Hades to review his life with Satan, who will rule on his eligibility to enter the Underworld.

Director:

Ernst Lubitsch

Writers:

Samson Raphaelson (screenplay), Leslie Bush-Fekete (play) (as Lazlo Bus-Fekete)
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Nominated for 3 Oscars. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Gene Tierney ... Martha Strabel Van Cleve
Don Ameche ... Henry Van Cleve
Charles Coburn ... Hugo Van Cleve
Marjorie Main ... Mrs. Strabel
Laird Cregar ... His Excellency
Spring Byington ... Bertha Van Cleve
Allyn Joslyn ... Albert Van Cleve
Eugene Pallette ... E.F. Strabel
Signe Hasso ... Mademoiselle
Louis Calhern ... Randolph Van Cleve
Helene Reynolds ... Peggy Nash
Aubrey Mather ... James
Tod Andrews ... Jack Van Cleve (as Michael Ames)
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Storyline

Henry Van Cleve presents himself at the gates of Hell only to find he is closely vetted on his qualifications for entry. Surprised there is any question on his suitability, he recounts his lively life and the women he has known from his mother onwards, but mainly concentrating on his happy but sometimes difficult twenty-five years of marriage to Martha. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

comics | hell | money | hades | birthday | See All (209) »

Taglines:

He believed in Love . . . Honor . . . and Obey - That Impulse!


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

13 August 1943 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El diablo dijo no See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ernst Lubitsch migrated to 20th Century Fox partly out of frustration at being unable to get his pet projects "A Self-Made Cinderella" and "Margin for Error' made at his home for 20 years, Paramount. He and writing partner Samson Raphaelson hit upon the idea of adapting Leslie Bush-Fekete's 1934 play "Birthdays" for the screen. It was a subject close to Lubitsch's heart as he was undergoing a divorce at the time. See more »

Goofs

When Henry first notices Martha in the department store at the telephones, a shadow of the camera rig falls across Martha as the scene and camera slides from right to left across the partition between the telephones. See more »

Quotes

Randolph Van Cleve: [coming out of his son's room] Well, this time I was firm!
Bertha Van Cleve: Good, Randolph. What happened?
Randolph Van Cleve: He asked for a hundred dollars, but I told HIM! I told him I'd let him have only fifty.
Bertha Van Cleve: Randolph!
Randolph Van Cleve: And not right away!
Bertha Van Cleve: For the first time in twenty-seven years of marriage I feel like criticizing you.
See more »

Connections

Featured in This Means War (2012) See more »

Soundtracks

Listen to the Mockingbird
(uncredited)
Music by Richard Milburn
Played when Baby Henry is being wheeled around the park
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Sentimental comedy from one of the masters, Ernst Lubitsch
10 July 2006 | by senortuffySee all my reviews

This is the last of a series of hit comedies Ernst Lubitsch made in the years just before and during World War II. Ninotchka (1939), The Shop Around the Corner (1940), That Uncertain Feeling (1941), To Be or Not To Be (1942), and this one, Heaven Can Wait (1943), make up the core of a very successful body of work for one of Hollywood's finest directors.

If there is one phrase to characterize the "Lubitsch touch," then I would say "light romantic comedies," the kind made popular by Hollywood in the late years of the Depression. His films didn't have the subtle commentary on American life that Capra's did, but were more along the lines of old fashioned entertainment.

Heaven Can Wait is based on a play written by a Hungarian (all of Lubitsch's films during this period were written by European emigrés like himself, and as such have a more cosmopolitan flair than most American films). It follows the life of a Victorian playboy, Henry Van Cleve, of Fifth Avenue, New York, and is told in retrospective by the hero as he explains his life to His Excellency, the Devil.

Don Ameche is the main character and delivers a fine performance as the boyish rogue who falls in love with a beautiful girl from Kansas City, played by Gene Tierney. The film covers Van Cleve's life from childhood through a reckless adolescence up through his happy marriage and the years after his wife dies. It's a sentimental journey told with much levity.

The film has a number of terrific character actors in it, the most notable performance coming from Charles Coburn, who plays the grandfather everyone wishes they had - quick witted, caring, and always supportive of his grandson. Marjorie Main, Eugene Palette (the froggy-voice friar in Mark of Zorro), Spring Byington, and Louis Calhern make up the rest of the supporting cast.

While I enjoyed this film, it's not as well-crafted as some of his earlier work. Perhaps the "Lubitsch touch" had worn itself out, and perhaps the changing times had caught up to him. Considering that the war was going on at the time, the film does seem a bit out of place. Perhaps that accounts for the lack of depth in some of the performances.

I rarely bother to look up who the art director was in a film, but the visuals in this one were so striking, I had to know who was responsible. James Basevi was the art director (basically, the interior scenery) and was much used by Hollywood's leading directors of the time - Hitchcock and John Ford among them. The lobby of the waiting room for Hell was especially appealing in a 40's art deco way.

This was the final hit film Ernst Lubitsch ever produced. He made a few more films in the following years, inconsequential stuff compared to his earlier work, then passed away in 1947, during a period when Hollywood was turning to the stark reality of film noir.

By contemporary standards, this film is a bit light, but it's funny and touching in its sentimentality, and it's an enjoyable bit of entertainment from a bygone era.


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