8.1/10
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A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.
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1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
David Niven ... Peter D. Carter
Kim Hunter ... June
Robert Coote ... Bob Trubshaw
Kathleen Byron ... An Angel
Richard Attenborough ... An English Pilot
Bonar Colleano Bonar Colleano ... An American Pilot (as Bonor Colleano)
Joan Maude Joan Maude ... Chief Recorder
Marius Goring ... Conductor 71
Roger Livesey ... Doctor Frank Reeves
Robert Atkins Robert Atkins ... The Vicar
Bob Roberts Bob Roberts ... Dr. Gaertler
Edwin Max ... Dr. Mc.Ewen
Betty Potter Betty Potter ... Mrs Tucker
Abraham Sofaer ... The Judge / The Surgeon
Raymond Massey ... Abraham Farlan
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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:

The Greatest Experience In The Emotion Of Love! See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic elements | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English | French | Russian

Release Date:

March 1947 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

A Matter of Life and Death See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

£320,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

The Archers See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Color:

Black and White (Dye - Monochrome)| Color (Colour) (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

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

Trivia

Actor Michael Sheen cites "A Matter of Life and Death" as his favorite film of all time. See more »

Goofs

After Peter's second encounter with the Heavenly Messenger, this time in Frank's library, the doctor and June desperately attend to Peter's condition. June kneels in front of Peter and begins to giggle uncontrollably, then expertly hides herself behind Frank to avoid the camera. 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 »

Alternate Versions

The US release was cut to avoid showing the naked shepherd boy in the sand dunes. See more »

Connections

Featured in The 100 Greatest War Films (2005) 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

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User Reviews

 
A young WWII airman misses his heavenly call, and challenges the laws of the universe to remain on earth.
20 August 1998 | by LorettaSee all my reviews

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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