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A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Poster

Trivia

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The huge escalator linking this World with the Other, called "Operation Ethel" by the firm of engineers who constructed her under the aegis of the London Passenger Transport Board, took three months to make, and cost three thousand pounds sterling (in 1946). "Ethel" had one hundred six steps, each twenty feet wide, and was driven by a twelve horsepower engine. The full shot was completed by hanging miniatures.
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The first scene shot was David Niven washing up on the beach. Originally planned to fade in from black, Michael Powell decided on the spot that the effect would be too cheesy. When Jack Cardiff told him to look through the camera, Cardiff then deliberately breathed right onto the lens, which fogged the glass for a few seconds until it evaporated. Powell loved the idea and had him use it for the shot.
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For the ping pong scene, Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey were trained by Alan Brooke, the British champion who played many games with International Champion Victor Barna. During a visit to Denham Studios, the two champions played a couple games before an admiring audience of artists and technicians. For luck, Hunter borrowed one of Brooke's tournament paddles for her movie game.
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It was during a visit to Hollywood in 1945 that Director Michael Powell decided to cast the then-unknown Kim Hunter as June, the American servicewoman, largely upon the recommendation of Sir Alfred Hitchcock, who had done a series of screen tests of actors and actresses auditioning for parts in his upcoming production, Notorious (1946). The trouble was that in these screen tests Hunter was not seen but, rather, was heard off-camera, feeding lines and cues to the actors Hitchcock was actually screen-testing. But Hitchcock assured Powell that he would arrange a "face-to-face" with Hunter and her agent, so that he could see for himself whether she fit the requirements of the "all-American" girl Powell had envisioned opposite David Niven. And upon first encountering Hunter, Powell agreed with Hitchcock that she, indeed, was a perfect choice for the role.
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The inspiration for Peter's medical condition came from the semi-autobiographical novel "A Journey Round My Skull" by Hungarian novelist Frigyes Karinthy. More precise medical detail came from Emeric Pressburger's research in the British Library and consultations with Michael Powell's brother in law, Dr. Joe Reidy, who was a plastic surgeon in London.
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Richard Attenborough (An English Pilot) only has one line: "It's Heaven, isn't it?"
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The premiere (November 1, 1946), at the Empire, Leicester Square, London was held in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and became the first Royal Film Performance.
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The animation scene of the star fields leading to Earth at the start was later reused in the 1970s as the background image for the J. Arthur Rank Screen Advertising logo.
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David Niven (Peter Carter) and Raymond Massey (Abraham Farlan) both died on July 29, 1983.
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J.K. Rowling has cited this movie as her favorite movie of all time.
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The backcloth of the High Court scene, suggesting tiers of seats stretching into infinity, measured three hundred fifty feet long and forty feet high. Altogether eight backcloths of similar large dimensions were used in Other World scenes, and twenty-nine elaborate sets were constructed. In all of these vast scenes, five thousand three hundred seventy-five extras were used, including real Royal Air Force crews, Red Cross nurses, and W.A.A.C.s.
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According to Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, this movie's production was delayed nine months due to the scarcity of Technicolor film and equipment at the time. That makes Conductor 71's remark upon leaving black-and-white heaven somewhat of an inside joke.
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The machinery and mechanisms for the huge escalator made such a racket that all the sound for those scenes was done in post-production.
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June has two gold bars on her left sleeve. These are awarded for time served overseas. Each bar represents six months, so this means June spent at least a year overseas.
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Director Michael Powell's golden Cocker Spaniels Erik and Spangle make their final appearance on film in Dr. Reeves' Camera Obscura.
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Michael Sheen cites this movie as his favorite movie of all time.
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Robert Coote's character was given the last name "Trubshawe", after David Niven's friend Michael Trubshawe, the source of numerous references and/or character names in Niven's movies.
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This movie has been adapted for the stage twice. First, in 1994 as a musical by Thomas Morgan and Kevin Metchear, at the King's Head Theatre, London, England, and then again in 2007, as a play, by Tom Morris and Emma Rice at the National Theatre (Olivier), London, England.
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"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a sixty-minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on April 12, 1955, with David Niven reprising his movie role, and Barbara Rush as June.
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RAF survivors played themselves in the Other World's High Court, alongside 72 real Red Cross nurses and 25 WACs who also played themselves in the country house base where they were stationed. They donated their earnings to the Red Cross.
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A sixty minute (with ad breaks) adaptation of this movie was broadcast on July 26, 1951 as part of the "Screen Director's Playhouse" series on American radio (NBC) using its alternative title of "Stairway to Heaven", starring Robert Cummings and Julie Adams.
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Dr. Reeves quotes from Lord Byron's poem " She Walks in Beauty" when noting June's arrival.
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During his "final" radio broadcast, Peter tells June that he is twenty-six-years-old. David Niven was actually thirty-six when this movie was made, and twelve years older than Kim Hunter.
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The lines Carter quotes to June are from "His Pilgrimage" by Sir Walter Raleigh and "To his Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell.
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The judge quotes Walter Scott's lines from a stanza which is part of the third Canto of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel". Since Scott's death, the stanza has been separately published under the title "Love".
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Uncredited theatrical movie debut of Lois Maxwell (Actress).
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Production designer Alfred Junge had the unique distinction of having his sketch from A Matter of Life and Death hung in the Royal Academy. He created a model, measuring 12ft across, to represent the film's Records Department. It was shot down a 10 ft deep well, and peopled with tiny puppets. The backcloth for the High Court scene was a massive 350 ft long by 40 ft high. For other heavenly scenes, similarly sized backcloths were created and 29 sets built.
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The film takes place in May 1945.
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A great many of the famous men whose statues are on the massive stairway have a common trait: they were believed to have neurological disorders when this film was made. This is a subtle nod to Peter's medical condition.
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An adaptation of this movie was broadcast as a live television show on April 9, 1951 in the "Robert Montgomery Presents" on NBC as "Stairway to Heaven". It starred Richard Greene as Peter, Jean Gillespie as June, and Bramwell Fletcher as Dr. Reeves.
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The voice of the Introduction Narrator was that of John Longden, and the voice of the Cricket Match Commentator was that of Howard Marshall.
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The radio operator June consistently calls to the limping aircraft as "Liberator" which was the British name for the US-made B24 heavy bomber. This name prompts in the audience a recall of the "thousand plane raids" on Germany towards the end of WW2 in Europe.
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"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.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Abraham Sofaer and Marius Goring reprised their roles as The Judge and Conductor 71, respectively in a BBC radio adaptation in August 1948. Other leading roles were played by David Farrar (Peter Carter) and Andrew Cruikshank (Doctor Reeves). Kathleen Byron (June) and Tommy Duggan (Abraham Farlan) had appeared in this movie in minor roles.
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David Niven (Peter Carter) played Fritz von Tarlenheim in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) while Robert Coote (Bob Trubshawe) played him in The Prisoner of Zenda (1952).
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"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a thirty-minute radio adaptation of the movie under the alternate title "Stairway to Heaven" on June 23, 1949, with David Niven reprising his movie role.
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Despite the exclamation "it's heaven, isn't it?" from the incoming pilot (played by a young Richard Attenborough), the filmmakers actually went to great lengths to avoid calling the "other world" Heaven. This was intentional, as they feared the concept was too narrow and restrictive.
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Marius Goring improvised Conductor 71's line about Technicolor on the day, and Michael Powell decided to keep it in.
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Crispus Attucks was a black American killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.
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George Arliss was originally offered the role of the Judge.
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This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #939.
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Peter David Carter was born in 1918.
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When originally released in the United States, the title was changed to "Stairway to Heaven" because distributors were convinced a film with "death" in the title would flop.
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Conductor 71 was guillotined during the French Revolution in 1790.
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Jack Cardiff had arguments with Natalie Kalmus throughout the production over the way he was pushing the Technicolor stock.
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The heaven scenes were filmed in black and white while the Earth scenes were in colour. Hence, Marius Goring as the Messenger saying "One is starved of Technicolor up there."
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Betty Field was one of the many American actresses considered for the part of June. But Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger never actually got to see her.
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Sir Matthew Bourne is said to have used the concept of this film as the basis for his New Adventures Olivier Award-winning adaptation of the ballet "Cinderella".
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After noticing Kim Hunter in a screen test for "Rebecca", Alfred Hitchcock recommended her to Powell and Pressburger for this film.
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The American juror, Jefferson Lincoln Brown, is implied to be African-American by his name. tone of voice, and the quick cut to the black Army servicemen in the courtroom right after he introduces himself. This is noticeable when the jury is on the stairway looking to render their verdict, and a glimpse of his face in technicolor reveals that it is a white actor portraying an African-American.
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The American juror, Jefferson Lincoln Brown, is implied to be African-American, by his name. tone of voice, and the quick cut to the black Army servicemen in the courtroom right after he introduces himself. The character is actually portrayed by a white actor. This is noticeable when the jury is on the stairway looking to render their verdict and you catch a glimpse of his face in technicolor and see that is a white actor portraying an African-American.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Even though no governmental funds were used, it was generally hoped that the film could improve Anglo-American relations in Great Britain. At that time, American soldiers were seen as "overpaid, oversexed and over here" by the British who had been in the war for years longer than the Americans. So, a British soldier gets the American girl, the nationalist xenophobia is shot down in court, and love conquers all.
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It is ironic that Raymond Massey plays the British-hating Farlan because, as a Canadian, Massey actually became popular as an actor in London.
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