Made in 1946 to improve Anglo-American relations, A Matter of Life and Death is a romantic fantasy, yet realistic film. Note: It was originally released in America as Stairway to Heaven, which is a confusing title since the film deals only with Another World and never states that it's Heaven, but you may find it under this title in your local video store.
David Niven in his first post-war film plays a master RAF bomber. He's returning over the Channel when his plane is hit.
He radios to June, an American serving in Britain to tell her that he's going down and he's bailing out without a parachute. Naturally they fall in love with each other based solely on their voices.
Meanwhile, back in the Other World, hundreds of servicemen of all nationalities are pouring in after the night's battles. In the reverse of Wizard of Oz, the scenes on Earth are in Technicolor and the Other World are in b&w. The Other World government is run similarly to those on Earth and everyone is expected to pick a job that they like best. And there's even a Coca-Cola machine in the lobby, because Coke would never be content with just world domination.
David Niven's friend Trubshawe is worried because their deaths were only supposed to be half an hour apart and so the angel with the fabulous hairdo says that she will look into it.
Back on Earth, David Niven wakes up on the beach not only not deaded but also without a scratch!
As he's walking along the beach he meets June coming back from her night shift.
Needless to say, he works fast.
Back in the Other World, the mistake has been discovered.
Conductor 71 says that he missed David Niven due to the heavy fog and he is sent back to correct his mistake. Conductor 71 has the best wardrobe of all the characters. He died of "natural causes" during the French Revolution.
"One is starved for Technicolor up there." I think that this film is one of the most highly saturated Technicolor films ever made. Or at least it would be, if someone were to restore it properly. I do so love Technicolor!
Conductor 71 tries to convince David Niven to accept his death and follow him. But David Niven says that in the twenty hours that have passed since his "death" he has fallen in love and now has responsibilities on Earth as a result and sends Conductor 71 to ask for an appeal.
When Conductor 71 leaves, David Niven has blurred vision and faints from a painful headache.
June goes to consult her friend, the village doctor who is also the foremost neurologist in the country. Ah, if only life was as convenient as it is in the movies.
The doctor diagnoses the problem as highly organized hallucinations from a concussion two years before.
Conductor 71 returns to say that he's been granted an appeal. Check out his stockings!
The doctor realizes that because David Niven is highly intelligent, he's brain is actually trying to kill him rather then cause insanity and they must rush the brain surgery.
An hour before the surgery, which is also when the appeal will be heard, Conductor 71 tricks David Niven into following him, but he soon figures this out. Isn't the staircase impressive? Wait till you see it in action.
June has remained a loyal nurse throughout and she believes his story. And yes, her pyjamas do have a cute bow-tie.
The surgery seems to involve wrapping his head with some bandages. The medical condition and symptoms is correct and research, but thankfully Powell and Pressburger don't include a lot of confusing medical jargon.
David Niven, Trubshawe, the Doctor and Conductor 71 (who's on his side) discuss the plan of action for the trial, which is happening during the surgery.
How would you feel if you could look at yourself being operated on?
Their only evidence: one of June's tears preserved on a rose.
The visitor's gallery:
Judge and Jury:
The celestial Court (is that cool or what!):
Raymond Massey (Canadian, his brother was once the Governor General) plays the prosecutor Abraham Farlan, the first American to be killed by the British during the American Revolution.
This is the judge and his awesome wig! Too bad that wigs aren't used so much in court anymore.
After hours spend arguing by the prosecutor and the defence as to whether the Law or Love is the superior in the Universe, the jury decides that the Court should go to Earth and hear from David Niven and June.
What happens to the young couple? You'll have to watch and find out. As to the meaning of the film and whether the visions are real or not, Powell and Pressburger leave that up to the individual, so the answer really depends on your view of the world.
There is no trailer, but the entire film is available for free here.