Monday, March 14, 2011

David Nivin & Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death

Obscurity factor: -2

Yesterdays film dealt with the afterlife during the period of the Second World War, so I thought this one, which has a similar basis would make a good follow up post.  Squadron leader Peter David Carter (David Niven) is about to bail out of his doomed plane without a parachute. He's resigned to his fate and his last communication is with the American girl manning the radio at the air base in England. Imagine his surprise when he awakens, washed up on the beach. He believes he's in heaven, but is disabused of that belief by a naked boy on the beach. The boy points out a cyclist pedaling home. Peter chases her down and finds that it's June, the American girl from the previous night. Meanwhile, up in heaven they're missing him. By the time they've located him on earth, he's fallen in love with June. He refuses to return with the Conductor and argues that, due to extenuating circumstances he should be allowed to remain on earth for a normal lifespan. He's granted a trial to prove his case.

This is the first film I've posted with a negative obscurity factor rating. It's not largely known to the general public, but has been named the second greatest British film ever made (by the magazine, Total Film in 2004) and is well known to film buffs. It is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. The cinematography is breathtaking and the sequences in heaven are rendered on a scale so vast and majestic you would think that the set designer had inside knowledge. Interestingly, the earth bound sequences are shot in Technicolor, while the heavenly sequences are in black and white. The cast is quite impressive as well, including in addition to Mr. Niven and Ms. Hunter, Raymond Massey and Richard Attenborough.
This film is available on DVD (though it's out of print and a bit pricey) and on YouTube. I've included the first installment above, uploaded by littleiceage. I suggest you do yourself a favor and either watch it on a large TV in a dark room or preferably look for it at a revival house. It's worth the effort to see this beautiful film on the big screen. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: -2 (Available on DVD, well known among critics and film buffs, relatively unknown among the general public)


  1. This is such an amazing film that I double recommend it! That Michael Powell was responsible for this film as well as "The Red Shoes" and "Black Narcissus" speaks very much to the concept of the film director as "auteur."

    One small note: it was called "Stairway to Heaven" when it was originally released in the USA, and it's still sometimes called that on broadcast versions. So if someone has it on his TV watching wish list, be sure to check both titles.

  2. It really is a wonderful companion to Black Narcissus. I just adore the shot, looking up through the circular balconies from the floor of the hall of records in heaven.

  3. This film should be required viewing for anyone who's moved past the traditional constraints of organized religion, and is curious about what else may possibly exist beyond the veil... Utterly charming, audacious and brilliant! Thanks so much Ben for posting this heady, magical look into the 'void!' Who knew it was SO CROWDED? ;-)