8.1/10
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153 user 79 critic

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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Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband.

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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
Stars: Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn
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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 ... 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, pilot 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 U.S. Army Air Forces, 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 mix-up in heaven. They couldn't find him in all that fog. By the time his "Conductor" catches up with him twenty 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 NEAREST THING TO HEAVEN! (print ad - all caps) 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:

15 December 1946 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Escalera al cielo 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

Michael Sheen cites this movie as his favorite movie of all time. See more »

Goofs

In the scene where time stands still and the other main characters examine June who is 'frozen in time', her hands can be clearly seen to move, several times. 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

Referenced in Dream Team: A Matter of Life & Death (2004) 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

 
Wonderful
22 April 2004 | by btillman63See all my reviews

Enchanting, romantic, innovative, and funny. The vision of this extraordinary film is almost unparalleled, exceeding better known "death romances" such as Ghost. While we know intuitively that Peter and June will find ultimate happiness at the end of that long-long stairway, the joy is in the journey. The moral of the tale, of course, is timeless: love conquers all. But the struggle to achieve that victory is played in a celestial arena of sweeping vision and gripping grandeur. With more than 500 suitably clad extras portraying various ages and cultures, the directors' vision of heaven remains memorable six decades later, far into the CGI era.

Yet for all the cosmic scale, Powell and Pressburger knew an essential truth: the best story is told at the smallest level. The wonderfully, determinedly romantic aspect of "Stairway" is captured with ultimate simplicity: June's teardrop, preserved on a rose petal.

This film, like the story and the set itself, is one for the ages.


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