Stairway to Heaven (1946)

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (1946)
(a.k.a. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH)
Article #894 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-26-2003
Posting Date: 1-23-2004
Directed by Michael Powell
Featuring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey

When an RAF pilot bails out of his airplane without a parachute, the angel assigned to deliver his soul to heaven misses him in the fog, and he survives the fall to live another twenty hours. In that time, he falls in love, and when the angel comes to claim him, he demands a hearing of his case.

I’m not really keen on movies about angels; nor am I particularly fond of love stories. However, I am a fan of inspired and brilliant film-making, because a visionary director can do wonders with any subject he chooses. Michael Powell was visionary when he took on the subject of homicidal psychosis in PEEPING TOM; here he is simply breathtaking. Half the movie is in black and white, and the other half of the movie is in color, and it’s startling to see one bleed into the other as it does in several scenes here. Some of the sequences are as surreal as anything from Bunuel, and the movie seems to span decades of movie making; though it was made in 1946, it sometimes feels like an art film from the sixties or the seventies, and at other times it almost feels like a silent movie from the twenties. It’s a masterpiece, and that is a word I use sparingly; in fact, I find it almost impossible to talk about this one without falling over the endless stream of superlatives that would come out of my mouth. I suspect that it will be a long, long time before I see anything that impresses me as much as this one did.

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