Thursday, September 08, 2016

Movie Review: A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter Of Life And Death (1946)
Directed by Michael Powell
(Contained in the two-movie set Michael Powell)

A WW2 fighter pilot crashes to his death, but he doesn’t die. It’s not that he’s lucky; the Afterlife personnel messed up. While the pilot (David Niven) wanders unharmed around England, the bureaucrats in the Afterlife find the man who blew it and get him to go down to Earth to straighten things out. But things get complicated when Niven’s character falls in love. Now he doesn’t want to die even if he should. He has to plead his case for staying on Earth in the Great Beyond, which looks like a super sleek forties British government office, all clean-lined Art Moderne. Keyword is look; the functioning is not so efficient, as we’ve seen. This is the only film I’ve seen where Niven doesn’t play a parody of an upper class Englishman, a slot he’d long since occupied when I first saw him in the sixties. It was an agreeable change of pace to see him as a conventional dramatic actor, and he does an endearing job of it. Special effects are so vital when you have to portray, in addition to the Beyond itself, the various things like time manipulation the Beyond bureaucrats do in order to fix their mistakes. And they look stunning here, not embarrassing in the way that dated things of this sort tend to. It’s elegant to a fault. The effects seem to foretell those employed in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, another cinematic magical tale that came out four years later. Maybe A Matter influenced the latter movie. Note: this movie is also known as Stairway To Heaven. Another note: this movie is coupled with another Powell-directed film in the 2-DVD set: Age Of Consent, starring a young and already precociously talented Helen Mirren in her first lead role.

Richard Grooms
Fiction Department
Central Library

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