Stairway to Heaven
Directed by Michael Powell. US. 1946. NR. 104 minutes. Sony. Digital.
Sun., April 17, 2016
A quite unique and beautifully realized British-made fantasy, Stairway to Heaven (titled A Matter of Life and Death in England), is a joy to behold, and a strong celebration of the alliance between America and our British cousins. David Niven stars, as a poetic RAF pilot who, before he is forced to bail out of his flaming plane, gets on his radio and conveys what he believes to be his dying words to an American WAC (played by a young Kim Hunter). They share a lovely romantic conversation and, when he miraculously survives the landing, they meet and fall in love. Unfortunately (this being a fantasy, you know), it turns out that up in heaven a terrible mistake has been made, and he had not been intended to survive the fall. So, as he lies on an operating table, the heavenly entities debate his fate. Though this basic story sounds quite simple, it is the visual effects and the strength of the performances that make Stairway to Heaven so unique and memorable. As the Cinebooks Film Guide has so aptly put it, this is a fantastic accomplishment which shines with surrealistic cinematic bravura….a marvel of technique and imagination….an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment, though not without important underlying themes (the love and death of a poet, the strength of overcoming impossible barriers to love), which only improves with age. With the earthly scenes filmed in sumptuous Technicolor and heaven shown in monochrome, and an amazing staircase rising majestically up to the heavens, this is a true marvel of production design, and a lovely movie not to be missed. (Bill Roth)