A Matter of Life and Death 1946

(US title: Stairway to Heaven)

 

Director: Michael PowellEmeric Pressburger

 

Writers: Michael PowellEmeric Pressburger

Rôle: Conductor 71

 

Release Date: 1 November 1946

 

Synopsis: 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.

Comment: The film was chosen as the first Royal Command Film Performance, premiering before the King and Queen at Leicester Square’s Empire Cinema on November 1, 1946. Powell noted in A Life in Movies that “the occasion was so exciting that the film passed practically unnoticed.

The film is now considered a classic and perhaps the best British film ever made, the favourite film of many people including Michael Sheen and J.K. Rowling. It is affectionately known by its acronym AMOLAD. The famed director, Martin Scorsese, another huge fan of the film (as he is also of 'The Red Shoes') contributed an interesting discussion on video about AMOLAD that accompanied the 2018 Blu Ray release of the film by the Criterion Collection.

This one of Marius's most famous rôles. According to Michael Powell, Marius desperately wanted the rôle of Peter Carter, initially refusing Conductor 71. It's a good thing he gave in and gave us such a delightful portrayal. Marius has some of the wittiest lines and delivers them with relish.

Marius was to repeat his rôle of Conductor 71 in a BBC radio version in September 1948 with David Farrar (his co-star in 'Mr Perrin and Mr Traill') as Peter Carter.

Reviews: A very well-written essay 'A Matter of Life and Death: The Too-Muchness of It All' by Stephanie Zacharek, written to accompany the Blu Ray release in 2018 states: "A celestial associate—an eighteenth-century French dandy known as Conductor 71, played with slippery charm by English actor Marius Goring—appears out of nowhere to escort him to the afterworld. But Conductor 71 has slipped up: he was due to appear earlier but was delayed by mucky English weather."

Availability: DVD & Blu Ray (Criterion Collection) Release Date: 2018.

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