A Matter of Life and Death: Holy Bureaucratic Screw-Ups

I would like to preface my review today with a shameless plug.  My best friend since the age of 5 lost her mom to cancer last year.  This year, she's shaving her head to raise money for St Baldrick's Foundation, a charity to find cures for childhood cancers.

I know most people don't have a lot of extra cash floating around, but I would be extremely grateful if anyone who reads my blog would be willing to donate even a few dollars to this wonderful cause.  If you'd like to donate, you can go to my friend's page here, or you can do it through the main link listed above.  Consider it your good deed for the day/week/month/year!

/end shameless plug

The next movie on our list is (ironically enough) A Matter of Life and Death, a 1946 film written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  I wrote down those names even though neither of them means anything to me whatsoever.  (Note: a quick IMDB search reveals that I am a cretin, because these two are responsible for a shedload of really great movies from the 1940s.  I will now hang head in shame.)  What do I know about this movie?  Absolutely nothing.  I decided to start using a random number generator to help me pick what movie to watch.  Cause I'm super high tech like that.

Peter isn't exactly having the best day ever.  He's a bomber pilot who has lost his crew, and his plane is nosedive into the Atlantic.  He has time to make a distress call to June, an American radio operator, even though he knows it's hopeless.  Peter gives her a message to send to his mother, and spends his last few moments talking to her, trying to keep himself calm.  Even though he's dying and she's pretty much traumatized because he's dying, they share a connection.  Then he bails out.

In my admittedly limited experience, jumping out a plane without a parachute usually = kersplat.  But apparently some angel was sleeping on the job, because Peter walks out of the ocean, no worse for wear.  In one massive coincidence/plot contrivance, the second person he comes across just happens to be June.  She's amazed that he's still alive, they're in love?  OK.

Unfortunately, some Frenchie shows up to take Peter to heaven.  Lame.  Peter argues that it's their fault that he didn't die, not his, and he points out that in the extra time he's had on Earth, he's fallen in love.  Apparently angels have a soft spot for romance, because they agree to give him a trial where he can argue his case.

Only catch?  The prosecutor is an American who was the first to die in the Revolutionary War, and he hates the English something fierce.  So he don't take too kindly to some English boy romancing no pretty innocent young girl from Boston.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective) Peter's close friend/brilliant doctor is killed in a motor accident, allowing him to go to heaven and serve as his defense attorney (because all medical programs routinely teach their students trial law as a back-up, in case the whole doctor thing doesn't work out).  Through the power of love, Peter is allowed to live so that he can be with June.  I am a terrible person because I thought it would be really funny if after he won the case, Peter got hit by a car or my head, heaven fights dirty.

Random Musings:

  • Audrey finds herself irritated by the condescending narrator.  She would like him to shut up and get on with the movie.

  • I'm kind of intrigued by this incredibly glib pilot who's in a crashing plane, dictating a last message for his mother to some poor radio girl.  And it's ridiculously sweet that he wants to have one last conversation with this girl before he bails out, sans parachute.

  • I love when the boisterous group of American pilots show up in heaven...they look like they know how to have a party.  And I wonder how much Coca Cola had to shell out to get them to install a Coke machine in heaven's lobby?

  • I like that when they enter heaven they're issued a set of wings.  It's kind of like when you join the army and you're issued a uniform.

  • I thought it would have been really interesting if they had shown a German entering heaven.  After all, not all German soldiers were bad people...many had nothing to do with the Holocaust, they just fought in the battles, the same as the Allied soldiers did.  But obviously this film was made in 1946, so I guess it was too soon for That Kind of Thing.

  • Umm...what's with this random naked kid hanging out on the beach?

  • Wait a tick.  These two had literally a two minute long conversation with one another, which was interrupted by him jumping out of a plane.  And now he creepily shows up outside and they're all "darling" and kisses?  Granted, I know things move faster in wartime, because everyone's all emotional and living with a giant elephant of Looming Death in the room, but they seem to have missed a few crucial steps in the relationship process.

  • I love the French fop guy.  I think it's a really nice touch that he was an aristocrat who was executed during the Revolution.  But come on, if anyone should understand the power of love and sympathize with Peter's position, it would be this walking French stereotype, right?

  • "Stupidity has saved many a man from going mad."  I approve of this quote.

  • Zomg I'm so glad I've never had to have brain surgery with technology circa 1946.

  • OK so I don't know if it's me but this super American, Brit-hating prosecutor is reallllly annoying.  Doesn't he realize that we're BFFs now?

You would shocked to find out what comes up in a Google Image Search for Bush and Blair.

So did I like it?  Yeah.  I think one of it's greatest strengths is its characters.  I genuinely like our friend the pilot, the doctor, the Frenchman, even Jane, although she's a paper thin female whose only real defining characteristics are that she's loyal and...sweet, I guess?  There's really not much going on there.  But I think David Niven did a wonderful job creating a warm, interesting character that the audience cares for immediately.

I think the script and the direction show a great deal of imagination, and there are some fantastic visuals.  My personal favorite is the show of all the wings lined up with military precision.

That and the stairway to heaven.  Cause...come on, it's a literal stairway to heaven, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would be so pleased!

It's a wonderful visual touch that heaven is shown in black and white, while earth is in technicolor.  It creates a really nice juxtaposition between the two: heaven has pure but almost sterile beauty, while earth has a sense of vibrancy.  Nicely done, sirs.

That's it for me.  Thanks for reading, and be sure to pop around next time!

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