A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946)

First, a film from the 1000 Greatest Films of All-time at They Shoot Pictures, then, one of the most celebrated offering of the association of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger commonly called The Archers. A Matter of Life and Death become one of those quest fuelling titles in my film viewing goals of the year. Moreover, our new household acquisition, a 46” LCD television from a Korean manufacturer needed to project or illuminate my living room with some Classic film. What is more classic than a Powell/Pressburger film? You tell me!

Enough with the so-called context of viewing/Facebook status crap. Seriously, when it comes to The Archers’ films we enter in a holy territory. In the community of Classic film lovers The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, and the subject of this review A Matter of Life and Death are amongst the Greatest films of all time. Colourful, bright, audacious, with plenty of subtext and filled with blissful moments of cinematic grandeur.

 A Matter of Life and Death opens with the English plane of Bob (Robert Coote) and Peter Carter (David Niven) going to crash. He is only able to send a distress signal to the USAAF June (Kim Hunter) before the crash of the plane. Peter and Bob, die and they are introduced to the afterlife, those segments are shot in a crisp black and white. However, Peter wakes up as he is on a shore of an unknown land. Shortly, he meets June and they immediately fall in love. The people in Heaven want him back because their record is wrong. Since Peter fell in love with June it changes the balance of life. The only possible solution is to get a trial to decide if Peter deserves a second chance on Earth.

The first thing that pops when watching a Powell/Pressburger picture is the mise en scène of every element. Back in 1946, those huge stairs, the trial location, the stopped action, and every other trucage may have aged. Yet, this is not the case at all. Well, some images don’t forgive but for the most of the film the effects are still pretty convincing and doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling. The story and the direction seems to be years ahead of its time and it seems like it isn’t one of the films that most cinephile will cite as one of the greatest.

The themes, of life, love, death, and a global understanding of our world back in 1946 that seems so fresh and actual testifies how much a film can bring something worthwhile on the table. Another central and essential aspect of a classic film is its entertainment value. Well, here it is with no doubt that the story of June and Peter brings the enjoyment, the laughs, and tears a great effective movie should have.

All in all, once again I am more than charmed by the extraordinary quality of Powell/Pressburger’s films. It is, indeed, one of their most favorited film of all time. A strong contender one would say, but still, The Red Shoes holds the gold with a little advance. A highly recommended delight.


  1. Nice review Michael. This is my favorite P&P film I've seen so far (I'm missing a few notable titles), a really lovely and absorbing movie on every level. Great imagery, likeable characters, good cast and witty script - it's the rare film that gets everything right.

    1. Thank you Groggy. I still need to watch some important P&P myself. But I really enjoyed this one very much!

  2. Just found out it's the favorite-movie-of-all-time of JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe. I've never heard of it, but am really motivated to seek it out.
    Another rare film I'm in love with is 'The World of Suzie Wong'.

    1. I highly recommend this film Joanna! I will have a look at The World of Suzie Wong since I' ve never heard of it! Thanks for passing by and commenting!


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