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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Malcolm Pratt

Stairway to Heaven

Review by Bosley Crowther
New York Times, December 26th 1946

Written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cinematographer, Jack Cardiff
Edited by Reginald Mills
Music by Allan Gray
Production designer, Alfred Junge
Released by Universal International Pictures
Running time: 104 minutes.

David Niven (Peter Carter)
Kim Hunter (June)
Roger Livesey (Doctor Reeves)
Robert Coote (Bob)
Marius Goring (Conductor 71)
Raymond Massey (Abraham Farian) [sic - it should have been Farlan]
Kathleen Byron (An Angel)
Richard Attenborough (English Pilot)

    Had you harked you would have heard the herald angels singing an appropriate paean of joy over a wonderful new British picture, Stairway to Heaven, which came to the Park Avenue Theatre yesterday. And if you will listen now to this reviewer you will hear that the delicate charm, the adult humor, and visual virtuosity of this Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film render it indisputably the best of a batch of Christmas shows.

    If you wished to be literal about it you might call it romantic fantasy with psychological tie-ins. But literally is not the way to take this deliciously sophisticated frolic in imagination's realm. For this is a fluid contemplation of a man's odd experiences in two worlds, one the world of the living and the other the world of his fantasies - which, in this particular instance, happens to be the great beyond. And the fact that the foreword advises, "any resemblance to any other worlds, known or unknown, is purely coincidental," is a cue to the nature and the mood.

    We've no time for lengthy explanations - other than to remark that, by all the laws of probabilities, Squadron Leader Peter Carter should have been killed when he leapt from a burning bomber without a parachute over the Channel on May 2, 1945. And that is the natural assumption which revolves in the back of his injured mind. But, still alive after a freakish salvation and in love with a thoroughly mortal American Wac, he resists the hallucinatory "messenger" who keeps summoning him to the beyond. Indeed, he resists so strongly - in his disordered mind, that is - that he conceives an illusory "trial" in heaven in which his appeal to remain on earth is heard before a highly heterogeneous tribunal. And through this court (and by a brain operation), he is spared.

    That gives you a slight indication of the substance and flavor of this film - and we haven't space at this writing to give you any more, except to say that the wit and agility of the producers, who also wrote and directed the job, is given range through the picture in countless delightful ways: in the use, for instance, of Technicolor to photograph the earthly scenes and sepia in which to vision the hygienic regions of the Beyond (so that the heavenly "messenger," descending, is prompted to remark, "Ah, how one is starved for Technicolor up there!"). [sic]

    We haven't space to credit the literate wit of the heavenly "trial" in which the right of an English flier to marry an American girl is discussed, with all the subtle ruminations of a cultivated English mind that it connotes, or the fine cinematic inventiveness and visual "touches" that sparkle throughout, notably in the exciting production designs of Alfred Junge.

    Nor have we the space to say more than that David Niven is sensitive and real as the flier chap; that Roger Livesey is magnificent as his physician (and later advocate in the Beyond); that Kim Hunter is most appealing as his American sweetheart; and that many more do extremely well, including Raymond Massey, who plays the lawyer for the Court of Records at the heavenly "trial." (Mr. Massey represents the spirit of the first Boston patriot killed in the Revolutionary War.)

    But we'll have much more to say later, when we've got Christmas out of our hair. Till then, take this recommendation: see Stairway to Heaven. It's a delight!

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