The Masters  
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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A Matter of Life and Death

Theatre Arts, New York, February 1947

     From England, the films now pour to this country in a more or less steady stream. Among recent arrivals the most notable is "Stairway To Heaven" (known in England as "A Matter of Life And Death"). A fantasy written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who were responsible for "Colonel Blimp", it is set half in heaven and half on earth, as the two planets battle over the soul of an RAF flyer who failed to die when his number was up. Jockeying between sumptuously Technicolored earth and the white-lighted heaven, the picture shifts its scene with an easy play of imagination that is at once witty and appealing. The latter part of "Stairway To Heaven" presents a heavenly debate for the soul of this unfortunate transgressor against the laws of the universe. Conducted by a twentieth-century doctor and an eighteenth-century American, the arguments surround the relative merits of the two nations. Since the antagonists summon up amusing and pertinent comments on national characteristics, one is inclined to forgive the fact that their arguments bear no perceptible relationship to the story. A more potent persuasion, and one that wins the victim his life in the end, is the tear of the woman he loves, a WAC (played by the American Kim Hunter). Faulty though its logic may be, "Stairway To Heaven" is a merry event, and the playing of David Niven as the young man whose soul is at stake, of Roger Livesey as the doctor who fights for his life and Marius Goring as the heavenly messenger who fights for his death is all in the best of spirits.


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