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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Submitted by Mark Fuller

Command Performance
The Film Was Not The Best Choice

By John Ross

From: Daily Worker
2 November 1946

The first British Royal Film Command performance, attended last night by constellations of stars and galaxies of celebrities, was a disappointment as far as the film went, anyway.

     A Matter of Life and Death (Empire), written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is not, I think, the happiest choice for such a celebration. It does not represent the best obtainable in the best tradition of the British cinema.

     The film is fanciful, a trip to the other world, the never-never land so dear to fanciful to film producers, made through the hallucinations of an airman (David Niven) who bales out, without parachute, from a returning bomber during the war.

     Incredibly surviving, he meets and loves the W.A.C. girl who directed him over the radio until his last conscious moment in the burning plane.

     But he is (according to his hallucinations) only permitted to live in the technicoloured normal world of ours, through a mistake made by a clerk of the Heavenly archives. He is claimed immediately by the Clerk representing the monochromed Heaven which fancifully intrudes and disturbs the story from time to time.

Tried in Heaven

In the end (and still in his hallucination) he is allowed to plead in the Heavenly high court for an extension of earthly life, because throughly (sic) Heavenly carelessness he has committed to love.

     Can even the sort of Heaven conjures up by Powell and Pressburger remain immune to the call of love? It can't.

     Love wins, but only after a fatuous trial in which America and Britain become symbols of the love-clash and in which Britain makes all the concessions (for box-office purposes in America), I take it.

     The film is thin and pretentious, though possessing certain technical ingenuities.

     It represents in no way any sort of advance in the British cinema that is being made and in ????. It is, I think a relaxation of the progress we're really making in British studios. An odd choice.

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