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

A Matter of Life and Death

By Ewart Hodgson

From: News of the World
3 November 1946

At the opening of "A Matter of Life and Death", the Royal Command Performance film at the Empire, David Niven, the pilot of a blazing Lancaster, is destined to die within a few minutes. The reception authorities in the Other World confidently await his arrival. His wireless operator, lying dead in the bomber, has already checked in. But a slip occurs - the first the clerical staff of the Other World has made in 1,000 years.

     Niven bales out without a parachute, but survives. An inquest on the deplorable mistake is held in the Other World and it is decided by the top level authorities to dispatch a "collector" with firm orders to bring back Niven in order to put the records right.

     The "collector" finds Niven allergic to death since he's fallen in love with an American Waac. Leave to appeal is granted, and the last part of "A Matter of Life and Death" is devoted to the resulting court case, with the public seats crowded with the dead of a dozen wars ranging down the centuries.

     The story then takes the shape of an argument on the British and American ways of life, with Raymond Massey, the first American killed in the War of Independence as a venomous prosecuting counsel arguing that Niven should die because we the British, have been the most aggressive nation in history.

     It needs no great mentality to guess the result of the appeal.

     "A Matter of Life and Death" is staged with admirable lavishness, imagination and good taste, but it suffers from the somewhat light-weight story that hardly stays its 104-minute course. And David Niven is given surprisingly little to occupy his period of reprieve.

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