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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 Mark Fuller

Film the King Saw

By S. Rossiter Shepherd

From: Sunday People
3 November 1946

"If the worlds in this film bear any resemblance to any other worlds the likeness is purely coincidental," warned a sub-title, thus "A Matter of Life and Death", at the Royal Command Film Performance was robbed of some of its initial surprise.

     But there was plenty left.

     Here is an unusual picture which will grip many, puzzle others, but bore none, a fantasy of life and death at one and the same time; if, like the B.B.C., the film trade ran a Third Programme*, then assuredly this picture would occupy an honoured place in it.

     David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey and Raymond Massey are its stars. The film opens with something of a Wellsian universe of winking stars and flashing comets, until, finally, the camera focuses on the Earth, and eventually the outline of England, soon to be obscured by drifting layers of fog.

     How the visiting Americans must have loved that !

     So the story really begins; the story of two worlds; of an airman (David Niven) who, according to all counts should have been killed when he leaped from a blazing plane without his parachute.

     But the point of the picture is that he does not die, though booked in as deceased by the record-keepers of the other world.

     And so the story develops, of the personality of the half-dead airman pleading before a sort of celestial Appeal Court in modern and fancy dress, to be allowed to live out his life down below, and to continue his love romance with Kim Hunter.

     Fantastic though it all is, it is put over with such plausibility that in the end you find yourself believing in it.

     To David Niven as the airman, and Kim Hunter as his American sweetheart, go the chief histrionic honours.

     A sympathetic and clever performance comes from Roger Livesey as the airman's doctor friend, who, while working on his case (medically) is killed in an accident.

     Thus, translated to the realms above-stairs, he is able successfully to plead the airman's cause.

     A brilliant and stimulating contribution to a high order of British film production.

Note: For those that don't remember it, the BBC Third Programme was the predecessor to their current Radio 3. It specialised in classical music and "The Arts"

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