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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

First Royal Command Film

Reviewed by Milton Deane, Guest Critic

From: Reynolds News
3 November 1946

The long-awaited Archers film A Matter of Life and Death, starring David Niven, Roger Livesey and Raymond Massey, was unveiled before the King and Queen, the Royal princesses and a distinguished audience at the first Royal Command Film Performance at the Empire Theatre, Leicester-square, on Friday night.

     I want to tell you at once that those Archer boys, Messrs. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, have certainly scored a bull with this fine film.

     The film opens astronomically in the upper atmosphere of stars and planets - an impressive and beautifully photographed sequence - and quickly comes down to earth, where we discover a raid going on over enemy territory.

     The date is May 2, 1945. Squadron-Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) is the only member of the crew left in a flaming plane.


He bales out without a parachute and, according to the authorities up above, is due to be killed. But he isn't. He lands in the sea and is carried safely ashore by the tide, thus completely upsetting the records and calculations of the Heavenly Ones who have decreed he should die.

     But Peter has met and fallen in love with June (Kim Hunter), a radio operator who has already received his "last" message from the burning plane, and he tells the Conductor that he does not wish to die and asks permission to make an appeal to the heavenly court.

     The Conductor vanishes and leave Peter with a violent headache wondering if he is "seeing things". June introduces him to a clever surgeon (Roger Livesey) who decides on a brain operation, but unfortunately dies in a motor-cycle smash before he can perform it. Another surgeon takes his place and the operation goes on.

     At the same time, up in Heaven a strange scene is being enacted. Peter's appeal against his sentence of death is being heard by the heavenly court.

     An American who died in the War of Independence (Raymond Massey) is counsel for the prosecution. The recently deceased surgeon is defending.

     It is decided that Peter and June must give evidence on their own behalf and prove the reality of their love for each other, so the whole court descend a huge, endless escalator into the operating theatre where Peter lies, with June watching proceedings with intent anxiety.

     Peter wins his appeal, the ethereal court vanishes, and the picture fades out on a scene showing Peter coming round after the operation which has, of course, been successful.

     This weird, wonderful and witty film is one of the most unusual I have ever seen. Magnificently designed and photographed in monotone and technicolour, it will be talked and argued about long after many another film has been forgotten.

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