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 Nick Garrett

Stairway to Heaven
Time; December 30th 1946

Stairway to Heaven (Rank; Universal-International)* might be an exceptionally good picture if it didn't strain so desperately to be a great one. It is an imaginative, beautifully Technicolored, British-made fantasy that often trips over its own lofty pretensions.

The British-boy-meets-American-girl story is told with winning charm. David Niven is the British airman who finds himself falling in a burning plane. By radio, he shouts amorous-poetic speeches (he is certain they are his dying words) to a pretty WAC (Kim Hunter) on the landing field. Then he jumps - without parachute. Incredibly, he picks himself up uninjured except for a peculiar crack on the head that makes him imagine he is a fugitive from heaven. Throughout the film, the camera moves between a clinical study of lovesick Niven's brain disorder and the imaginary heaven that wants to straighten out its ledgers by hauling him in. In the big, final scenes, he alternately lies on an operating table and stands before heaven's stern court of justice. Cast, and audience are at last persuaded, of course, that Young Love must live, since it is the all-important thing on earth or in heaven.

Despite its pretensions and a dragging opening scene, it is an exciting film, because it boldly experiments in both subject and treatment. It tackles a difficult, fantastic yarn and spins it out with humor and cinematic skill. The sets are clever; direction and photography are first-rate. With the greatest of ease, the story swings back & forth between a pearly-monochrome heaven and a dazzling, Technicolored earth. But it bites off too big a chunk and insists on chewing it all. In a clumsy flirtation with the U.S. box office, its makers threw in some boring heavenly discourses on Anglo-American relations (with Candian-born Raymond Massey as the U.S. spokesman) and some trite philosophizing on everything from the hereafter to the British Empire. These "intellectual" flourishes finally grind even the inoffensive little love story to movie mush.

The makers of Stairway to Heaven - plumpish, rumpled Writer Emeric Pressburger and high-strung, contentious Director Michael ("Micky") Powell - can boast a freedom in their work that few other moviemakers in the world enjoy. Having collaborated on some of Britain's best films (Colonel Blimp, The Invaders) they are one of Cinemogul J. Arthur Rank's most free-reined independent producing units. Mr. Rank picks up their check without bothering too much about the details of what they have ordered.

Powell & Pressburger obviously hope to show their gratitude for the gilded cage by turning out pictures that will make Angel Rank a nice U.S. profit. But many far less creative people on both sides of the Atlantic are already worrying their heads full-time about what the elusive U.S. moviegoer wants. If Powell & Pressburger can leave box-office problems to someone else, they might do a special favor for themselves, for Mr. Rank, for Hollywood and for moviegoers everywhere, by just concentrating on making the best British movies they can.

* Opened in London at a November "command performance" for British royalty and visiting Hollywood notables under its British title, A Matter of Life and Death.

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