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

New Films in London

By our London Film Critic

From: Unidentified Broadsheet
2 November 1946

The first Royal Command performance of a film took place last night at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square. The film chosen was "A Matter of Life and Death", which has been written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. These two have made some of the best British films; their films have, so to say, a habit of bursting out of the confines of the ordinary commercial cinema. They have wit and taste as well as courage.

     "A Matter of Life and Death" is certainly courageous. Its makers call it a "Stratospheric joke", and that description may serve as well as any for a film that almost baffles description. This is the story: An R.A.F. pilot bales out without a parachute, but somehow he not only survives but falls in love - almost immediately after his unusual landing - with an American girl, a W.A.C.. All would be well but for his recurrent hallucinations which persuade him intermittently that he really is dead and that his presence is being demanded in the hereafter. In the end all is solved by a brain operation, and he keeps life, sanity, and W.A.C..

     If that were all it would - in these days of psycho-therapeutic films - be relatively plain and straight. But the oddity lies in the hero's imaginary wanderings between this world and the next one. It would seem, too, that the main point of the film is not that it has anything new or important or even comprehensible to tell us about life and death and psychology but that, with such a theme, there are abundant opportunities for cinematic tricks. It is as though Hitchcock's "Spellbound" were combined with all those familiar films about invisible men - with Technicolor thrown in for interest. Or perhaps it has another point as well. The film reaches its climax with a trial in the hereafter at which either the R.A.F. pilot and the W.A.C. must prove their mutual love or the R.A.F. pilot must be condemned to die. This promised to be no small climax. Yet, in the event, it simply petered away to a historical argument about Anglo-American relations. Was it then the main purpose of the film to preach international friendship? If so, the purpose was most worthy but the effect was pure bathos.

     The pity of it is that the film abounds with good ideas (as well as good tricks). The acting is admirable, the dialogue is swift, pithy and mostly intelligent, and time and again one was astonished by the skill of the directors and their cameraman. There are, indeed, sequences in this film which should go into the textbook. The details, in a word, are fine but the film as a whole is a grandiose anarchy. Yet it is only fair to add that better by far such an adventure (or misadventure) than the stereotyped, uncourageous film of everyday experience.

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