It’s “a matter of life and death” that you watch this movie ASAP!

As a movie snob, it can sometimes feel like I’ve seen all the good movies out there. A ridiculous notion, I know. Still, when I do randomly come upon a spectacular film that I had yet to see, I can’t help but feel like I’ve uncovered treasure.

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to introduce classic films to a new generation; to appeal to my peers and give them a reason to give a movie made before 2000 a second look. The movie I want to discuss today is one that I feel should be required viewing for anyone who says they’re interested in film.

A Matter of Life and Death, also known by the name Stairway to Heaven , was made in 1946 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I’ve discussed another Powell/Pressburger film on this blog, one of my favorites, The Red Shoes. Strangely, I had yet to see many of their others films.

The film follows Peter D. Carter (David Niven), a British wartime aviator who we meet as he’s hurling towards the earth. Knowing he’s going to die, he spends what he believes to be his last minutes talking to June (Kim Hunter), an American radio operator. He wakes up on a beach and happens upon June, who’s cycling home. You could call it love at first sight – it doesn’t matter how it happens, they fall in love. The only problem is Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), a French – like, of the French revolution – angel who tells Peter he was meant to die. In love, Peter fights him on it, asking for an appeal before the celestial court…and he gets one!

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I love Technicolor SO MUCH

Here’s why you need to watch A Matter of Life and Death ASAP!

The Cast

Guys, David Niven. Can we just talk about how amazing he truly is?! The plot in this movie is truly bonkers, but somehow, David Niven sells it. He makes you feel every emotion.

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Am I the only one in love with this guy?!

Kim Hunter, who’s most famous for her role as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, is completely relatable in this film. She makes June special enough that you understand why Peter would do anything to stay with her, even after only knowing her for, like, 20 hours.

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Lipstick ON POINT

Marius Goring was so multi-talented. He’s wonderful in The Red Shoes, but his comedic chops are on display in this movie and he delivers! Agh, he was just fantastic.

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when your friend can’t make up their mind…

And Raymond Massey adds some much fun humor as Abraham Farlan, the prosecutor for…heaven, I guess.

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Boy. This guy would be depressed to see the stats today.

The Cinematography

Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. Jack Cardiff. ❤️ 💛 💚

I mean, technicolor was on his side, but man, have you ever seen cinematography this gorgeous?

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Creepily mesmerizing…
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The feeling of being lost in a dream…
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so creepy

The Story

Many films have danced around the afterlife, or heaven, or as in the case of A Matter of Life and Death, the next world. It’s a fantastical imagining of what might happen when your time comes. In this movie, heaven is black & white and its angels have some real interesting personalities.

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Also, young Richard Attenborough

Powell and Pressburger were clearly trying to comment on the time period they were living in as well as the relations between countries. This movie came out in 1946 when tensions in the world were high.

In the court scenes, the prosecutor for heaven tries to prejudice the jury against Peter for being British. The prosecutor’s American. Peter’s lawyer, Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) makes a case stating that the jury then should be made up of Americans – he still thinks the jury will find in favor of Peter!

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Good point, counselor. 

It’s a comical scene but there’s real sentiment behind it. When you put relations between governments and different nationalities into the context of an afterlife, it makes you realize how ridiculous our differences are, a lesson we still could take a page from today.

The Romance

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m a fan of the romance. Like Mindy Kaling, I don’t know where this obsession of watching people fall in love came from, but nevertheless, it’s there. And this movie delivers on the romance front by showing just how simple it can be.

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SWOON 💚 💙 💜

They’re both put on trial by the celestial court and asked to prove their love for the other. How do you prove love? Peter says, “Well give me time, sir. Fifty years.” They’re asked if they would die for the other. Indeed, is there any other question that matters.

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Truer words were never spoken.

Also, they’re played by David Niven and Kim Hunter – that helps…obviously!

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literal meet-cute

It’s a beautiful, original, thought-provoking, fantastical love story!

It’s rare to see a movie so willing to take chances, to tell a story in a non-conventional way. Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s personal editor, was married to Michael Powell in his later years. In a feaurette of the film, Schoonmaker said this was Powell’s favorite movie that he made because he just got to play, like in the silent days.

I was taken by this quote from Roger Ebert’s 1995 review of the film, “Today’s movies are infatuated with special effects, but often they’re used to create the sight of things we can easily imagine: crashes, explosions, battles in space. The special effects in “Stairway to Heaven” show a universe that never existed until this movie was made, and the vision is breathtaking in its originality.”

A Matter of life and Death is an example of what makes the art of movie-making so special. It makes you feel through images and dares to imagine a world that does not exist. I was blown away watching it a few days ago. It became an instant favorite. Just…watch it and I swear you’ll understand!

Trailer below:

 

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The Flaws and Charms of ‘Bachelor Mother’ and its remake ‘Bundle of Joy’

In Hollywood nowadays, remakes are more common than superhero movies and that’s saying something. But, of course, they made remakes even in the good ol’ days and the films I want to discuss are a prime example. Those films are the 1939 screwball comedy, Bachelor Mother, and its 1956 musical remake, Bundle of Joy.

During December, TCM showed all the great holiday movies and these two were included. I had already seen Bachelor Mother a few years ago when I went through my whole Ginger Rogers obsession. Bundle of Joy, on the other hand, was a new discovery. When I started watching it, I didn’t realize it was a straight-up remake with singing.

If you’re unfamiliar, both Bachelor Mother and Bundle of Joy follow Polly Parrish, (Ginger Rogers and Debbie Reynolds, respectively), a department store clerk. On Christmas, she gets fired. While looking for a job, she sees a baby on the doorstep and after picking it up for a moment, is mistaken as its mother. No matter what she does, she can’t seem to convince anyone that it’s not her baby. Then David Merlin (David Niven and Eddie Fisher, respectively), the heir to the department store, gets involved and their screwball romance begins.

So, in honor of Debbie Reynolds and because I can’t get enough of Ginger Rogers, I thought it’d be fun to compare and contrast the two films, both their flaws and their charms:

Casting, Casting, Casting

Polly Parrish

In the original film, Ginger Rogers played the Polly Parrish role. Rogers was apparently unsure when signing on to the film, afraid that the film lacked a “dramatic honesty.” After being assured that was not the case, she took the leap and the film grew on her.

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Her hat! Anyone else obsessed?

Debbie Reynolds was just 24 years old when she took on the part and she was both married and months pregnant. Still, that didn’t stop her from giving the part her all. Her appeal is what makes the remake worthwhile.

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So true! ALWAYS ENCHANTING!

The Young Mr. Merlin

David Niven played the young David Merlin in the 1939 film while Debbie’s beau and famous crooner, Eddie Fisher, took on the part in the remake. For Niven, the film marked his first romantic leading role and he is fantastic in it! His sophisticated British sensibility makes for fun when he’s a bumbling, foolish man in love.

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OH, David Niven. ❤ ❤ ❤

On the other hand, Eddie Fisher is quite unremarkable in the remake. Beyond being a handsome guy and having a great voice, his acting leaves a little something to be desired.

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lol, they couldn’t say much for his acting though…

Additionally, Charles Coburn, who I discussed in my article about The More the Merrier, plays the senior Mr. Merlin and as usual, steals the show!

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You tell ’em, Charles!

The Scripts/Music

So, Bachelor Mother was penned by Robert Krasna, but was actually adapted from a story by Felix Jackson. Although the concept is quite ludicrous, the quippy dialogue is what brings the film to life! You’re willing to go along with it because the characters feel true and you’re too busy laughing to think about how nonsensical it is, not to mention, a bit misogynistic (I mean, c’mon, it’s okay that she keeps the baby because she’s now got a man! Hmph!).

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Ginger’s expressions are also HILARIOUS.

On the other hand, even though Bundle of Joy did have a script penned by Robert Carson and Arthur Sheekman, I wonder that they even went through the effort. Robert Krasna is also given a writing credit, which makes sense, considering it’s the EXACT SAME SCRIPT. I’m not kidding. Beyond adding new musical numbers, this remake did nothing to change the way the story unfolds. The dialogue is verbatim.

But, some of the songs are not bad and this one may be its best.

The Direction

Garson Kanin, who had a hand in great screwball comedies like The More the Merrier and Adam’s Rib, directed Bachelor Mother. Perhaps because of those films, he understood the sensibility better. The film flows and is first and most importantly, an entertaining ride.

Norman Taurug, who directed Bundle of Joy, also had an impressive resume with Mad About Music, which was a Deanna Durbin film, and Girl Crazy. Perhaps the real reason the remake is lesser than the original is because it was conceived as a star-vehicle. Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds had just married and Reynolds gave birth to Carrie around the time of the film’s release. It provided a way to sell the film, but not much seemed to go into creating something original and unique, which Bachelor Mother certainly was.

The Final Report

No question, Bachelor Mother is by far superior. It was made in 1939, which is objectively one of the greatest years in film. Ginger and David carry the film with ease and you go on their journey, buying into it and feeling happy to be there!

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#SWOON

Bundle of Joy, while certainly extremely flawed, is still worth watching, if only to see Debbie Reynolds at 24, singing and dancing and living with grace, poise, and grit. The songs don’t always make sense, but they’re entertaining too.

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There are moments when you’re like, “Aw they’re so cute together.” Then, you remember that two years later Eddie dumped Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor and you’re just MAD.

Vintage Trailers Below:

 

Bachelor Mother and Bundle of Joy Gifs property of RKO Pictures.