Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Movie of the Week – A Matter of Life and Death

This week’s movie: A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

Peter Carter is a British pilot who has effectively been shot down during a bombing raid over Germany. In the last moments of his life as he crosses the English Channel alone (his plane on fire and he without a working parachute), Peter contacts a flight tower to say goodbye. On the other end of the radio is June, a young American woman. Though there have never met and never will meet, Peter and June have a moment. Peter decides to bail out rather than burn alive. Meanwhile in Heaven, another member of Peter’s crew awaits his arrival. But Peter never shows. Miraculously, Peter awakens on an English beach unharmed. Realizing where he is, Peter hurries to intercept June on her way home. Dumbfounded by his survival, they both fall into each other’s arms. However, there has been a mix-up in Heaven. Peter was supposed to die; only his angel lost him in the heavy fog. However, now Peter has a new reason to live. He is in love. Now, he must argue his case to stay on Earth, alive. If he wins, he can stay on Earth a bit longer. If he loses, he must pass on to Heaven where he rightfully belongs.

A Matter of Life and Death is one of the Archers’ (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressbuger) greatest films. They worked with frequent collaborators composer Allan Gray, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and production designer Alfred Junge.

It stars David Niven and Kim Hunter (who got an audition at the suggestion of Alfred Hitchcock), with great supporting work from frequent Archers’ cast members Kathleen Byron, Roger Livesey, and Marius Goring, as well as supporting work from Raymond Massey.

The opening scene in A Matter of Life and Death, featuring David Niven (as Peter) telling Kim Hunter (as June) goodbye from his burning bomber, is one of the greatest in cinema history. That scene alone is enough to make this film a classic, but the Archers do so much more with the material. The film is shot in both Technicolor (for Earth) and Black & White (for Heaven), and features wonderful production design. It explores the power of love and the consequences of war (being released just after the end of WWII). In many ways it is an anti-war film. It is a must-see for fans of the Archers, as well as those interested in cinematography, production design, and great classic films from the 1940s.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

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