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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Classic Film Review: A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A Matter of Life and Death tells the story of flyer Peter Carter (David Niven), a man who knows he's heading for death as his plane is going down and he has no parachute. He reports his situation to June (Kim Hunter), an American radio operator, and they spend a few moments talking before he bails out of the plane. Unfortunately, the conductor (Marius Goring) sent to escort him to heaven loses him in the fog and Carter finds himself instead on the beach where he reunites with June. When asked, he refuses to meekly carry on his journey to heaven and appeals against the date of his death. In the 'real' world Dr Reeves (Roger Livesey) tries to save him from the hallucinations but the matter will only be solved after the appeal.

Needless to say, this film certainly deserves its reputation. It's witty, intelligent and both lovingly acted and directed. David Niven, one of the most reliable leading men of the era for me, is excellent, never too melodramatic in a film that could easily stray too far along that spectrum. Equally, Kim Hunter is beautifully reserved as June, creating a love story that the audience wants to see succeed. In fact, perhaps the word to describe this film is 'quiet', though I mean it in the best possible sense. It's quietly wonderful and delicately assembled.

The use of black and white for the heaven sequences and vivid colour for the rest is an inspired decision, particularly when, towards the end, we then get the crossover between the two. The film also uses silence effectively when the conductor appears and freezes everything. Probably my favourite scene was between Carter and the conductor as they sit on the heavenly escalator discussing potential counsels for the defence, primarily because of the dialogue. You can see this film as an easy fantasy and enjoy it that way or you can really immerse yourself in the dialogue and live every word and historical reference.

Unquestionably, this is a film I'll watch again at some point - and no doubt more than once. A classic deserving of the title.


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