Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Heavens: Heaven Can Wait (1943)

It's funny how over time elements of a movie fade from memory. So much so that most of the particulars are forgotten. When the movie is seen again years later, the film feels brand new and fresh rather than familiar. It's as though those elements were pulled out of the memory vault and not only dusted off put thoroughly cleaned and shined until sparkly.

Watching Ernst Lubitsch' Heaven Can Wait (1943) recently, after a few years hiatus from my last viewing, felt like I had watched the film for the first time. Out of all the 5 heaven movies I'm reviewing (see original list here), this is the only one that actually involves the concept of heaven (and hell) as a place one goes after death. Henry Van Cleeve (Don Ameche) is at the gates of hell, where he expects to be, and his life is being reviewed by Satan, who is reluctant to let him in. What proceeds is a visual journey through the life and times of bad boy Cleeve, from infancy to death. The most moving part of his story is his relationship with his wife Martha (Gene Tierney). He steals her away from his cousin and they elope on his 26th birthday. They continue on to have a passionate and tumultuous marriage that is based on their intense love for one another.

I have to say, this was probably the worst film for me to watch at this stage of my life, as opposed to when I first saw it a few years back. Mortality has been ever-present on my mind lately and the thought of what happens when I die looms around me like a pesky mosquito that won't leave me be. Basically, I'm not in the right place right now to enjoy this film without being depressed by it. Maybe a few years from now, I can watch this film again with a different outlook. I'll put back the elements of this film in my memory vault and leave them there for now.

While most people will look forward to seeing Gene Tierney and Don Ameche in this film, I most enjoyed most of the other actors in the cast. They delighted me immensely when their presence graced the screen for a few or for numerous scenes. Those include Louis Calhern as the doting and befuddled father of Henry, Charles Coburn as the mischevious grandfather of Henry, Dickie Moore as the teenage Henry, Marjorie Main as Martha's stubborn mother and Eugene Pallette as Martha's equally stubborn father. Such a great ensemble of superb actors!

I really hope the title sequence panels for this movie were sewn by hand. Because that would be so cool!


  1. One of my favorites from Lubitsch. You didn't mention Laird Cregar as His Excellency (he is never addressed as Satan or the devil directly). I thought he added a touch of elegance.

    I may be alone as a Cregar fan. But he has one of the best movie names ever, and he was excellent in several choice roles: This Gun for Hire, I Wake Up screaming, The Lodger, and this. His career was limited by his size, and that led to a tragic end when his extreme measures to lose weight caused a premature death.

  2. Nice! This is a movie I will re-watch soon. I saw it when I was 20 and thought it was OK. With more life experience at 40 I believe it will be a smash this time! True about movies that seems to change over time.

  3. I've promised myself for years to watch this particular film, alas I haven't as of yet... After reading your review I absolutely must. Also because of Ernst Lubitsch being a favorite director of mine.

    I'm working on seeing all his movies, but I have so many other movie projects under my sleeve as well, it's hard to find the time.

  4. Great review Raquelle. I have found that the character actors often upstage the stars just because they are so captivating and engaging.

    I'll chime in with Brad K about Laird Cregar. He's so fascinating and yet could be so creepy (like in The Lodger). My favorite role of his is Sir Henry Morgan in The Black Swan. I can never get over how well he looks in the bandanna. :)

  5. Outside of To Be or Not To Be, Heaven Can Wait is my favourite Ernst Lubitsch picture. And like you, I enjoyed the supporting cast more than the leads, especially Marjorie Main. She was a truly great character actress, even in the later Ma and Pa Kettle movies!

  6. HCW is not my favourite Lubitsch- I saw it only fairly recently, and I'm pretty sure I found it fun all the same. Tho funnily enough I have a mental block and can't remember anything much about it, so it can't have struck that much of a chord with me..

    Have you seen A Matter of Life and Death? This I believe was released as Stairway to Heaven in the US, so would fit nicely into your series! I assume you have of course, but if not I recommend it.. and promise it's a more conventionally great movie than All This And Heaven Too (!)- is in many 'greatest film' lists etc.

  7. Brad K - To tell you the truth, I didn't know who Laird Cregar was. But thanks for informing me! What a sad story he had.

    Maiden - I hope you enjoy it, but in my post I explained that I had a hard time with this film.

    Casey - Too true. And like I said above, I didn't know Laird Cregar.

    Mercurie - Gotta love Marjorie Main. She lights up any film.

    Manwithoutastar- My series is only 5 movies all with "Heaven" in the title, but not necessarily dealing with heaven. Once I'm done with the 5, the series is closed. Onto the next!

    Jonas - I think you and my friend Frank are the only ones who really understood my post.

  8. Yes I know, but regardless of that, I would love to see it. Your review made me want to watch it because of the emotions it brought up in you. I love watching movies that can touch me in some way, or give a load full of emotions.

  9. A couple weeks back I had watched "Laura" with Gene Tierney and then I had saw clip from "Heaven Can Wait" and was instantly interested. This film sounds and looks fantastic. As soon as I see it at the library I'm picking it up!


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