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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Screen imagery wins points for 'Stairway to Heaven'
Michael Wilmington
Chicago Tribune

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1946 "Stairway to Heaven" (****), opening for a week-long revival at the Music Box, is a cinematic dazzler, perhaps the most characteristic film of their scintillatingly offbeat oeuvre.

Set in a small British village, an RAF bas and heaven itself - conceived by the great art director Alfred Junge as a realm of modernistic office buildings and vast amphitheaters linked to Earth by a huge moving marble staircase - it's the nearest British equivalent to a U.S. postwar classic of the same year, "It's a Wonderful Life". If Capra's movie has the edge on sheer humor and emotion, "Stairway to Heaven" wins points on its memorable and fantastic screen imagery.

In the movie, David Niven's doomed pilot, Peter Carter - who is like the real-life Rupert Brooke, a warrior-poet - falls in love with the American WAC, June (Kim Hunter), whose voice is the last he hears before crashing near the coast.

But there's a catch. Peter is temporarily rescued after a heavenly snafu by the epicene French angel-aristocrat, Conductor 71 (played with campy relish by Marius Goring), setting up a huge celestial hearing on whether the mistake should be made permanent and Peter allowed his borrowed life. And since, on Earth, a team of doctors are battling to rescure Peter with a brain operation, we're free to wonder (as we can with "Wonderful Life") whether the whole thing isn't delusion.

"Stairway to Heaven" - called "A Matter of Life and Death" in Britain - was director Powell's favourie of all the "Archers"films; writer Pressburger preferred "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp". That makes sense; "Blimp" is their best, most ambitious script, "Stairway" their most prodigious visual spectacle. It's a film full of the delightful kitsch, bravura entertainment and cinematic magic that, for some, are what movies are made for. It's especially satisfying, once again, to see that great monochrome heaven and color Earth and to hear Conductor 71 sigh, as he shuttles between, "One is starved for Technicolor up there".

The Music Box is at 3733 N. Southport Ave. Call 312-871-6604

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