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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Original at The Onion A.V. Club

Stairway To Heaven

Hard-to-find and practically lost movies have a tendency to inspire fetishization over the years; the longer the time out of circulation, the greater the degree of reverence. It's much easier to inflate the worth of something unseen--if White Dog ever surfaces again, will anyone be able to look at it evenly?--than something kicking around in the public eye for years. Consequently, it's something of a relief that, after only occasional showings at art houses over the years, the full-scale release of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1946 fantasy Stairway To Heaven (British title: A Matter Of Life And Death) doesn't disappoint. David Niven plays a British World War II pilot who, in the film's breathless opening sequence, announces to an American radio operator (Kim Hunter) the impossibility of his return from a bombing mission. He disembarks from the plane without a parachute, awaiting certain death ... which doesn't come. Waking up confused on an English beach, he finds Hunter, falls in love, and soon finds himself pleading his right to remain alive before not-always-sympathetic heavenly officials. The writer/director team's unwillingness to clarify where fantasy ends and reality begins, and an inspired depiction of earth (stunning Technicolor) and heaven (crisp, vaguely totalitarian black-and-white), help make Stairway To Heaven a successful movie. Charming performances help as well, smoothing over some of the clunkier elements, such as an extended debate over the value of England that seems a bit too provincial given the movie's celestial scope. Stairway To Heaven is an ambitious, enjoyable, often beautifully romantic work that should be seen, now that the mist of obscurity has lifted. --Keith Phipps

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