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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A Matter of Life and Death (PG)

Peter D. carter director: Emeric Pressburger,Michael Powell
cast: David Niven,Kim Hunter,Marius Goring,Raymond Massey,Roger Livesey
duration: 104 minutes

A gratifying re-release with a new 35mm print for this 1946 hallucinatory satirical fantasy, written, directed and produced by the great English filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The story itself is a strange affair, although it remains powerful and affecting. RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) bales out of his flaming plane without a parachute into the foggy night. Instead of dying, he finds himself washed up on a beach where he's discovered by June (Kim Hunter), an attractive American air traffic controller with whom he falls in love.

However, as Carter suffers the effects of concussion, there is trouble in paradise. The number of admissions into Heaven don't tally up, and a celestial messenger (Marius Goring) is dispatched to get Carter and bring him back to the afterlife.

As complex brain surgery is performed upon the pilot by doctors on Earth, a huge trial is in progress in Heaven to judge whether he will live or die.

The bad news for Carter is that the prosecuting counsel is an anti-English American from the War of Independence (Raymond Massey).

Powell's depictions of Heaven (filmed in monochrome and featuring the memorable image of a heavenly escalator - constructed by London Transport) and Earth (rendered in dazzling colour) are both convincing and funny.

Powell and Pressburger delight in taking sly pot shots at national stereotyping and the political arguments that would shape the post-war world, while evoking a quintessentially English romanticism.

With brilliantly judged playing from the entire cast, 'A Matter Of Life And Death' is a sublime delight from start to finish. If you remain unmoved, you're already dead.

review by Ian Johnston

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