Heaven Can Wait (1943)

by | Jul 15, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring: Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn
Studio: Fox/The Criterion Collection
Video: 1.33:1 4:3 full screen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Video conversation between film critics Andrew Sarris and Molly
Haskell, 1983 Bill Moyers PBS program exploring life of screenwriter
Samson Raphaelson, Audio seminar with Raphaelson and film critic
Richard Corliss recorded in l977, Home piano recordings of Lubitsch,
Original theatrical trailer, Essay in booklet by William Paul
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: ****

Lubitsch’ Heaven Can Wait was his first color film and continued his
reputation for urbane and sophisticated social satire which he had
begun in his native Germany in the 1920s.  The film got him his
second Oscar nomination. He took a different tack from the directors of
the screwball comedies; his style was more serious and thoughtful, but
not lacking in wit.

The film opens with just-deceased playboy Henry Van Cleve visiting
Satan’s office and asking to enter Hell.  Satan is not sure he
qualifies and asks him to recount his life, which he does. He spent it
wooing and pursuing women, but although movies were becoming more
realistic and down to earth at this period, there is only the most
subtle suggestion of a Don Juan-type lifestyle.  He is never found
abed with a woman, just coming home to his mansion early in the morning
in formal attire and top hat. Women today would probably not be pleased
with the easy acceptance of Henry’s dalliances – right up into his 60s
– by his wife.

The discussions in the extras reveal that there was hesitation in some
quarters of Fox at casting Ameche, with his good-natured ordinariness,
as the philandering main character. Lubitsch felt this was exactly what
he wanted – to have his hero be a person interested only in good
living, with no aim of accomplishing anything or doing something
noble.  It allowed him to make things of little consequence
dramatically important in themselves. There is more family interaction
in this film than Lubitsch normally did – most of his previous films
were about a single person without family – such as Dietrich.  The
life of Henry, a man who didn’t amount to very much, represented
America and its history.  Though taking place in New York City, it
still fit in well with the focus of many Fox films of the period on
heartwarming looks at small-town Americana.

The many extras will round out one’s understanding of this classic
film.  The recollections of her father from Lubtisch’s daughter
and their home movies are especially entertaining; she also introduces
the home recordings of Lubtsch at the piano. (He even happily took over
at the keyboard when George Gershwin was a guest!) Raphaelson’s dialog
is wonderful; after viewing the whole film I went back to repeat a
scene between Henry and his wife which could have been straight out of
G.B. Shaw.   Lubitsch’s use of color is skilled, and the
cinematography is excellent. Criterion’s restoration of the original
film is superb,  with great detail and depth and very few spots
and blemishes visible.

– John Sunier 

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