Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Release year: 1943
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenwriter: Samson Raphaelson, Leslie Bush-Fekete (play)
Starring: Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Eugene Pallette
Ratings: 3 Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #159, week 27 2017
Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) has died and instead of going to Heaven he steps into the door of the devil’s (Laid Cregar) office. His Excellency is not convinced Henry belongs in Hell and asks for his story and so he tells of his life and, no less, the women in it.
Based on the play ‘Birthday’, Ernst Lubitsch’s (The Shop Around the Corner, 1940) charming movie tells of a man’s seemingly sins with great warmth. Led by a sentimental Ameche (Cocoon, 1985) the movie is filled with great support characters, who bring humour into this sweet story of life and love. Henry is sly and manipulative but Ameche plays him with so much likability, that it is impossible not to feel sympathy and forgive him everything. He is in almost every scene and whether young and wild or showing an evident calmness as older, Ameche never fails to convince as we follow his character through the ages. Next to him is a stunning looking Tierney (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947) playing his with tender. The two share great screen chemistry and even through hard times, the connection between the two characters are felt. Watching the story about the love of Henry and Martha would make a decent movie alone, but where Heaven Can wait is lifted to the classic it is, is with its excellent support characters. First and most is Grandpa Van Cleeve. Played with delight by a Coburn (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953) with a twinkle in his eyes, his appetite for life and playfulness is impossible not to smile at and he is one of those characters you can’t seem to get enough of. Martha’s parents are played with stiff lips by Pallette (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939) and Main (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944) and their breakfast scene together with a terrific and uncredited Clarence Muse (Shadow of a Doubt) as their hard-tested butler is easily the funniest scene in the movie. It is also worth mentioning Cregar (The Lodger, 1944) whose towering height is a perfect match for the devil especially since Cregar plays him with charm and a menacing look in his eyes, making him the most convincing Devil you will ever be unable to resist liking. The story moves along in a nice and steady page, there is never made a big thing about any deaths, often just letting characters disappear through time, keeping the focus on what it is: Henry’s story. But as his life was filled with great people and he himself is irresistible, so is this highly underrated movie that truly deserves to be seen by many more.
Don Ameche has mentioned this movie as his own personal favourite of all the movie he made.
Though there is another movie named Heaven Can Wait from 1978, the two are not from the same origin, as the 1978 movie is a remake of the 1941 movie ‘Here Comes Mr. Jordan’. Both movies were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
The film takes place on October 25, 1872, in 1881, in 1887, from October 25 to October 26, 1898, in October 1908, in October 1923, in October 1932 and on October 26, 1942.
Picture copyrights: SF Film