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HEAVEN CAN WAIT
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.37:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 21, 2018

Here was a girl lying to her mother. Naturally that girl interested me at once.”

Film ***

If you’re thinking right off the bat, like I did, that 1943’s Heaven Can Wait is the film that inspired the popular Warren Beatty 1978 movie of the same name, you’d be wrong. Beatty’s film is indeed a remake, but of a 40s era comedy titled Here Comes Mr. Jordan. This film may carry the same title, but the premise couldn’t be any more different.

The film opens with the newly deceased Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) eagerly awaiting his entry into Hell. He claims to have lived a life full of sin, thus why he’s expecting to be allowed in the devil’s playground. However, much like getting into Heaven, you have to impress the man at the gates, who in this case is known as “His Excellency” (Laird Cregar).

Right away, he doesn’t seem to buy Henry’s willingness to get into Hell. This leads to him recalling his entire life of so called sin in order to gain full allowance into the fiery pits. And that is exactly what we see unfold before us in flashback.

And indeed, we do see Henry to be quite the playboy type. He does eventually come around to settling down with whom he finds to be the perfect woman, Martha (Gene Tierney), whom he does enter a certainly flawed marriage with. Nothing about Henry’s life seems to surprise His Excellency, but the manner in which he recollects it does in that he isn’t afraid to hold anything back.

Much like the standout works from Powell and Pressburger, the film’s most prized asset is its striking use of color. During the 1940s, many films were still being presented in Black and White, making the few films that were made in color to stand out in major ways. From beginning to end, the color palette strikes the visual senses completely, especially in the scenes of Hell’s gateway, which resembles a luxurious hotel lobby.

Director Ernst Lubitsch, who also helmed the wonderful To Be or Not to Be, presides over another comedy that relishes in classic charming and screwball sensibilities. It perfectly balances light farce with elegant romance. What really makes the film stand out is its boldness to make a light comedy out of the notion of waiting for one’s place in the underworld, especially during what was considered to be a strict time in Hollywood regarding including such subject matter.

Video ****

Criterion applies yet another glorious 4K restoration to this Blu-ray release, which breathes even more life to an already eye-gazing Technicolor presentation. Every element from the set designs to the costumes pop right off the screen in terms of color, making this a necessary upgrade for anyone who already owns the DVD release from 2005!

Audio ***

The Mono mix delivers exactly what one would expect for a dialogue oriented screwball comedy. Dialogue delivery is clean and persistent throughout the film and the occasional bits of music and background effects balance out perfectly well!

Features ***

Included on this Criterion Blu-ray is a conversation from 2005 between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, as well as an episode from 1982 of “Creativity with Bill Moyers” that looks at the life and career of screenwriter Samson Raphaelson. There’s also an audio seminar with Raphaelson and film critic Richard Corliss recorded at the Museum of Modern Art in 1977, Home recordings of director Ernst Lubitsch playing the piano, a Trailer and an insert featuring an essay by film scholar William Paul.

Summary:

Despite being a bit longer than it needs to be, Heaven Can Wait is a sharp and winning comedy with a supernatural twist. Criterion’s new Blu-ray release is a must own for fans, with a knockout presentation that must be seen to be believed!

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