Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Bogdanovich Challenge: Week Twelve


Heaven Can Wait, released August 11, 1943.

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Starring Gene Tierney, Don Ameche and Charles Coburn.

"One of the master's most wonderful and representative films, one that should be seen by anybody who craves real quality or needs to be convinced that there has been a general dumbing down of our popular entertainment, is Lubitsch's penultimate film. Appropriately, the 1943 Techniolor production HEAVEN CAN WAIT is a look at the inevitability of death and a meditation on the rewards and punishments of the afterlife, all part of a funny and profoundly human chronicle of an unimportant man's life."


A wonderful, charming and poignant look at growing old and mortality.

Henry van Cleeve (Don Ameche) finds himself at the Gates of Hell, face-to-face with His Excellency, arguing not why he should be spared an eternity of brimstone and hellfire, but instead why he should be admitted. The only way he knows how is to tell the tale of his life; which he begins as a spoiled, pampered child of privilege; bribing young girls with beetles and sipping champagne with his family's French-maid. Oh, and at twenty-six, he steals away his cousin's fiance, Martha (Gene Tierney), running off to elope on the very same day they met.

Love, in the truest sense of the word, manages to change Henry from a womanizing cad to a loyal husband and father. But there's still a lingering presence of his former silver-tongued self, which begins to emerge more and more as his hair begins to grey and his tummy begins to grow. Despite the occasional missteps, however, Martha stands by her husband's side.

Until the day she dies.

Leaving poor Henry alone with his son, Jack, and eventually his son's wife. Nearly two decades pass by in a flash, giving us only a few glimpses into the loneliness and pathos of a man who has always had a difficult time with growing older and his eventual demise. Perhaps it's because he feels like he deserves an eternity in Hell, away from the people who he loved and who loved him in return. A vague guilt for past indiscretions that he'd already been forgiven for.

Or it could be that Henry simply loved life too much to want to slow down, to watch years waste away to nothing in silence. It certainly explains why, on his death-bed, he still dreamed of young, beautiful blonde girls and a river of whiskey and turning away Death for appearing in a canoe and not a luxury cruise-liner.

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