Aging playboy Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) dies and dutifully heads directly to hell, where the lobby looks very similar to massive, marbled bank branch. The devil (Laird Cregar) greets Van Cleve, and agrees to hear his story before admitting him below. Thus the film proceeds backwards through the touchstones of Van Cleve’s life: his turbulent, silver-spoon-fed childhood and his marriage to the beautiful and mysterious Martha (Gene Tierney), and finally to his death bed. Through charming voiceover by Ameche, however, the film gives us ample reason to doubt his credentials for final entry into the abyss. The only film of Lubitsch’s distinguished career to be shot in glorious Technicolor, Heaven Can Wait is the kind of film for which the very idea of the Hollywood studio system came into being. “A film about time, lived time—the time that marches on, that ages, marked by the cycle of birthdays and anniversaries; and the time that doubles back, that echoes and remembers itself, thanks to those same, annual rituals. An infinitely melancholic and gorgeous movie.”—Adrian Martin, de Filmkrant.
Appears in: (Re)Discoveries: New Restorations, New Prints
Other Films by Ernst Lubitsch
Like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Lubitsch’s film was widely criticized upon release for trying to find laughs in Hitler’s assault on civilization and, in this case, the desperate and tragic situation in Poland. But on its 75th anniversary, it remains a black-humored classic and one of the most profound comedies ever made. Jack Benny and …