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Heaven Can Wait: The Criterion Collection (1943)

One of the most memorable films by the great Ernst Lubitsch, Heaven Can Wait (1943) concerns a philandering husband (Don Ameche) presenting himself to Satan (Laird Cregar) in the afterlife, asking for permission to enter Hell. Henry Van Cleve knows that he was a lout in life, and he's ready to face his fate — but the Devil insists on reviewing his case, and the two examine Van Cleve's life in retrospect. Raised mainly by his nutty grandfather (Charles Coburn), Henry's life was one of immense ease and privilege — especially where the ladies were concerned. His wooing and winning of proper young Martha (Gene Tierney) ought to have changed his roving ways, but Henry's one real gift was for attracting women, and it ultimately destroys his marriage. With the help of Grandpa, Henry wins back Martha, and then finds in middle age that his son has inherited his gift for philandering. Lubitsch's gift in Heaven Can Wait is for making the caddish Henry charming and sympathetic, and all of the master's trademark wit and sexual sophistication is on display here. One of the very best of the drawing-room comedies of the '40s, Lubitsch's light touch may lead viewers to underestimate the complexity and the mastery of his direction — the writing is brilliant, while the dialogue is delivered with precision and grace. Ameche is superb, playing Henry from young man to aging rooster, and Gene Tierney is, as always, charming and beautiful. The Criterion Collection does their usual excellent job, offering a newly restored high-definition transfer of Heaven Can Wait that's rich, clean, and lovely to look at, restoring the original saturated Technicolor goodness to this classic. The monaural Dolby Digital audio is exquisite. Extras include a passionate conversation on the picture between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, a 1982 episode of the PBS series "Creativity with Bill Moyers" on screenwriter Samson Raphaelson (29 min.); an "audio seminar" with Raphaelson and film critic Richard Corliss recorded at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1977; four recorded minutes of Lubitsch playing the piano; the theatrical trailer; and stills. There's also an enclosed booklet containing a new essay by film scholar William Paul. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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