"Oh, give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet, My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory (hope's true gage,)
And then I'll take my pilgrimage."
(an extract from Pilgrimages to Saint Mary of Walsingham and Saint Thomas of Canterbury)
With these words David Niven entrance the first scene of "A Matter of Life and Death" as Peter Cartes - a British Royal Air Force pilot and a soldier in World War II. He's stuck in a badly damaged plane burning in flames without a parachute. Being aware of the fact that there is no way of rescue and he needs to face the death, we hear his voice over the phone, sending a goodbye note to his mother. The person to receive the messages is June (Kim Hunter) - a beautiful American radio operator based in England. Before Peter decides to jump off the plane he's trying to get to know the person, whose voice is the last to be heard. June tells him "I could love a men like you, Peter" and that is when the love story begins. Peter wakes up the next day on a beach near June's base. They run into each other and immediately fall deeply in love. It could have been a beautiful love story if it weren't for the fact that Peter was not intended to live. It turns out that Heaven has made an error and they are still waiting for him to show up there. Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) is sent to fetch him back and he gets in the way of their love.
"The British title of this film was "A Matter of Life and Death" and when the Americans retitled it "Stairway to Heaven" Powell wrote in his autobiography, he felt they had missed the point. But "Stairway to Heaven" may be a more expressive title, and certainly there is a stairway in the film, part of the incredible contribution of production designer Alfred Junge, who also provides one of the most spectacular shots in movie history, a view of heaven's underside: Vast holes in the sky with tiny people peering down over the edges. The heavenly scenes are shot in black and white, and the movie is filled with technical tricks, as when "real life" freezes while spirits leave their bodies."
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