Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Matter of Life and Death, A

(vt Stairway to Heaven US) UK movie (1946). Archers. Pr Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. Dir Powell, Pressburger. Spfx Percy Day, Henry Harris, Douglas Woolsey. Screenplay Powell, Pressburger. Novelization A Matter of Life and Death * (1946) by Eric Warman. Starring Marius Goring (Conductor 71), Kim Hunter (June), Roger Livesey (Dr Frank Reeves), Raymond Massey (Abraham Farlan), David Niven (Squadron Leader Peter David Carter). 104 mins. Colour and duotone b/w.

May 2, 1945. Carter's bomber is ablaze in thick fog over the English Channel; he radios to operator June that he will bale out parachuteless rather than burn alive. In Heaven there is consternation: Conductor 71, who should have retrieved Carter's Soul, lost him in the fog, with the result that Carter survives. Conductor 71 is sent to fetch him. But Carter refuses to come, having now fallen in love with June. Carter describes his experience to June; they and local GP Reeves attribute the affair to brain damage. In a second visit Conductor 71 tells Carter an appeal against his death will be heard in three days' time, with anglophobe Abraham Farlan (the first American killed by an English bullet in 1775) as prosecutor. To Reeves, mundanely, Carter's report of this is evidence he is approaching a neurological crisis: it is thus psychiatrically important that Carter "win his case". Conductor 71, a Trickster, tries to lure Carter up the great moving stairway to the Afterlife by devious means. Reeves is killed in a motorcycle crash, and is thus able to be Carter's defence lawyer at the trial, held in a galaxy-sized courtroom. The case hinges on the fact that the grief caused by separating Carter from June would be the responsibility of the celestial Records Office, for without the latter's slip-up the pair would never have met and fallen in love – but how deep is that love? The court descends the moving stairway to Earth to interrogate the two; as it is immediately evident they would die for each other, Carter is given a new lease of life.

Owing much to Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) but produced on a hugely more lavish scale, AMOLAD is presented as a Rationalized Fantasy: it is stated at the outset that the "other world" depicted is purely a product of Carter's Perception – and, by implication, that the supernatural events are indeed an Allegory of brain illness. The use of duotone b/w for heavenly scenes and colour for terrestrial ones works well; on coming to Earth the flamboyantly romantic Conductor 71 observes gratefully, "One is starved for Technicolor up there." The only real flaw in this affecting piece of first-rate schmaltz is that such a weak case is presented for the prosecution. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.