A Matter of Life and Death is a film by the British writer-director-producer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film was originally released in U.S. under the title Stairway to Heaven, which was derived from the film's most prominent special effect: a broad escalator linking the other world and Earth. Reversing the convention of The Wizard of Oz, the supernatural scenes are in black-and-white, while the ones on Earth are in Technicolor.
Peter should have died at that time, but doesn't because of a mistake on the part of Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), the guide sent from the "other world" to collect him. They miss each other in the thick fog over the English Channel. Instead, Peter wakes up the next day on a beach near June's base, and is completely bewildered when he finds he is alive and not in some afterlife.
Peter meets June who is cycling back from her night shift, and the pair fall in love. Conductor 71 (a French aristocrat executed during the French Revolution) appears to Peter, stopping time to explain the situation and to convince him to accept his fate. Peter refuses and demands that the matter be appealed. While Conductor 71 goes to consult his superiors, Peter continues to live his life.
On Earth, Peter's visions of Conductor 71 are diagnosed by June's fascinated friend Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) as a symptom of a rapidly progressing brain injury – chronic adhesive arachnoiditis from a concussion two years earlier – and he is scheduled for surgery. When Reeves is killed while riding his motorcycle through the storm, trying to find the ambulance coming to bring Peter to the hospital, his arrival in the other world allows him to plead Peter's case, arguing that, through no fault of Peter's, he has fallen in love and now has an earthly commitment which should take precedence over the afterlife's claim on him.
The matter comes to a head – mirroring the outcome of the brain surgery Peter is undergoing – before a celestial court of the whole population of the afterlife – the camera zooms out from an amphitheatre to reveal that it is as large as a spiral galaxy. The prosecutor is American Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey), who hates the British for causing his death in the American Revolutionary War.
Reeves challenges the composition of the jury which is made up of representatives of countries and races prejudiced by their experiences of the British. The jury is replaced by a cosmopolitan mixture of modern Americans whose origins mirror those they replace.
Reeves and Farlan both cite examples from British and world history to support their positions. In the end, Reeves has June take the stand (she is made to fall asleep in the "real" world by Conductor 71 so she can testify) and proves that she genuinely loves Peter by telling her that the only way to save his life is to take his place. She steps onto the stairway without hesitation and is carried away, leaving Peter behind. Then the stairway comes to an abrupt halt and June rushes back to Peter's open arms. As Dr. Reeves triumphantly remarks, "...nothing is stronger than the law in the universe, but on Earth, nothing is stronger than love."
The jury rules in Peter's favour. The Judge (Abraham Sofaer) shows Reeves and Farlan the new lifespan granted to the defendant; Reeves calls it "very generous", and Farlan reluctantly agrees to it. The scene then shifts to the operating room, where the surgery is declared a success and the surgeon is revealed to be The Judge.
The film had an extensive pre-production period due to the complexity of the production:
The huge escalator linking this world with the other, called "Operation Ethel" by the firm of engineers who constructed her under the aegis of the London Passenger Transport Board, took three months to make and cost £3,000 (in 1946). "Ethel" had 106 steps each wide and was driven by a 12 h.p. engine. The full shot was completed by hanging miniatures.
Because the rest of the film was in Technicolor, there was a nine-month wait for film stock and Technicolor cameras, since they were being used by the US Army to make training films.
The decision to film the scenes of the "other world" in black and white added to the complications. Where they merge from black and white to colour they are filmed in Technicolor but the colour isn't fully developed giving a pearly hue to the black & white shots.
Other sequences also presented challenges, such as the stopped action table-tennis game (for which Kim Hunter and Roger Livesey were trained by champions Alan Brooke and Viktor Barna), the scene where David Niven washes up on the beach, the first scene filmed, where cinematographer Jack Cardiff fogged up the camera lens with his breath to create the look he wanted, and the long (25 minute) trial sequence, the set for which required a long by high backcloth.
The architecture of the other world is noticeably modernist; vast and open plan, with huge circular observation holes beneath which the clouds of Earth can be seen. This vision was later the inspiration for the design of a bus station in Walsall, England, by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, and the film's amphitheatre court scene was rendered by BT in a TV advertisement in about 2002 as a metaphor for communication technology, especially the Internet.
FOLLOWING A SIMILAR SCRIPT ENERGETIC FIRST-YEAR HEAD FOOTBALL COACHES PAT FITZGERALD OF NORTHWESTERN AND BRET BIELEMA OF WISCONSIN SHARE AN AGGRESSIVE AND ENTHUSIASTIC APPROACH.(SPORTS)(MIKE LUCAS)(Column)
Oct 02, 2006; Byline: Mike Lucas Pat Fitzgerald took a detour from the normal coachspeak on last Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference. Before...