Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Heaven Can Wait (1943) directed by Ernst Lubitsch (starring Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Eugene Pallette, Allyn Joslyn, Marjorie Main)

Heaven Can Wait (1943). Screenplay by Samson Raphaelson based on the play Birthday by Lazlo Bus-Fekete.

Don Ameche arrives at the gates of Hell ready to turn himself in for being so ruthless with women. "His Excellency," however, chooses first to hear his story. He finds that Ameche has not been any worse than anyone else (in fact most of his "crimes" were done in the name of love), and so sends him on his way up.

This is the story of Heaven Can Wait, yet another confection from director Ernst Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson (the duo responsible for the fantastic Trouble in Paradise).

Ameche and Gene Tierney give fine lead performances. However, the film is stolen out from under them by the supporting cast. Allyn Joslyn (The Horn Blows at Midnight) is perfectly pompous as cousin Albert, and Charles Coburn is a delight as always playing Ameche's lovable grandfather, charming and good for a laugh.

But the pair who rule this film are Tierney's parents, played by Eugene Pallette (My Man Godfrey) and Marjorie Main (best known as "Ma Kettle"). Their powerful voices fill the air with intimidating presence when they are together; and their dueling breakfast scene is the highlight of the picture.

Yes, the acting is terrific all around, but somehow it doesn't all fit together right. The ending is obvious from the start and so isn't at all satisfying. I was left thinking, "so what?" But at the same time, the performances were so good, I didn't want Heaven Can Wait to end, so it felt cut short.

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