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This is a 1946 movie, starring David Niven and Kim Hunter. Niven (who is outstanding here), plays Peter Carter, a British airman in World War II, who jumps out of his burning plane, to – he believes – certain death. In his last moments, he makes radio contact with an American woman (Hunter) working for the American Air Force. When he wakes up, he thinks he is in heaven, but realises that despite the odds, he has actually survived the fall. He meets June, the woman he was talking to on the radio and they fall in love. But in the afterworld, Peter’s presence is awaited – he was not supposed to survive the jump and only did so because Conductor 71 – a being employed to bring souls to heaven – missed Peter. Peter then has to take part in a celestial trial to fight for the right to remain alive and on earth…

The storyline sounds like something straight out of science fiction, and in a way it is, but this film is so much more than that. I was captivated from the start, and will certainly be watching this film again (and again). David Niven is perfect as Peter – conveying his new found love and affection, his utter bewilderment when Conductor 71 arrives to take him to the afterlife (never referred to as ‘heaven’), and his anger at his life being taken away from him just when he has met someone he wants to share it with.

Kim Hunter – largely unknown at the time of this film – is lovely as June. She brings humour to the role, and such vulnerability. Excellent support is provided by Marius Goring as Conductor 71 – who alternates between being hilarious and slightly creepy; and Roger Livesey, as a Doctor who tries to help Peter and June.

The film used colour to great effect – life on earth is shown in normal colour, but the afterlife is shown in black and white. Indeed, the afterlife seems a dull, monotonous place to reside, and the message which I took away from the film was that we should treasure our life on earth while we have it – it’s all we can be sure of, after all.

This film was originally made due to a request from the Ministry of Defence, who wanted to emphasise the importance of British and American cohesion and mutual respect (at the time it was made there was hostility between the two countries, and this does tend to come through in some of the trial scenes). However, it clearly transcended it’s original purpose. This is a lovely moving film, with humour and pathos, and it is very thought provoking; additionally the note-perfect cast make this a joy to see.

If you haven’t seen this film before now, don’t miss out any longer!

Year of release: 1946

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Main cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey

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