14 December 2017



'This is the story of two worlds, the one we know and another which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life and imagination have been violently shaped by war. Any resemblance to any other world, known or unknown, is purely coincidental.'

This is the perfect Christmas movie even though, technically speaking, there's no mention of Christmas in it whatsoever. And yet, to me, it's a festive a film as, say, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or THE GLENN MILLER STORY. It's just so very old and classic and it still looks so visually beautiful after all these years.

Not a single one of its stars is alive today (as far as I know!) but this film pretty much guarantees their immortality. I've had the pleasure of viewing this film twice now on the big screen and, seeing the characters on-screen, doing their thing as large as life itself, had the result of imprinting them indelibly on my memory. As if I could ever forget them...!

David Niven plays Squadron Leader Peter Carter, an RAF pilot who comes a cropper after a mission over Germany. As his plane descends over England, he manages to grab a few minutes of truly touching conversation with an American radio operator called June.

When he's giving her the message to relate to his mother after he's died, I always bawl my eyes out. It's just too terribly sad, but it's also sweet and heart-warming that Peter gets to spend his last moments on Earth talking to a genuinely lovely, caring, good-hearted girl like June, who just so happens to be easy on the eye as well, haha. When the radio contact is lost, both June and the viewers assume the worst...

Peter wakes up on an English beach near June's base, staggered to find himself still alive. He even meets June herself cycling back to her lodgings after her shift. They fall immediately in love (as if they didn't already love each other wildly after the conversation over the airwaves!) and the future seems rosy for the young couple.

A fly in the ointment appears in the form of Conductor 71, marvellously played by Marius Goring. A French aristocrat who 'lost his head' to Madame Le Guillotine during the French Revolution, he's actually a heavenly emissary whose job it is to conduct dead souls to the Afterlife, which is famously depicted in the film in stark black-and-white. It's like a colossal sort of reception room where you can check in but- that's right!- you can never leave...

He's come to take Peter, who was meant to have died yesterday when his plane came down, up to this Afterlife of his but Peter gets argumentative. It's not my fault you missed me yesterday, he tells the nattily togged-out Conductor. It wasn't mine either, argues back Conductor 71. It was your bloody pea-souper of a thick English fog that caused me to miss you.

And now I've fallen in love, adds Peter hotly, and no way am I going... up there... with you now, not now I've found the gal of my dreams. Can't I appeal my case? The Conductor acknowledges the difficulties and delicacy of Peter's situation, and goes back upstairs to the Afterlife to check with his superiors. The upshot of his enquiries is as follows.

Peter will be allowed to appeal his case in front of a celestial court, up there in the Afterlife. He's allowed to choose anyone who's ever lived- and died- to represent him in court, while appearing against him will be the American Abraham Farlan. Farlan's apparently got it in for the British for making him Casualty Numero Uno of the American Revolutionary War.

Peter chooses June's good friend, a Dr. Frank Reeves, a learned man indeed, as his own counsel. The case is heard 'upstairs,' as it were, in the gigantic courtroom of the Afterlife. A
gallery of literally millions of deceased spectators, all marvellously togged-out in period costumes from the eras in which they lived, watch closely as Farlan takes on Dr. Reeves in a rather funny game of 'my country is better than your country,' which includes the replacing of an entire jury because they might have been prejudiced against the British...!

It's up to the jury to establish if Peter and June have really fallen in love and if Peter, consequently, deserves an extra stretch of time on Earth in order to pursue the romance. Raymond Massey as Farlan and Abraham Sofaer as the Judge each do superb jobs in their respective roles. Be prepared to cry buckets as the verdict is read out. Hankies at the ready, folks...

The celestial elevator up to the Afterlife, or 'Stairway To Heaven' as it's become known, is a terrifyingly vast and impressive sight when viewed on the big screen. It's lined with gigantic statues of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Beethoven, Chopin, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Michaelangelo, Muhammad, Moses, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare, King Solomon and Jonathan Swift.

These are the great men of history, the men from which Peter is free to choose someone to represent him. Even though Peter ultimately chooses someone much less famous, as we've mentioned already, I genuinely think it's the most awesome and spectacular thing you'll see in any classic movie ever. It literally gives me the chills every time I see it.

And as for the Afterlife, when the Chief Recorder and Flying Officer Bob Trubshawe are looking down from up there on the files of everyone who's ever lived on Earth, I get this feeling of absolute awe that I can't even describe at the sheer vastness of it all. 

You'd feel like an insignificant little speck in comparison with it, like you were only a teeny-tiny little blip in the massive and mysterious workings of the Universe. However, if you existed, you will have a file that confirms this. That's kind of a nice comforting thought. It proves you lived, that you mattered, even if only for a short time, and you'll live on in this file.

I'm not sure that any film ever has given us such a wonderful portrayal of the Afterlife. Make sure you find and watch this movie over Christmas this year. It'd be totally ideal viewing for the whole family, even that one cheerless Auntie who normally turns her nose up at everything. Again, find it and watch it. It's quite literally a matter of life and death...


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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