A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (1946): Powell and Pressburger

Written, produced and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, A Matter of Life and Death is a charming British fantasy-romance, starring David Niven and Kim Hunter.

A Matter of Life and Death
A Matter of Life and Death Cinema Poster.jpg

UK Poster

Our Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

The film was originally released in the U.S. under the title “Stairway to Heaven,” which derived from the tale’s most prominent special effect, a broad escalator linking Earth to the afterlife.

The directors decided to shoot the scenes of the Other World in black-and-white. They were filmed in Three-strip Technicolor, but color was not added during printing, giving a pearly hue to the black and white shots, a process cited as “Colour and Dye-Monochrome Processed in Technicolor,” thus reversing the effect in the 1939 fantasy fable, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Photographic dissolves between “Technicolor Dye-Monochrome” (the Other World) and Three-Strip Technicolor (Earth) are used throughout the film.

The film boasts a subtle charm, and mature sense of humor, and its visual virtuosity was undeniable especially when initially released.

Reflecting the zeitgeist of the post WWII era, Stairway to Heaven tapped into the experiences many individuals of loss of loved ones, offering comfort and consolation.

Critical Status:

A Matter of Life and Death is noted for being the first ever Royal Film Performance on November 1, 1946 at the Empire Theater in London.

This fantasy has become sort of a Christmas classic and essential viewing for movie lovers.

In 1999, A Matter of Life and Death was placed as the 20th selection on the British Film Institute’s list of Best 100 British films.

It ranked 90th among critics, and 322nd among directors, in the 2012 Sight & Sound polls of the greatest films ever made.


David Niven as Squadron Leader Peter David Carter
Kim Hunter as June
Roger Livesey as Dr. Frank Reeves
Kathleen Byron as an Angel
Richard Attenborough as an English Pilot
Bonar Colleano as an American Pilot
Joan Maude as Chief Recorder
Marius Goring as Conductor 71
Robert Coote as Flying Officer Bob Trubshawe
Robert Atkins as the Vicar
Bob Roberts as Dr. Gaertler
Edwin Max as Dr. Mc Ewan
Betty Potter as Mrs. Tucker, Reeves’ housekeeper
Raymond Massey as Abraham Farlan
Abraham Sofaer as The Judge

Produced, written, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Narrated by John Longden
Music by Allan Gray
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by Reginald Mills
Production company: The Archers, J. Arthur Rank
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films (UK)
Release date:  November 1, 1946 (UK premiere), December 15, 1946 (UK general)
Running time: 104 minutes



I had a chance to refresh my memory and notes, when TCM showed the movie on June 20, 2020.