A Matter Of Life And Death

500 Days Of Film Reviews A Matter Of Life And Death Starring David Niven And Kim Hunter

After miraculously cheating death, World War Two pilot, Peter Carter (David Niven), falls in love with radio operator, June (Kim Hunter), and has to persuade a celestial court that he deserves a second chance at life.

Is It Any Good?

Over 70 years since its original theatrical release, A Matter Of Life And Death shows no signs of aging. It is a testament to the wonderful, magical work of legendary directors, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, that this film - originally conceived as a propaganda piece to improve Anglo-American wartime relations - feels utterly timeless.


From the film's visually stunning beginning - taking us on a journey across the universe - we are aware that A Matter Of Life And Death is dealing in space not time. Perhaps this is why so much of what happens in the movie feels as relevant today as it did in 1946.


Having arrived at our own planet, A Matter Of Life And Death (or AMOLAD as everyone on set called it) reveals a truly poignant scene. Peter Carter (a charismatic performance from David Niven) is speaking to radio operator, June, fully aware that these will be his very last words.


His plane is on fire and he will soon have to bail. The only trouble is that he doesn’t have a parachute. Only the hardest of hearts could be left unmoved by his predicament: “You’re life, June, and I’m leaving you.”



Of course, Peter survives. Finding himself on a beach miraculously unscathed from his fall, he meets June (a wonderful portrayal by Kim Hunter in her debut role) and the couple fall deeply in love. 


However, Peter is beset by disturbing visions - visions of a man called Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) who explains that he is only alive because of an admin error in the afterlife. An error that he has come to correct. Peter successfully maintains that he should have his day in celestial court to argue why he deserves a second chance at life. 


The scene thus set, Powell and Pressburger have free reign to tell their fantastical story and explore a number of universal themes including the futility of war (displayed in the row upon row of young people attending Peter's celestial court hearing), love and devotion, bravery and sacrifice, animosity and reconciliation. 


While AMOLAD is perhaps best known for its central romance (“We were born thousands of miles apart but we were made for each other”... sigh), the film is also thought-provoking, thrilling and really very funny (“I missed you because of your ridiculous English climate,” Conductor 71 tells Peter).


Meanwhile, Powell and Pressburger used all their (endlessly impressive) film-making expertise in this film. There are so many lovely, imaginative touches - from the escalator to the afterlife, to the golden bridge between one world and the next.


In addition, AMOLAD examines ideas of perception - whether panning out to display the breathtaking size and scope of the universe or narrowing in to show us the world through Peter’s eyes. 


The afterlife is also wonderfully envisioned by the directors. Their decision to film these scenes in black and white and the sequences among the living in technicolour was a stroke of absolute genius. The celestial plane is no less beautiful but life is all the more exquisite.


A Matter Of Life And Death really is an astounding film - a perfect movie and a masterpiece of cinema that rewards infinite re-watches and makes you feel better after every viewing.


Random Observations

Have you seen A Matter Of Life And Death?


If you have, what do you think of Powell and Pressburger’s film? Let me know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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