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Heaven Can Wait (Criterion Collection)
Heaven Can Wait
Criterion Collection
Actors: Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
UR     2005     1hr 52min

Newly deceased playboy Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) presents himself to the outer offices of Hades where he asks a bemused Satan for permission to enter the gates of Hell. Though the Devil doubts Henry's sins will qualify ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Creators: Edward Cronjager, Ernst Lubitsch, Dorothy Spencer, Leslie Bush-Fekete, Samson Raphaelson
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sub-Genres: Romantic Comedies, Classic Comedies, Love & Romance, Classics, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 06/14/2005
Original Release Date: 08/11/1943
Theatrical Release Date: 08/11/1943
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 52min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 17
Edition: Special Edition,Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

"A passport to Hell is not issued on generalities."
Dave | Tennessee United States | 04/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At last, this timeless romantic comedy has gotten the Criterion "treatment" and is being released on dvd. Don Ameche stars as Henry Van Cleve, an over-the-hill former playboy who has died and gone to Hell. But Satan, or "His Excellency" (Laird Cregar, giving one of his very best performances!) isn't convinced that Van Cleeve belongs there, so Henry tells him the story of his life (through flashbacks of course).

Growing up a Van Cleeve wasn't easy, and young Henry had no one to turn to for help (both his parents are somewhat out of touch with reality!) except his wild grandfather (Charles Coburn), who is obviously not a very good role model for Henry. As Henry becomes a man, he starts pursuing young and beautiful women, and finally meets a respectable young lady, Martha (Gene Tierney). The problem is that Martha is already engaged to a relative of Henry's! But, he wins her over and they elope and begin their life together.

After ten years of marriage, Martha walks out on Henry because of his flirtations with other women. With the help of his granfather, Henry finally convinces her to come back to him, and somehow they manage to stay married. Eventually, in an ironic twist of fate, middle-aged Henry finds his son facing the same problem with women (he can't stop chasing them!) that he suffered with for decades. Henry and Martha's bond together gets only closer as they grow older together, but sadly death seperates them...but only temporarily. Needless to say, after hearing the story of Henry's life, His Excellency knows that Van Cleeve belongs with Martha in Heaven!

This wonderful Ernst Lubitsch film from 1943 is a bold-for-its-time look at marriage and infidelity, and the fast-paced script is packed with witty dialogue. Don Ameche plays a cad, true, but he does it with such charm, humor, and sophistication that you can't help but like him. And of course, the beautiful Gene Tierney in technicolor is not something to be missed by any movie buff! The supporting cast was equally superb, especially Charles Coburn and Laird Cregar, whose film career was sadly cut short by a fatal heart attack at the age of 28. With a great mixture of romance, humor, and drama, this excellent classic is highly recommended."
A witty, humane, thoughtful movie directed by Ernst Lubitsch
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

""As Henry Van Cleve's soul passed over The Great Divide, he realized that it was extremely unlikely that his next stop could be Heaven. And so, philosophically, he presented himself where innumerable people had so often told him to go."

Henry (Don Ameche) is greeted courteously by His Excellency (Laird Cregar). "I presume your funeral was satisfactory?" the devil asks. "Well...there was a lot of crying," Henry says, "so I believe everybody had a good time." His Excellency explains that while he will consider Henry's request, there must be good reasons to avoid going Up There. "If you meet our requirements, we'll be only too glad to accommodate you. Would you be kind enough to mention, for instance, some outstanding crime you've committed " "Crime...crime...I'm afraid I can't think of any," Henry says. "But I can safely say my whole life was one continuous misdemeanor."

Heaven Can Wait is the witty, nostalgic, gentle and surprisingly thoughtful tale of Henry Van Cleve, philanderer, wealthy lay-about and a man far from noble. Under Ernst Lubitsch's direction and with Samson Raphaelson's screenplay, Heaven Can Wait is, as critic Andrew Sarris says, "a hidden masterpiece."

His Excellency is intrigued and asks Henry to tell him his story. Henry believes that he can do this only through the women in his life, and, in one linear flashback, he does, starting as a babe in a bassinet. Henry loves women, he loves the pursuit, he loves the pleasures of the chase, the theater, the champagne, the supper clubs. He's spoiled, he's optimistic, he's endlessly inventive in finding ways out of being discovered. He may be innocently selfish, but it's in an almost childlike way. "Oh, Henry," his wife, Martha (Gene Tierney), says to him after being exasperated once too often, "I know your every move. I know your outraged indignation. I know the poor weeping little boy. I know the misunderstood, strong, silent man, the worn-out lion who is too proud to explain what happened in the jungle last night."

Henry had eloped with Martha the day he met her, under the nose of her fiance, his cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn), a straight-laced lawyer who believes "marriage isn't a series of thrills. Marriage is a peaceful, well-balanced adjustment of two right-thinking people." Henry loves Martha deeply, but can't resist a beautiful face or a well-turned leg. Even as a widower, with a grown son, his old habits remain a part of his character. Yet he is so likeable and charming, Henry Van Cleve rarely hurts anyone.

After listening to Henry's story and despite all of Henry's tales of waywardness, His Excellency sends him on his way...but in an elevator going up, not down. He tells Henry, you'll find many people up there who love you and have been waiting for you. They will intercede for you...because despite everything you made people very happy.

This is a delightful movie that must have seemed either a relief or irrelevant to it's time. It was made in 1943 and was popular, yet it ostensibly is about nothing much at all. The setting is the 1870's through the start of the 1940's. There is no reference to any outside forces in Henry's life, no World War I, no Great Depression, no rise of fascism, no moral messages. Yet as the movie goes on we meet characters we come to either find amusing or to like, or both, and they disappear from the screen. Their time has passed and, out of sight, they've died while Henry's story continues. I was left, almost without realizing it, feeling optimistic and a little sad. Life does pass us by, and it's best savored by enjoying life without damaging others.

Among these characters are Henry's grandfather (Charles Coburn), irascible and secretly (and not so secretly) envious of Henry's outlook on life; Henry's father and mother, played by Louis Calhern and Spring Byington, obliviously stern and clueless and loving and clueless, respectively; and Mabel's parents from Kansas, played by Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main, who have a great Sunday breakfast scene battling over the comic pages while their butler is the intermediary. Laird Cregar, only 29 when he made this movie and dead little more than a year later, brings great, amused authority to the role of His Excellency. Gene Tierney with her overbite was never more luscious. She did a skilled job as Mabel, loving Henry, understanding of his ways but only willing up to a point to be tolerant. The movie, however, is Don Ameche's. He might have been a bland actor, but he is just about perfect as Henry Van Cleve, well-intentioned, charming, constantly tempted and often frustrated.

The movie seems to me to be just about a perfect collaboration between director Lubitsch and writer Raphaelson. They had collaborated earlier on two other great movies, the incomparable Trouble in Paradise and The Shop Around the Corner. Trouble in Paradise has one of the most amusing screenplays you can find, and Lubitsch brought to it all the urbanity and style he was known for. If you could choose only one Lubitsch movie to own, I'd unhesitatingly say to make it Trouble in Paradise. But I think Heaven Can Wait would be second choice.

The Criterion DVD features a sumptuous picture transfer with rich color. The extras include a discussion of the film by movie critics Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell and an interview with Raphaelson by Bill Moyers. The case has an informative brochure with an essay about Lubitsch and the film."
Perfectly made, brilliant script
Douglas M | 04/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This was Don Ameche's finest film. For once, he had a first rate director and script and a chance to take the centre stage in a comedy. He plays a lifelong flirt who, in spite of his love for his wife, can't help himself when he encounters a pretty woman. Whether it be due to the Production Code or otherwise, his actions are very genteel and neither the audience nor his wife take him very seriously but his charm and humour create a warm and funny character.

All the other actors shine in their roles. Gene Tierney is subtle, versatile and graceful as Ameche's wife. It is a mystery to me why she is sometimes singled out as mediocre. She has some very complex dialogue which she delivers faultlessly, her timing is excellent and she ages very convincingly. Charles Coburn as grandpa has the best lines, Signe Hasso as a French maid steals every scene in which she appears and Eugene Pallete as Tierney's father-in-law, Mr Strable, is very funny. There is a memorable scene between Pallette and harridan wife Marjorie Main at their breakfast table which ranks as one of the funniest scenes ever. The great Laird Cregar creates a superbly ambiguous and attractive devil and lastly, special mention of Allyn Joslyn as cousin Albert. Watch his straight back and smug grins. This is brilliant comic acting.

Two criticisms - the film sags after the Gene Tierney character dies and the 1940s styled lacquered cuties who appear make us long for Tierney's grace and poise. Samson Raphaelson, who wrote the film, comments on how the film loses momentum at this point in his interviews. Finally,the wig which Tierney wears as a middle aged woman is just plain weird.

The DVD offers a perfect print with glorious Fox technicolour, overstuffed sets and the usual high standard of photography. The extras focus mainly on the director Ernst Lubitsch and the writer Samson Raphaelson. First off is a discussion of the film by 2 critics. While they are able to provide some interesting background information, they tend to interrupt each other and come across as eager fans rather than commentators. The effect was irritating. Molly Haskell, in particular, is pretentious, always looking for a feminist angle if possible.

The interviews with Samson Raphaelson are unusual. One of the interviews is really a lecture to film students so you have to concentrate hard to follow his train of thought. His comments are at their best when he dismisses loaded questions about the motivation of Lubitsch and himself e.g. Lubitsch's use of doors. As Raphaelson says, if an actor leaves a set, it is 99% likely to be through a door - end of discussion!

There is also a charming monologue from Lubitsch's daughter about growing up in a house full of music. This is followed by some wonderful photos from her personal albums with some accompanying tunes played by Lubitsch himself on the piano. The music is upbeat and in combination with the photos, you get a very personal insight into their lives. She has also provided a copy of the film's original pressbook which is dry and ironic in the best Lubitsch sense.

Overall, this is another excellent comprehensive Criterion package which would have been improved by a good commentary to replace that dumb conversation between the film critics."
One of the Lubitsch's Best
D.A. | Ottawa, Canada | 10/30/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Ernst Lubitsch's "Heaven Can Wait" - written by Lubitsch's long time collaborator Samson Raphaelson - is, quite simply, one of the sublime experiences of classic Hollywood cinema. Easily one of the Lubitsch's greatest accomplishements. As expected of a Lubitsch classic, "Heaven Can Wait" is a sheer delight full of grace, glory, and gaiety. Not to mention, every shot, every gesture, and every movement is close to perfection. Rarely has a classic used the Technicolor in such a stunningly beautiful manner. And what a terrific cast! Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington are nothing short of brilliance. Keep your prejudices to yourself - this is a film that needs to be judged in its own terms."