Play It Again: Heaven Can Wait

Play It Again: Heaven Can Wait. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Don Ameche has been one of my more unusual cinema crushes over the years. Of course I’m talking about the young Ameche; the pre-Cocoon Ameche of In Old Chicago, Midnight and Heaven Can Wait. It wasn’t until a much older age that I connected this man with the film about a group of retirees going for a swim with some aliens.

In one of his golden-age films, Heaven Can Wait, Ameche stars as wealthy playboy Henry Van Cleve, who upon his death finds himself in the reception area for Hell. Considering himself worthy of such a fate, Henry lobbies for his entry, but he must first recount his life story to His Excellency (Laird Cregar) to see whether he is truly meant for the underworld. Directed by the marvellous Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka), the screenplay was written by Samson Raphaelson (The Harvey Girls, The Shop Around the Corner) and was based on a play titled Birthday.

In one of the greatest examples of a star-studded cast for the period, the film not only showcased Ameche but had Gene Tierney (Laura) playing Henry’s wife Martha, as well as Charles Coburn (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) as Henry’s grandfather Hugo. The supporting cast is just as fabulous and included another personal favourite, Marjorie Main (Meet Me in St Louis). The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, Best Cinematography – Colour, Best Director and Best Picture; losing out to Casablanca in two of the three categories.

In a true display of the wit Lubitsch and Raphaelson’s films came to be known for, Heaven Can Wait is a delightful combination of lush period details, beautiful colour cinematography and snappy dialogue. The film is a lightweight comedy delivered with a European sensibility thanks to Lubitsch, but given the period it was made in (the Second World War), it is no surprise that audiences flocked to and admired it as a story of escape and frivolity. Made only four years before Lubitsch’s death in 1947, Heaven Can Wait is a stand-out classic comedy.

Discuss: Heaven Can Wait! 

3 Responses to “Play It Again: Heaven Can Wait”

  1. the warren beatty ,julie christie movie ‘heaven can wait’from about 1980 with jack warden,james mason,charles grodin and dyan cannon was better than the original, regards gary

    • Interestingly, Beatty’s HEAVEN CAN WAIT is not actually a remake of Lubitsch’s HEAVEN CAN WAIT. It’s actually an adaptation of a play that was turned into HERE COMES MR. JORDAN in 1941. Both HEAVENS have very different premises.

  2. Don Ameche WAS amazingly hot in that, wasn’t he?! :p And he and Gene Tierney … *swoon*

    This film so totally took me by surprise. It was such a curious little piece but yes, gosh it looked amazing. I must watch it again to refresh my memory.

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