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A Matter of Life and Death

(Stairway to Heaven)

(1946 c 104')

En: 7 Ed: 8

A RAF officer radios an American woman before he jumps out of a plane. He imagines a trial in heaven to see if his life will be extended.

On May 2, 1945 Peter Carter (David Niven) radios that he is going to bail out even though he has no parachute. He tells June (Kim Hunter) that he will visit her as a ghost. Peter jumps out of the burning plane. Soldiers enter a futuristic place in the clouds. Peter walks on a beach. He sees a naked boy and then June. In the other world Bob Tropshaw (Robert Coote) asks a woman what happened to Peter. On the shore Peter finds June riding a bicycle and kisses her. Conductor 71 (Marius Goring), who died during the French Revolution, reports that one person was lost in the fog. He finds Peter in a garden while June is asleep and says that Peter must go with him. Peter says he has fallen in love and appeals. Conductor 71 says they could play chess and disappears. June denies that she was asleep.

Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) talks to June about Peter. Actors rehearse A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Peter plays chess with June. Reeves informs her that Peter is a poet. Reeves questions Peter, who tells him of his vision of the conductor and his appeal. Reeves tells June he expects Peter to have another hallucination of the conductor. June plays table tennis with Reeves. They talk about Peter's case, and he sees them motionless when Conductor 71 appears and tells Peter his case will be heard in the court. The conductor borrows a chess book. Peter tells Reeves and June that the conductor was there and that he is getting his appeal heard.

Reeves tells Peter he defends him on Earth. Reeves tells a doctor that Peter needs a brain operation before his trial that night. Peter and Conductor 71 discuss possible defenders as they go up an escalator. Peter tries to run down, and June wakes him up. Reeves gives Peter a shot. Peter and June try to think of a good defender. Reeves crashes on his motorcycle, and June tells Peter of his death. Doctors operate on Peter. Conductor 71 gives Reeves back his chess book. Reeves agrees to defend Peter. During the operation Peter goes with the conductor, Bob, and Reeves. Conductor 71 takes a tear from June on a rose as evidence.

Many attend the trial in the other world. Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey), an American who died in 1775, prosecutes him and describes the case. Reeves counters his arguments. Farlan introduces the jurors, who all oppose England. Reeves challenges the jury and asks for a jury of Americans. Reeves argues that Peter should live. Peter is called as a witness and says he loves June. She is called and testifies that she loves Peter. Farlan asks if she will die for him, and she says she will take his place. Farlan says that nothing in the universe is stronger than the law, but Reeves says that on Earth nothing is stronger than love. The jury decides for the defense, and Peter's departure date is extended. June finds the chess book in her coat. Peter wakes up in the hospital and tells June that they won.

This spiritual fantasy was devised to improve relations between England and the United States after the war. The story reflects a modern view of the after-life following a period of war when many millions were killed.

Copyright © 2006 by Sanderson Beck

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