Stairway to Heaven

A film by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring David Niven, Kim Hunter, Raymond Massey, and Robert Coote

A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.

Also known as A Matter of Life and Death, Stairway to Heaven is the remarkable British fantasy film that became the surprise hit of 1946. David Niven stars as Peter Carter, a World War II RAF pilot who is forced to bail out of his crippled plane without a parachute. He wakes up to find he has landed on Earth utterly unharmed…which wasn’t supposed to happen according to the rules of Heaven. A celestial court argues over whether or not to claim Carter’s life or to let him survive to wed his American sweetheart (Kim Hunter).

During an operation, in which Carter hovers between life and death, he dreams that his spirit is on trial, with God (Abraham Sofaer) as judge and Carter’s recently deceased best friend (Roger Livesey) as defense counsel. The film tries to have it both ways by suggesting that the heavenly scenes are all a product of Carter’s imagination, but the audience knows better.

Among the curious but effective artistic choices was to film the earthbound scenes in Technicolor and the Heaven sequences in black-and-white.

One of the most audacious films ever made -– in its grandiose vision, and in the cozy English way it’s expressed. —Roger Ebert


Technical Information

Production Year
Country of Production
United Kingdom
Running Time
104 mins

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