Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Thirteen, Part Two – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. With films from every decade since the 1930s, and movies from Italy, France, Japan, Sweden and China, there is plenty of variety, and this week’s choices, despite sharing a basis in war are very different to one another.

After Yasser’s disappointment in Fred’s opinion of ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘, he gets to give his verdict on a British romance made by Powell and Pressburger.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.

Fred:A Matter of Life and Death‘ is my pick this week. It was made in the immediate aftermath of World War II and it’s a wartime romance, but not a typical one. What did you think of the idea behind it?

Yasser: World War II films are one of my favourite genres. What I love most is the realism

FS: Okay…

YA: I came to this film knowing nothing about it. It began with Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) telling some random he’s never spoken to (Kim Hunter) to send a message to his mother before he jumps off a plane without a working chute. I liked that, I thought it was sincere

FS: David Niven – real life war hero. So it was a good start

YA: Then he jumped and got lost in the fog, so the angel of death that was sent to acquire him missed him… dear, oh dear

FS: I assume that means you think it was a weak plot point

YA: As soon as I realised what kind of film this was, it had to be amazing for me to wholly like it

FS: Why is that?

YA: I don’t mind romantic stories. I don’t mind romantic war stories, but why, for crying out loud, mix something as real as a war that has just happened with romance AND fantasy

FS: Don’t you think it’s a clever twist on the usual wartime romance? There was plenty of comedies, romances and fantasies made during the war, so what’s the problem with making one in the aftermath?

YA: It wasn’t a comedy or a fantasy or a romance, it was a concoction of all three. It was hard to tell what was the most prominent at different times during the film

FS: I think romantic fantasy describes it best

‘A Matter of Life and Death’
UK – 1946
Directors: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring

FS: I had quite high hopes for this for one reason

YA: What was that?

FS: You chose ‘Meet Joe Black‘ in your 25 and there are similarities in the plot

YA: Yeah, similarities, but no Anthony Hopkins and no beautiful scenes of grand splendour

FS: I beg to differ. What about the stairway, the celestial court… Trumps Tony’s flashy party

YA: Why do you like it?

FS: Let’s start with the cast. David Niven is one of my all-time favourite people, let alone movie stars, and this is one of his best roles

YA: I like the look of him, the sound of him, and he’s amazing in ‘The Pink Panther

FS: He’s the perfect choice for Peter Carter. An unassuming, quiet man who sees war, and dying in war, as his duty, but he’s also a hopeless romantic and when he gets his extra time on earth, he wants to make the most of it

YA: Niven plays him very well. the character has a noble quality to him

FS: It would have been tasteless to have scenes of him raging at the thought of dying. He wants to live as he has a new reason to do so, but you know that if the celestial court decides that he should die he will take it like a man

YA: When he’s about to meet his demise at the beginning he takes it on the chin. I didn’t have any qualms with Niven or his performance

FS: I thought you’d like Kim Hunter as I know you don’t like weak females

YA: You’re right. I don’t like weak female characters that are overdramatic or over-reliant on men, but in a romantic film you’d expect the female to “sing with rapture and dance like a dervish“, which Hunter doesn’t manage to do

FS: I am wondering what you want from a woman…. in a movie, I mean

YA: (laughs) I like female leads to hold their own, but not be too sheltered. They need to be vulnerable at times, but still strong overall. I thought Kim Hunter was wooden

FS: I’m not saying her performance was amazing, but I think she was pretty good. There was also three good supporting performances from Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey and Marius Goring

YA: Conductor 71 (Goring)! After Niven, he was my favourite

FS: I liked Roger Livesey. In many ways he is the real hero of the story

YA: He plays Dr. Frank Reeves very well. Good, educated, but like most doctors he thinks he knows it all

FS: (laughs)

YA: At times I felt he was too argumentative

FS: It was a difficult part to play. He has to be a realist as he’s a medical man and he can’t believe what happens in Carter’s hallucinations is actually real, but then he ends up far more involved than he expected

YA: It’s in that transition that makes it somewhat laughable. When he’s asked to play a bigger part in Carter’s experiences there is no shock. It’s almost as though he expected it

YA: Let’s talk about Massey and Goring. Massey plays Abraham Farlan

FS: Yes, the American ‘prosecutor’ trying to make a case why Carter doesn’t deserve to live

YA: Yes, and he’s supposed to be an American Revolutionary war-hero who hates British people, but he’s not an actual person. He’s made up

FS: Yes. I think he’s supposed to be the first man killed by the British during the revolution

YA: That irks me a little

FS: That he was not real?

YA: A little bit, yes. It would have added to the fantasy element if it was mixed with realism

FS: I don’t agree really

YA: It’s a niggle, not a major problem

FS: Massey is suitably caustic, though. I liked him

YA: I didn’t. There was too much ignorance to him. There was a hatred, as if they didn’t want Carter to have a fair chance

FS: They didn’t. The court specifically chose him because he hated Britons.

YA: That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like God’s angels choosing the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to fight against a black guy in a legal case that has nothing to do with race

FS: Well the film makers are very careful to call it ‘The Other Side’, not heaven, so that fairness and morality don’t have to have any sway. They want to correct the mistake of Carter not dying and they don’t want to play fair

YA: If fairness and morality didn’t have much of a sway, then they wouldn’t have given Carter the opportunity to appeal. In some ways ‘The Other Side’ is playing fair, and in other ways they aren’t. What the fuck?

FS: I see your point. The way I see it they want to give him a chance, but they are going to give themselves the best chance of winning, like if we were fighting over the last biscuit, and I have a sub-machine gun and let you have a stick

FS: What about Marius Goring?

YA: That boy had swag! (laughs)

FS: (laughs)

YA: He was really cool. He made me laugh as he tried to be friendly with Carter, but he was sneaky. He was the best of the supporting cast.

FS: What about the look of the film?

YA: I liked the contrast of colour in the real world, and black and white in the other place. It’s a nice blend

FS: Anything else you liked?

YA: I didn’t like that the doc had better chemistry with June than Carter did

FS: Okay, I asked you what you liked! I feel a ‘Wild Strawberries‘ moment coming on

YA: (laughs) Nooooooooo. It wasn’t THAT bad. The story moved at a good pace, and it was an okay story, but the main thing I liked about it was Niven. It was all a bit predictable

FS: For all your goblins, wizards and superheroes, this is what a fantasy film should be like. Real but fantastic

YA: It just didn’t click for me, man. it was like an old clock, but not all the cogs connected together

FS: Do you mean that age hasn’t been kind to it?

YA: After the terrible events of WW2, I think the British public would’ve adored something like this, and the concept is timeless. i just don’t think it was as well executed as it could’ve been. Some of the romantic elements were too coincidental and laughable

FS: Okay. Well I know you were very much undecided what to rate it, but the time has come

YA: So the premise is good. If the whole film had been like first scene where Carter has to jump out of the plane without a parachute and he speaks to June on the radio, I would have loved it. Niven as Carter is brilliant. He’s a believable character. However, Hunter opposite him is wooden and the chemistry after their initial conversation is lacklustre, and that isn’t helped when you see her with Dr. Reeves. They look a more likely couple. Marius Goring is the best of the supporting cast. He sticks out like a sore thumb…

FS: (laughs) A sore thumb? Isn’t that a bad thing?

YA: (laughs) Okay, he stands out from the crowd. There are too many plot holes and coincidences, and a lot of it was quite predictable. The court scenes at the end were good, well shot and Livesey really delivers in those scenes. The thing is, the film didn’t know if it was a fantasy or a romance with a touch of war. It was like a cacophony of all three, and that didn’t work for me

FS: It’s just a romantic fantasy set five years in the past from when it was made. In many ways the war element is totally incidental

YA: I’ve been struggling because I really wanted to like this movie, but it’s getting 6/10

Next week: Steven Spielberg’s harrowing ‘Schindler’s List’ and The Marx Brothers’ hilarious ‘A Night at the Opera’


4 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Thirteen, Part Two – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946)

    […] A Matter of Life and Death […]

    […] I can live with that more than the ’6′ for ‘A Matter of Life and Death‘ as I know this is a more personal […]

    […] Now, you used that phrase once before, and you didn’t mean it […]

    […] YA: I dunno. The fantastical element ruins the harsh realities of real life in the film, like ‘A Matter of Life and Death‘ […]

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