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Heaven Can Wait (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

On the day of his death in 1943, the spirit of Henry Van Cleave (Don Ameche) obligingly heads for the place where so many people had previously told him to go. The immaculately dressed septuagenarian arrives at the outer offices of Hades, where he is greeted by His Excellency (Laird Cregar), the most courteous and gentlemanly Satan in screen history. His Excellency doubts that Van Cleave has sinned enough to qualify for entrance into Hades, but Henry insists that he's led the most wicked of lives, and proceeds to tell his story. Each milestone of Henry's life, it seems, has occurred on one of his birthdays. Upon reaching 15, Henry (played as a teenager by Dickie Moore) naively permits himself to get drunk with and be seduced by his family's French maid (Signe Hasso). At 21, Henry elopes with lovely Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney) stealing her away from her stuffy fiance Albert Van Cleve (Allyn Joslyn), Henry's cousin. At 31, Henry nearly loses Martha when, weary of his harmless extracurr


The last masterwork by Ernst Lubitsch--whose other gems include Trouble in Paradise, Lady Windermere's Fan, Ninotchka, and The Shop Around the Corner--Heaven Can Wait was nominated for best picture and director Oscars in its day but largely neglected thereafter. Partly it's a matter of no one expecting a 1943 Fox movie featuring Don Ameche, the star of so many bland Technicolor musicals at that studio, to be a comedy of rare loveliness. Also, there's the confusion engendered by the existence of another film with the same title: the 1978 Warren Beatty movie that was the remake of a classic '40s comedy-fantasy--but Here Comes Mr. Jordan, not Heaven Can Wait. It's high time to get our priorities straight.

Following his demise, the aristocratic Henry Van Cleve (Ameche), having no hope of Paradise, betakes himself "where all his life so many people had told him to go." Hell, or at least its antechamber, would appear to be a luxury hotel in neoclassical mode, and--this is a Lubitsch movie, after all--His Satanic Excellency (Laird Cregar) is a perfect gentleman and the most gracious of hosts. To establish his credentials for spending eternity there, Henry begins to narrate a life which, though lacking any notable crimes, "has been one continuous misdemeanor."

Centered in a Fifth Avenue mansion left over from 19th-century New York, the film is Lubitsch and writing partner Samson Raphaelson's valentine to "an age that has vanished, when it was possible to live for the charm of living." Spanning more than half a century, it chronicles the high points of Henry's life so delicately that--in a variation on the strategies of Lubitsch-Raphaelson's risque '30s classics--it leaves some of them entirely offscreen, their emotional impact measured by what the characters feel and say about them afterward. We'll leave it to you to find out what they are. Suffice it to say that Ameche and Gene Tierney--as Martha, the love of Henry's life--give performances far subtler than anything else in their Fox contract-player careers, and there are sublime opportunities for those peerless character actors Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, and Marjorie Main. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features

  • New video conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris
  • Creativity with Bill Moyers: A Portrait of Samson Raphaelson (1982), a 30-minute program exploring the screenwriter's life and career
  • Audio seminar with Raphaelson and film critic Richard Corliss recorded at the Museum of Modern Art in 1977
  • Lubitsche home piano recordings
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A new essay by film scholar William Paul

Product Details

  • Actors: Charles Halton, James Flavin, Michael McLean, Doris Merrick, Edwin Maxwell
  • Directors: Ernst Lubitsch
  • Producers: Ernst Lubitsch
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00092ZLEE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,768 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Heaven Can Wait (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
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.
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"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.
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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.
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