As World War Two ended, Powell and Pressburger were given the task of putting together a drama to smooth over the often troubled relationship between wartime allies Britain and America.
But where others might have balked at the prospect of film-making at the bequest of the Ministry of Information, Powell and Pressburger conceived this fantastic tale of British airman Peter Carter (Niven), who jumps without a parachute from his burning bomber and, miraculously, survives. Before he leaps, Carter talks to an American radio operator, and after he washes up on the coast the two meet and fall in love. Soon though it becomes clear that Carter should have died - but there was an admin error in Heaven. Either that, or he's having visions of a French Revolutionary angel (Goring) who smells of fried onions and tries to persuade him he'd be happier in the afterlife.
The ambiguous screenplay is only part of the attraction here: quite simply, A Matter Of Life Or Death is a visual feast. To highlight the difference between Heaven and Earth, for instance, Powell films the afterlife in monochrome, while our own world is portrayed in vivid Technicolor.
Chuck in some superb - at least for the time - special effects and the result is a drama effectively welding some European irony with Tinseltown spectacle.
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