I really want to have dinner with Ernst Lubitsch. Not as a date, but as an outing to discuss artistic achievements. Before I wanted to kiss his hand; now I want him to teach me all about his profession.
These ideas visited my mind on Thursday when I finished watching Heaven Can Wait.
I’ve seen more of Mr. Lubitsch’s silent movies, so I’m not super familiar with his talkies. However, there is no talking film of his’ that I have not enjoyed.
I happened to love this one! I had never seen a Lubitsch technicolor film! There were still those strange ingredients in the story, which is how I know Mr. Lubitsch kept his individual style even when he was worldwide famous.
Heaven Can Wait starts off with a man arriving to Hell and personally seeing Mr. Satan, or His Excellency, as he was called. I thought this movie was going to be about the 1800s with a Pride and Prejudice type of theme, but how wrong I can be!
I found the film in the Criterion section in Barnes and Noble, but couldn’t afford it. It was like $29.99.
Anyway, this man named Henry Van Cleve has arrived in Hell and immediately makes one get a notion that he did something so awful, possibly having to do with murder or theft. Yet he seems like a very amicable person and is searching where he is to spend his eternity. He talks to Satan (I thought the actor who played him was a chubby Vincent Price) and tells him how he died and how instant it was. He fell asleep.
He wants to know if he belongs in Hell. Satan’s office is red and what he does with damned souls is that he presses a button and they fall immediately. He did that to a lady who barged in. His office is red and he has lots of books and a quaint little living room set by his desk. He appears so vicious and cruel in folklore, but here he is so nice and mannerly.
Satan asks Henry to tell him his life story and this is how the movie begins…I am immediately absorbed. “This is original,” I thought, “and just my style.”
Henry’s main theme of his life story is about the women in his life. Surely, I don’t believe he fell in love so many times. His nanny called him a brat. A girl only walked with him after he gave her his beetle.
But, we are taken to a teenage Henry who is much too different and rebellious. He’s not your usual type in rich New York families from the late 1800s.
A French lady gets interviewed by his mother for a job as a maid. He finds her very dull. When they meet personally, they discuss adolescent issues like first kisses, the future, a new era, and marriage. She is like the only ear he can really have because his mother can only yell, “Where does he get it from?” The French lady added a lot of spice to that scene. I liked her!
He grows up some more and his family persistently reminds him that he needs to settle down because he’s 26 and has never even worked. He’s not like his cousin Albert who’s an important lawyer and already engaged.
One day, Henry finds himself in love! So in looove!
He follows a woman into the bookstore just because he feels a spark within him, a deep connection of some sort. He asks as he tells his mother:
When you saw Father for the first time,
did you feel that unmistakable something?
Did you feel an electric spark
from your head right down to your toes…
that swept over you like a hurricane
and threw you to the ground…
but you bounced up again
and floated over the treetops?
Spark? A hurricane?
When he followed that lady into the bookstore, he pretended to be a salesman and saw that she wanted to buy a book that told much about her situation.
Later he discovers that she is engaged to his cousin Albert.
The lady happens to be Martha, played by the remarkable and beautiful Gene Tierney. I really liked her in this film.
And they elope! Henry forces a kiss on her and she acts offended, but feels alive. He walks out carrying her and they hop into a taxi.
Through the rest of the film we are taken to many of Henry’s life moments, such as his marriage issues, bribing a woman to not date his son, dealing with age, and gladly preparing for death.
Henry and Martha really made a great couple. They made it precious in their own way.
I really loved Gene Tierney in a wig.
Don Ameche, who played Henry, really did a great job because he made me sympathize with his character. We were all in the ride of the progression of his character. He was cheerful!
Martha’s parents were funny.
I sigh. Lubitsch did it again. God, he remains my favorite director. I want his profession; I admire it. The life story of Henry absorbed me so much that I felt so very sad at the end. When I found the Criterion version of this, I jumped. “My Lubitsch has been Criterioned!” I told my sister.
Once you’re Criterioned, you know your Film art has been recognized. (Now I shall wait for one of his silents with Pola Negri to be Criterioned…)
This film is one of my favorites now. I had never really seen a story like this. It’s different for its time. I recommend for people to see it in high definition, since the coloring is like a Klimt painting.
I kindly urge you all to see it! It’s one of my favorites and also on Youtube! 🙂
This was really good at distracting me from my many struggles during the week.