Heaven Can Wait (1943) dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Ameche plays Henry van Cleve, who assures the devil that he has lived a life of sin, and can't imagine being let into Heaven. A heavy opening, but as with A Matter of Life and Death, there's no solid theological content here. The afterlife is a framing device for a wholly conventional romance.
Heaven Can Wait (unrelated to the 1978 Warren Beatty film with the same title) is based on a the play Birthdays written by Laszlo Bus-Fekete. In the play, each scene was set on a character's birthday. I believe Heaven Can Wait is too, but the script doesn't make a big deal of it, and it plays no real role in the plot.
We begin with Henry as a small child in New York, shortly after the Civil War. He is being raised in a wealthy family, and even at this age, he has the makings of a roue. He grows up a regular womanizer, with plenty of jokes for the 1940's audience, who saw the 1890's and the 1920's as the times of sexual liberation.
The characters are all surprised when Henry marries Martha, played by Gene Tierney, but the audience sees it coming a mile away. The film does start to shift tone when Henry's adultery is discovered, but Lubitsch quickly snaps it back into a more comfortable zone. We are supposed to like Henry, after all.
Critic James Bowman makes note that none of the events of the larger world play a role in Henry's life. Depressions, technology and the Great War come and go without mention. This is the anti-Forrest Gump.
Heaven Can Wait is #967 on the 2011 edition of the TSPDT 1,000 list I’m blogging through. I’ve now seen 424.