‘Heaven Can Wait’ – Ernst Lubitsch in Technicolor on Criterion Channel

Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), silver haired and aged to classy elegance, tries to explain to the Devil (a deliciously underplayed Laird Cregar) why he should spend the afterlife down below. “Have you committed any major crimes?” he’s asked. “No, but you might say my life has been one long misdemeanor.”

Thus begins Ernst Lubitch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943) as flashbacks tell his life story of romantic misadventure, infidelities, and the one true love of his life. The luminous Gene Tierney is the beauty he steals from his pinched, pallid cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn) and adores throughout their happy marriage and Charles Coburn costars as his rascally grandfather, who encourages the young man’s joie de vivre

Ernst Lubitch’s first film in color is a gorgeous evocation of idealized Americana through three generations and a charming if meandering romantic comedy. Ameche is a fine performer but a limited actor, never capturing that knowing glance or the lively spark that Maurice Chevalier brought to Lubitsch’s early thirties films. Tierney is all charm but Cregar (in his brief scenes) and Coburn, Ameche’s spunky granddad, all but steal their scenes with puckish performances.

Lubtisch brings his signature wit to the gorgeous costume picture of a romantic comedy, though it never reaches the grace or glory of his greatest masterpieces, like Trouble in Paradise (1932), Ninotchka (1939), or To Be Or Not To Be (1942). Yet next to the colorful but conventional  musicals and romantic comedies from 20th Century Fox of the 1940s, this is a stylish breath of fresh air, an amiable, often hilarious lark in exquisite Technicolor.

Marjorie Main, Spring Byington, Eugene Pallette, Signe Hasso and Louis Calhern costar.

It was nominated for three Oscars, including best picture and director.


Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Heaven Can Wait (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Heaven Can Wait (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD releases include a video conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, the 1982 program “Creativity with Bill Moyers: A Portrait of Samson Raphaelson,” an audio seminar with Raphaelson and film critic Richard Corliss recorded at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1977, archival home piano recordings by Lubitsch,and  the trailer, plus a fold-out insert with a new essay by Lubitsch scholar William Paul.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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