Friday, March 16, 2012

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

“Crime? Well, I'm afraid I can't think of any. But I can safely say that my whole life was one continuous misdemeanor.”

            When I hear stories of my relatives that have passed like my great-grandpa who my mom was very close to or an aunt or uncle who I miss a lot I find myself thinking about who I would want to see when I die. I would definitely want to see my great-grandpa Speizia since my mom talks about him a lot and I hear he was a sweet man. I would like to see my an aunt of mine who used to watch me when I was little and loved me and my brothers very much. But I have yet to live my life I am only twenty-four and who I would want to see the most when I move on will definitely change.
            I believe that only the people who do awful things to others like murder or cheating people out of something they earned like Madoff did are the ones who will not move on to a better place when they die. I firmly believe if you are a good person and love the ones you are close to and treat people the way you would want to be treated you will spend the rest of eternity in a happy place.
            In Ernst Lubtisch’s 1943 film Heaven Can Wait a man named Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) has lived a full life and died at an old age. Instead of going to heaven he goes down to have a word with His Excellency about a place with him. His Excellency cannot see why a man like Henry would come to him so he has Henry tell his story.
            All his life Henry remained a child and was treated like one. He grew up in a wealthy house with his mother, father, and grandfather. His mother always him the little baby even when was a teenager. As Henry gets older he stays out late at night chasing some girl and always asks his parents for money. The grandfather always takes Henry’s side when his parents get frantic over his jaunts because the he was like Henry or wanted to be like Henry when he was younger.
            The day of his twenty-fifth birthday he comes home early in the morning after being out all night. He parents are worried sick over him until he comes home and explains that he had to stay out all night because he had met a girl and he had to do something to get her out of his mind. The day before while he was in a department store he became drawn to a girl (Gene Tierney) who he heard lie to her mother over the phone that she was still getting her hair done and did not know when she would be done. Henry follows her into a bookstore where he pretends to be one of the clerks. She eventually sees through Henry but he tells her that if she had gone to a restaurant he would have pretended to be a waiter. She storms out of the store telling him to leave her alone. Ever since that time he has not been able to get the girl off his mind.
            That night, his parents throw him a party where his good cousin Albert will be there with his new fiancée Martha and her family. When Martha and her family walks in she and Henry are shocked because they saw each other the previous day. Henry wants to leave but it is too late by the time they are introduced. In the middle of a musical performance Martha sneezes and Albert rushes her out of the room and into the library so she will not disturb the performance again. Henry is also sitting in the library. He asks Martha is she really loves Albert and she starts to cry because she was just settling on Albert since her parents both agreed that he was a good man. She did not want to end up an old maid living in Kansas she wanted to move to New York to really live. Henry tells her he loves her more than anything and that they should get married. He picks her up, carries her out of the house, and they elope that night.
            Exactly ten years later with a young son Martha leaves without warning. She goes back to Kansas where Albert just so happens to be on the same train. At her family home he tells Martha he still loves him and that marriage is not supposed to be about thrills it is supposed to be balanced and calm. Henry and his grandfather have gone down to Kansas to win Martha back. Henry pulls all his tricks and plays all his moods but Martha knows him too well and says that will not work this time she is very upset with him. The reason why she is upset is because she found a receipt for a diamond bracelet dated a few months before that she does not remember him giving her. After telling her a story about their son Jack and how he was tangled up with two girls she sees that the story is something similar to what has happened to them as a couple. Henry gives Martha another thrill for the second time in their marriage by scooping her up and whisking her away yet again.
            More birthdays and anniversaries pass and Martha and Henry are very happy together. Their son Jack has become just like his father running around till all hours of the night but unlike his father he runs around with actresses. Their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary comes around. Henry and Martha sit together alone in the library and reminisce on the day they ran away together. Martha confesses that she loved him at that moment and wondered why he was walking so slowly towards her she wanted him to walk faster to her. The butler comes into the room telling Martha she has a phone call. She teases Henry telling him that she has a lover then tells him in somewhat of a truth that it was the doctor and that there is nothing to worry about. Henry reveals that that was the last anniversary they would share together a few months later Martha died.
            Henry is left alone with his son but he goes out and lives his life still chasing women. Jack turns into the father of the house scolding his father for staying out late and wanting more money from the company they own. Henry tells jack he wants someone to keep him company to read to him since he cannot see too well anymore when he pulls out the book that Martha wanted to buy the day they met.
            He lives a few more years then dies peacefully in his sleep. His Excellency does not see anything wrong with the way Henry has lived his life. He was faithful to Martha he never went through with any of his liaisons. He assures Henry that he has people that will attest to how much he was loved on earth and still loved.
            I think this film has a great story because it is about a family and that family’s love for one another and the “hero” of the film is not really a hero. The Van Cleve family is not close in the way we would think. Everyone from Henry’s grandfather and his parents love each other in their own ways and they would be lost without each other. Henry was describe by two film scholars as being a wanna be Casanova but he never went through with any of the women he took out he always went back to Martha and she is to whom his heart belongs. His true love for her comes out when he pulls the book out randomly that she wanted when they met. His love for her is all over his face you can see that he still loves and misses her. Henry and Martha’s marriage is unconventional because of Henry’s semi-philandering way and also that Martha suffered over his ways but it never showed on her face the suffering was kept under the surface.
            Don Ameche and Gene Tierney were great together. Don Ameche was so handsome with his smooth talk that you can believe his character was a wanna be Casanova. He was so handsome and so charming… I feel he may be becoming another William Powell only Ameche is handsome with all that charm. Gene Tierney was beautiful. This is when her acting began to take shape and become much better. The whole film was innocent and loving but Tierney with her acting added that extra bit of innocence. She was perfect and so was Ameche.
            The rest of the cast is brilliant. Charles Coburn is Henry’s fun loving grandfather, Louis Calhern and Spring Byington are his parents and Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main as Martha’s parents. It was funny to see Main in Victorian clothing at first but after a few scenes she looked like the women did back then
            While I love Ernst Lubitsch’s racy pre-code comedies this film I really liked it was something different from the racy films. Like his other films there is suffering (which is done by Martha) and there is subtle quiet humor. Lubitsch knew how to get the most out the stories he was directing. The story could have been a dark comedy but Lubitsch kept it light such as ending a serious scene with a comedic line or touch and when Martha and Henry die their deaths are not sad they are happy with music playing in the background. I thought Lubitsch was a genius in the way he showed the changing times with the decoration of house changing with the times and the characters getting older. There is no mention of the major events of the times you just know from the scenery and the character’s ages.
            Heaven Can Wait is an unconventional comedy film by the standards of the 1940s era and even today’s era. It was not very popular when it was released because Henry was not the conventional hero he did not work hard like everyone else as at the time he just lazed through life on his family’s money and it did not deal with World War II. All that seems to matter is that today Heaven Can Wait is considered one Lubitsch’s best films. I greatly enjoyed the film in every aspect with a loving and touching story.