Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death) (1947) - Rotten Tomatoes

Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death)1947

Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death) (1947)



Critic Consensus: Stairway to Heaven is a ravishing, creative, and exciting fantasy.

Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death) Photos

Movie Info

A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.


David Niven
as Peter Carter
Marius Goring
as Conductor 71
Roger Livesey
as Dr. Frank Reeves
Raymond Massey
as Abraham Farlan
Richard Attenborough
as English Pilot
Robert Atkins
as The Vicar
Bonar Colleano
as American Pilot
Joan Maude
as Chief Recorder
Edwin Max
as Dr. McEwen
Robert Coote
as Bob Trubshawe
Betty Potter
as Mrs. Tucker
Bob Roberts
as Dr. Gaertler
Wally Patch
as ARP Warden
Tom Duggan
as American Policeman
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Critic Reviews for Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death)

All Critics (35) | Top Critics (10)

Roger Livesey is tremendous as Niven's formidable doctor - and heavenly advocate.

October 5, 2018 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Typically for this team, the script champions individual rights over nationalist prejudices that endure beyond the grave.

September 27, 2018 | Full Review…

Bursts with tantalizing ideas, surprising connections, suggestive flights of fancy.

December 29, 2017 | Full Review…

A Matter of Life and Death is the utterly unique, enduringly rich and strange romantic fantasia from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

December 8, 2017 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

It's basically an intellectual battle, held in an amphitheatre as large as a galaxy, about the right to life and the inherent tensions in US-UK political relations. In other words, essential viewing.

December 7, 2017 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Though the writer-directors and the actors may be the first names you notice, the cameraman also helped A Matter of Life and Death become one of the most moving movies ever made.

September 19, 2010 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death)


A lament for the dead and an exquisite fairy tale for the living. I would have loved to have been a Brit in the time when this movie was released. Rarely do you see such national pride on display with such heart and such technical majesty that you forgive the moments that could be seen as pro-west propaganda.

Reid Volk
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

Yet another magnificent, beautiful film from the Archers. I'm starting to run out of ways to properly convey the genius of Powell/Pressburger's ouerve. A Matter of Life and Death just continues to prove that their canon is truly one of cinema's greatest treasures. Their visual imagination knows no bounds -- every frame is filled with fantastically bold compositions. The "reverse Wizard of Oz" decision to switch between the bold colors of "the real world" to the stark black and white of "the other world" is ingenious, showing us visually just how much more vibrant life can be. The final court scene is also fantastic, as the judge and jury descend the stairway to heaven to hold court over Peter (David Niven)'s operation. As customary with any Archers film, the performances are spot on (Roger Livesey being a standout), and the romantic energy of the film is endearing. A Matter of Life and Death is all about the power of love and just how important life is -- a pedestrian theme by any measure, but displayed and argued with incredible conviction. Jack Cardiff's cinematography is reason enough to watch the film alone (he puts on a clinic). The way he lights Kim Hunter's face makes her all the more beautiful, and who else can make a simple things such as a game of table tennis look exciting? And the sound design is also impeccable; the way the sound mutes at vital points was a decision way ahead of its time. This is a true classic that can restore anyone's faith in cinema. Under appreciated on its initial release and by today's audiences, which is nothing short of a tragedy.

Jonathan Hutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer


To me A Matter of Life and Death is just that- simply the best film ever made. From beginning to end it oozes class. It is stimulating, thought provoking, a mirror to the post war world and the relations between peoples. The cinematography is simply stunning and the effect of mixing monochrome and Technicolour to accent the different worlds works seamlessly. The characters and plot development are near perfect and the attention to detail promotes a thoroughly believable fantasy. No matter how many times I watch the film - and I have watched it a lot - it never fails to touch me. It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it makes me think, it makes me cry. It is as fresh today as it was in 1946. If I were allowed just one film to keep and watch again A Matter of Life and Death would be that film.

Cassandra Maples
Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer

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