Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Heaven Can Wait (1943)

heaven can wait 1943 indexBased on the play Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fekete this initially has a supernatural set up but then it quickly ditches it and the film spends a long time firmly in rom-com territory. It’s a shame however as the film’s opening is easily the highlight, as Henry (Don Ameche) arrives in Hell absolutely convinced that he should reside their given his actions on Earth, and the devil (Laird Cregar) is intrigued enough to want to hear his life story.

It’s at this point that we cut back to Earth and witness Henry being something of a petulant child, and one who’s spoiled rotten, though his parents are quite naïve and only Henry’s grandfather Hugo Van Cleve (Charles Coburn) really understands the boy. We then flit forward to Henry as a debonair young man with a taste for alcohol and showgirls, and who seems set for a somewhat wayward life until a chance meeting with Martha (Gene Tierney) looks to set him on the straight and narrow, though there’s the slight problem in that she is initially betrothed to Henry’s uptight cousin.

Henry manages to persuade Martha to elope and then we skip forward again and see vignettes of their marriage. After ten years Martha leaves Henry as it’s suggested he’s not been faithful and she is sick of his womanising, but when he visits her at her quirky parents (Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette) house he manages to win her back, and the majority of the film is the two of them in wedded bliss, at least until time takes its inevitable toll.

This for me is definitely a victim of its initial success, and the actor playing Satan is so charismatic and has so many fun lines that he’s missed a great deal when not on screen. Henry and Martha are both likeable for sure but they’re rarely anything more than mildly amusing, and though there’s strong support from Coburn, Main and Pallette they’re not in the film enough either and once again this would have been far better if they’d been given more to do.

The final section of the film is sans Tierney and it definitely suffers for it as well, she turns in a very subtle performance but has strong chemistry with Ameche, and the final story line involving Henry living with his now adult son and flirting with nurses is a little dull. Still, as a whole it’s a film which is often charming, thought perhaps it’s a rare case where it’s best going in knowing that it is not going to be quite as unusual as the opening suggests.

★★★1/4

Alex Finch.
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