Heaven Can Wait
Ernst Lubitsch’s comic fantasy begins with a cheery conceit, but underneath lingers a fear of loss. Guilt-ridden Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), newly deceased, bypasses heaven for hell, where he finds a skeptical Satan. In lusciously restored Technicolor, Henry recounts his mottled life from the 1870s to the 1940s, as he woos and betrays his wife, Martha (a radiant Gene Tierney), and wins her again. Lubitsch nimbly conveys the passage of time (whiskers change; elderly characters disappear and children arrive), but the chuckling humor is sometimes too genteel for its own good. Although Henry is referred to as a ”Casanova,” the light ”Lubitsch touch” and period censorship never let his lechery register as a serious blot on his character. EXTRAS In addition to an admiring dialogue between critics Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris, the late screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, who collaborated on several Lubitsch films, is profiled in a feisty 1982 PBS doc (”I am a better craftsman than Eugene O’Neill”) and participates in a lively 1977 audio discussion, in which he notes that Truffaut stole the ending of Heaven Can Wait for The Man Who Loved Women.