Heaven Can Wait

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Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1944) could never be made today. Comedy, marriage and courtship have changed too much.

When the courtly, Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) arrives in the foyer of hell, he presents his life story to a debonaire devil. Henry goes all the way back to his childhood when he’s brushed off by a cute little girl he’s sweet on and continues trying to impress girls all his life. He’s well heeled, warm hearted and witty. Yet he doesn’t have all that much luck with women.

His luck changes when he glimpses Martha (Gene Tierney) and falls head over heels. He follows her into a book shop and pretends to be a clerk, just to get a chance to talk to her. A blushing beauty, she’s stand-offish but interested, despite being engaged to another. Soon it turns out that Martha’s fiancée is Henry’s uptight cousin. Henry continues to pursue Martha till she decides to follow her heart.

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The bickering, country in-laws

Lubitsch shows time passing and alludes to Henry’s infidelity in a very subtle way. Still the point’s made and we see a witty, poignant view of marriage. The extended family is a cast of comical, albeit stereotypical characters. But Heaven Can Wait shows that a lovable stereotype like the straight-laced cousin or the frisky, lenient grandpa do entertain when done right.