I always find it a pleasure to watch an Ernst Lubitsch film. They seem to run at a different pace than most movies, with a lot of surprises along the way. Take, “Heaven Can Wait,” a comedy starring Don Ameche, Gene Tierney and Charles Coburn from 1943. Lubitsch and his screenplay writer, the great Samson Raphaelson, treat us to the life of a rake (Ameche) as told to the devil (Laird Cregar). It’s a joy to see Ameche’s character (Henry Van Cleve) break every stuffy convention practiced by society at the turn of the 20th century.
Tierney’s Martha marries Henry as a reprieve from her rich but very unsophisticated family (played by Marjorie Main and Eugene Pallette). Henry walks a fine line flaunting moral convention while maneuvering to keep his wife happy. In the process, we see Henry’s entire life unfold as he slowly gains wisdom.
My favorite Lubitsch film remains “Trouble in Paradise” from 1932, which is also a brilliantly witty comedy. I like the nice technicolor treatment Lubitsch gives Heaven Can Wait. Tierney looks luminous in color, and the devil, as played by Cregar, appears more menacing. The 20th Century Fox Studio did wonderful work in Technicolor during the 1940s.
The 1978 Warren Beatty film called Heaven Can Wait is not a remake of this film but of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” from 1941. Here Comes Mr. Jordan featured the inimitable Claude Rains as Mr. Jordan. James Mason play Mr. Jordan in the Beatty film.