Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
(aka Stairway to Heaven)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) (1946, UK)

In Powell and Pressburger's ("The Archers") romantic fantasy:

  • the narrated, voice-over beginning: ("It's night over Europe. The night of the 2nd of May, 1945. That point of fire is a burning city. It had a thousand-bomber raid an hour ago. And here, rolling in over the Atlantic is a real English fog. I hope all our aircraft got home safely. Even the big ships sound frightened. Listen to all the noises in the air")
  • the opening sequence of a radio distress call by squadron leader pilot Peter D. Carter (David Niven) delivered within a burning British RAF bomber plane -- as he fell in love with American, Boston-born WAC radio operator June (Kim Hunter) before leaping without a parachute: ("Position nil. Repeat, nil. Age 27. 27. You get that? That's very important. Education interrupted. Violently interrupted. Religion, Church of England. Politics, Conservative by nature, Labour by experience...I can't give you my position. Instruments gone, crew gone too. All except Bob here, my sparks. He's dead. The rest all bailed out on my orders. Time 03.35. You get that?...Name's not G, George, it's P, Peter. Peter D. Carter. D's for David. Squadron Leader Peter Carter. No, I'm not gonna land - undercarriage is gone. Inner port's on fire. I'm bailing out presently, I'm bailing out... Yes June, I'm bailing out. I'm bailing out, but there's a catch. I've got no parachute....Hello, June, don't be afraid. It's quite simple. We've had it and I'd rather jump than fry. After the first thousand feet, what's the difference? I shan't know anything, anyway. I hope I haven't frightened you....I'll be a ghost and come and see you! You're not frightened of ghosts are you?...I was lucky to get you, June. Can't be helped about the parachute. I'll have wings soon anyway, big white ones... I'm signing off now, June. Goodbye. Goodbye, June")
  • his waking up - still alive - after landing back on Earth - and meeting June on an English beach as she was bicycling home: ("You're Peter! How did you get here? I'm glad you're safe. What did you do? What happened?...Are you hurt?...Oh, there's a little cut in your hair, nothing much. Oh, Peter, it was a cruel joke....I've been crying so ever since we said goodbye")
  • the discrepancy reported in heaven's celestial court: ("91,716 invoiced, 91,715 checked in") - as Conductor 71 (a guillotined French Revolution aristocrat), an Other World escort, explained the problem: ("Everything was calculated except for the accursed fog! The pilot jumped, he got lost in the fog, I missed him")
  • the view of the marvelous ascending stairway into the heavens (the heaven sequences were filmed in B/W) lined with statues of famous people (Lincoln, Plato, Richelieu, Solomon), as Peter and Conductor 71 rode up - the statues represented potential counsels for Peter for his upcoming trial, but Peter balked at all of them: ("It sounds a grand idea to have all these great men to choose from, but what do they know of our problems today?...Besides, I think it ought to be an Englishman. Nobody famous, but somebody with his head screwed on all right")
  • the startling POV shot through his huge closing eyelid when Carter was on an operating table (facing surgery for a brain injury) and hovering between life and death - and his dream that his spirit was on trial, with God (Abraham Sofaer) serving as Judge, Carter's recently-deceased best friend Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey) as his defense counsel, and Abraham Farlan (Raymond Massey) (the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War) as the prosecutor, about whether he should be claimed or survive
  • the image of one of June's single, glittering love tears caught on the petals of a pinkish rose that was to be used as "the only real bit of evidence we have"
  • the panoramic view of the three-day trial in the enormous heavenly courtroom (filled with soldiers who lost their lives in war) revealed in a long pull-back shot as a gigantic arena - and then as the center of a swirling galaxy in space (an effects shot combining miniatures and artwork)
Heavenly Courtroom (A Spiraling Galaxy) - Peter's Spirit on Trial
  • and the final scene of a tearful June taking Carter's place on the staircase to the Other World to die for him; the two stared at each other (with a close-up of the tearful June as she said 'goodbye darling'), but then with a jolt, the stairs stopped, culminating with the lovers' embrace and the approval of Carter's appeal; Reeves stated: ("Nothing is stronger than the law in the universe, but on Earth, nothing is stronger than love")
"Nothing is Stronger Than Love"
June: "Goodbye darling"
June's Self-Sacrifice -
Leading to Peter's Winning of Appeal to Live
  • in the film's ending, June ran down the stairs to embrace Carter, after having his appeal granted and he was given a long life by the court
  • words of Sir Walter Scott were intoned by God/the Judge: ("Members of the jury, as Sir Walter Scott is always saying, 'In peace, love tunes the shepherd's reed; in war, he mounts the warrior's steed; in halls, in gay attire is seen; in hamlets, dances on the green. Love rules the court, the camp, the grove, and men below and saints above. For Love is heaven, and heaven is Love'")

RAF Pilot Peter Carter's Radio Distress Call

Radio Operator June

Peter Meeting June On Beach After Jumping From Plane

Heavenly Discrepancy

Stairway to Heaven

Eyelid POV shot

June's Love Tears Caught on Pink Rose Petals

Peter and June Together


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z