Heaven Can Wait (1943)

112 mins | Comedy | 13 August 1943

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Birthday . An English translation of Lazlo Bus-Feketes' play, also entitled Birthday , opened in New York on 26 Dec 1934. According to a 20 May 1942 LAEx news item, Ginger Rogers was considered for the leading female role, and on 25 Nov 1942, HR noted that producer/director Ernst Lubitsch was in talks with Joseph Cotten to play the role of "Henry Van Cleve." According to a modern source, Lubitsch and Samson Raphaelson wrote the part for either Fredric March or Rex Harrison, but studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck asked Lubitsch to test Don Ameche. Studio publicity releases announced in early 1943 that Reginald Gardiner was originally set for the part of "Albert Van Cleve," and Frank Orth was to play "a loquacious taxi driver." Contemporary sources reveal that Simone Simon was cast in the part of "Mademoiselle," but, according to a 4 Feb 1943 HR news item, Simon left the picture after her demands to have her part expanded and her name billed higher in the cast list were not met. Signe Hasso was borrowed from M-G-M to replace Simon, and actress Spring Byington was also borrowed from M-G-M for the production. Although studio publicity lists include Robert Michael Chambers in the role of "Henry Van Cleve" as an infant, and a HR news item includes Gretl Dupont in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to a 25 Jun 1943 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox president Spyros Skouras believed that the picture was "one of ... More Less

The working title of this film was Birthday . An English translation of Lazlo Bus-Feketes' play, also entitled Birthday , opened in New York on 26 Dec 1934. According to a 20 May 1942 LAEx news item, Ginger Rogers was considered for the leading female role, and on 25 Nov 1942, HR noted that producer/director Ernst Lubitsch was in talks with Joseph Cotten to play the role of "Henry Van Cleve." According to a modern source, Lubitsch and Samson Raphaelson wrote the part for either Fredric March or Rex Harrison, but studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck asked Lubitsch to test Don Ameche. Studio publicity releases announced in early 1943 that Reginald Gardiner was originally set for the part of "Albert Van Cleve," and Frank Orth was to play "a loquacious taxi driver." Contemporary sources reveal that Simone Simon was cast in the part of "Mademoiselle," but, according to a 4 Feb 1943 HR news item, Simon left the picture after her demands to have her part expanded and her name billed higher in the cast list were not met. Signe Hasso was borrowed from M-G-M to replace Simon, and actress Spring Byington was also borrowed from M-G-M for the production. Although studio publicity lists include Robert Michael Chambers in the role of "Henry Van Cleve" as an infant, and a HR news item includes Gretl Dupont in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to a 25 Jun 1943 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox president Spyros Skouras believed that the picture was "one of the most important films ever to be released by the organization." Heaven Can Wait , which was Lubitsch's first production for Twentieth Century-Fox and his first film in Technicolor, received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Direction. In 1946, Don Ameche noted in The Saturday Evening Post 's "The Role I Liked Best" column that the role of "Henry Van Cleve" was his favorite to date because, "in both the time and the emotional sense," it had "greater scope than any other picture I have played in." On 10 Oct 1943, Ameche and Maureen O'Hara starred in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of Heaven Can Wait . Modern sources include Claire James, Roseanne Murray, Marion Rosamond, Adele Jergens and Ruth Brady in the cast as Ziegfeld girls. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
24 Jul 1943.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jul 43
pp. 3-4.
Film Daily
21 Jul 43
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Nov 42
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jan 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 43
p. 1, 7
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 43
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 43
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Apr 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jul 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 43
p. 16.
Los Angeles Examiner
20 May 1942.
---
Motion Picture Daily
21 Jul 1943.
---
Motion Picture Herald
24 Jul 1943.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
24 Jul 43
p. 1441.
New York Times
12 Aug 43
p. 15.
The Saturday Evening Post
9 Feb 1946.
---
Variety
21 Jul 43
p. 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Ernst Lubitsch's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Diction instructor
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor director
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Szueletesnap by Lazlo Bus-Fekete (Budapest, Dec 1934).
MUSIC
"By the Light of the Silvery Moon," music by Gus Edwards
"The Merry Widow Waltz" by Franz Lehár.
SONGS
"The Sheik of Araby," music by Ted Snyder, lyrics by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Birthday
Release Date:
13 August 1943
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 11 August 1943
Production Date:
1 February--10 April 1943
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
13 August 1943
Copyright Number:
LP12346
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
112
Length(in feet):
10,102
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
9073
SYNOPSIS

Upon the death of seventy-year-old Henry Van Cleve, a member of New York's social elite, he resigns himself to being sent to Hell and goes there directly. When he arrives, however, he is greeted by His Excellency, a well-dressed gentleman who demands to know what crimes Henry has committed that would justify his internment in Hell. Replying that the best way to relate the story of his life is to describe the women in it, Henry begins his tale: When he was born in 1872, Henry's mother Bertha and grandmother spoiled him constantly, and as he grew, he quickly began to notice the opposite sex. One day, young Henry shows little Mary a beetle, and as she sweetly persuades him to give her another beetle, Henry realizes, "If you want to win a girl, you have to have lots of beetles." The wealthy Van Cleve family, headed by Henry's indulgent father Randolph and his high-spirited grandfather, provide Henry with every luxury, including a maid to tutor him in French when he is fourteen years old. The lovely "Mademoiselle" is soon tutoring Henry in the ways of champagne and romance, until the morning of his fifteenth birthday, when his aghast parents find their son too hung-over to celebrate. Grandfather chuckles and whisks Mademoiselle out of the house before Randolph and Bertha can punish her. Henry's life as a happy-go-lucky drinker and skirt-chaser continues until his twenty-sixth birthday. That morning, Henry confesses to his mother that he has met the girl of his dreams and would gladly marry her, if only he knew her name. In the evening, Henry attends the dinner party celebrating ... +


Upon the death of seventy-year-old Henry Van Cleve, a member of New York's social elite, he resigns himself to being sent to Hell and goes there directly. When he arrives, however, he is greeted by His Excellency, a well-dressed gentleman who demands to know what crimes Henry has committed that would justify his internment in Hell. Replying that the best way to relate the story of his life is to describe the women in it, Henry begins his tale: When he was born in 1872, Henry's mother Bertha and grandmother spoiled him constantly, and as he grew, he quickly began to notice the opposite sex. One day, young Henry shows little Mary a beetle, and as she sweetly persuades him to give her another beetle, Henry realizes, "If you want to win a girl, you have to have lots of beetles." The wealthy Van Cleve family, headed by Henry's indulgent father Randolph and his high-spirited grandfather, provide Henry with every luxury, including a maid to tutor him in French when he is fourteen years old. The lovely "Mademoiselle" is soon tutoring Henry in the ways of champagne and romance, until the morning of his fifteenth birthday, when his aghast parents find their son too hung-over to celebrate. Grandfather chuckles and whisks Mademoiselle out of the house before Randolph and Bertha can punish her. Henry's life as a happy-go-lucky drinker and skirt-chaser continues until his twenty-sixth birthday. That morning, Henry confesses to his mother that he has met the girl of his dreams and would gladly marry her, if only he knew her name. In the evening, Henry attends the dinner party celebrating the engagement of his stuffy, proper cousin Albert and his beautiful fiancée, Martha Strabel. Henry is overwhelmed by the sight of Martha, for she is the girl he fell in love with the previous day during a chance meeting at a bookstore. Henry presses his suit, and Martha, who is marrying Albert only to escape the Kansas home of her rich meatpacker parents, admits that she returns Henry's love. The couple elope that night, and Grandfather finances their honeymoon when the horrified Strabels disown Martha. Ten years later, on the day before Martha and Henry's anniversary, which is also Henry's thirty-sixth birthday, Henry is having breakfast with their son Jack when he receives a telegram from Martha, announcing that she has left him. Henry follows Martha to the Strabels' home in Kansas, where her parents have reluctantly reconciled with her. Albert, who met Martha on her train journey, tells her that he still loves her, although Martha barely listens to his declarations. Upon Henry's arrival, Martha reveals that she is aware of Henry's continued philandering, but his charm and Grandfather's determination convince her to forgive her errant husband and the couple "elope" again. Henry and Martha settle down happily as the years pass, until Henry grows worried about Jack's attachment to a chorus girl named Peggy Nash. Henry visits Peggy, who accepts his offer of $25,000 to leave Jack alone. Jack, who has been spoiled just as Henry was, has already tired of Peggy, however, and announces that he has a new girl friend. That night, Martha tells Henry that she likes the look of him now that he is fifty, for his slight potbelly means that he is no longer a Casanova. Later, at a party celebrating the couple's silver anniversary, Henry learns that Martha is ill, and they dance their last dance together. By the time he turns sixty, widower Henry has returned to his fun-loving ways. Jack, who has settled down and become a responsible businessman, despairs that his father stays out late every night, but a reminder of Martha prompts Henry to rescind his request for a young, female reading companion. Ten years later, on Henry's seventieth birthday, a visiting doctor warns Jack and his wife to watch the ailing old man's diet. In his bedroom, Henry wakes up from a dream about dancing with a beautiful blonde woman in a sea of whiskey and soda, then dies while the night nurse, a beautiful blonde, takes his temperature. Having completed his story, Henry is told by His Excellency that they do not cater to "his class of people" in Hell, and that he should apply elsewhere. Henry protests that he will not be admitted, but His Excellency assures him that someone special is waiting for him, and that she will be happy to plead his case. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.