August 21, 2009

Holy Smoke! 'AMOLAD' Has Improved With Age

I have to confess something. I never liked The Red Shoes.

There's something fake about it--contrived. A forced love story set in the world of ballet. It's just a little arch, if you can excuse the inadvertent pun.

But that doesn't mean I'm not a fan of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the creative directing (and sometimes writing) duo who helmed TRS. The talented twosome, in fact, spawned one of my favorite films, A Matter of Life and Death, which I just revisited today with great pleasure.

It hasn't gotten worse since I last saw it. In fact, it's gotten better.

AMOLAD should be on every fantasy-film fan's list of must-see movies. The story of a British fighter pilot (dashingly played by David Niven) who jumps from his burning plane and is lost in the English fog by the heavenly conductor who is supposed to escort him to the Great Beyond, AMOLAD enchants with its visionary view of this world and the next. Niven, who falls in love with an American (played with appropriate gusto by Kim Hunter), is cast perfectly as the man who wants--and is warranted--a second chance at life, and the great Roger Livesey is at his mellifluous best as the good doctor who tries to help him. The cinematography, which captures images such as an assembly line of wings in heaven and a great, moving staircase lined with statues of famous personages from history, is sumptuous, and the writing, credited, like the direction, to the P&P team, is sharp and charming.

The fact that this film isn't very well known is an injustice in the world of cinema. Perhaps it has something to do with the unwieldy title. The flick has appeared with an alternate name in the US, Stairway to Heaven, which is cliched but less clunky than AMOLAD. Still, this picture should be more frequently viewed by cineastes; it's one of the most imaginative movies I've seen, and the wonderful special effects still hold up, despite the fact that the film came out in 1946. This is a movie I'd recommend without question, but be prepared: It might make you want to watch more P&P movies, and despite the fact that their oeuvre remains impressive, few, if any, of their other films approach AMOLAD in quality.

Certainly not The Red Shoes.

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