Follow TV Tropes


Film / Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Go To
He can't wait to meet her.
Heaven Can Wait is a 1943 American comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, and Charles Coburn. The screenplay was written by Samson Raphaelson, based on the play Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fekete. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography - Color.

The film follows Henry Van Cleve (Ameche), a man hoping to prove he deserves a place in Hell by recounting his life story to the Devil at the reception of Hell. Henry talks of his life, in which he was the spoiled only child of an upper-class family. For much of his youth, including childhood, he spent his time chasing various women. The day before his 26th birthday, he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Martha Strabel (Tierney). Though she is engaged to his obnoxious cousin Albert, Henry is able persuade her to elope with him. The rest of their marriage chronicles both and happiness and difficulty they face in staying together.

Despite the title, has no connection with the Warren Beatty film Heaven Can Wait, which is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan.note 

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Affably Evil: Satan.
  • Alcohol Hic: Gee, is that the only sign they were drinking?
  • Anti-Hero: Henry isn't nasty or malevolent, but he's a rather flawed man
  • Awful Wedded Life: Martha's parents can barely stand each other and spend most of their time sniping at one another about trivial things. Martha admits to Henry that the only reason that she agreed to marry Albert in the first place was because both of her parents approved of him and she was worried that they may never agree on anything ever again.
  • The Casanova: Henry. Leads to problems later on when he's married to Martha.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Hell is one of these, although bonafide sinners are given more...expedient...processing while odd cases such as the protagonist's might get a cursory stopgap interview with Satan but can be deemed too vague for priority. If Henry hadn't fascinated the Devil, it's implied he might have been stuck waiting for another opportunity to tell his story indefinitely.
  • Cool Old Guy: Henry's grandfather. And quite surprisingly Satan himself.
  • Cradle To Grave Character: Henry tells the story of his life from birth to death to His Excellency.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Ominous bells sound as the opening title card tells us that Henry has died and is going to Hell.
  • Framing Device: Henry telling the Devil his story.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Martha wears several.
  • Graceful Loser: Unwilling to pass on despite having been given a beautiful dream of the hereafter, Henry tries to frustrate the powers that be by claiming that he will not leave his mortal coil unless he is presented with a vision of a gorgeous blonde woman to see him off. When he is almost immediately given such upon waking, he responds with quiet bemusement rather than sadness.
  • Happy Ending: The Devil says that Henry doesn't really belong in Hell and he should try "that other place."
  • Hellevator: Only told to go the other way.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Henry gently criticizes his parents for ever adoring or thinking highly of him.
  • Hospital Hottie: The blonde night nurse who takes care of Henry before he dies is very beautiful.
  • Insufferable Genius: Henry's cousin, Albert.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Henry for Martha.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Hugo first meets Martha (back when she was engaged to Albert), he tells her, "If I were 50 years younger, I'd be trying to take you away from this s- (remembers Albert is standing right there) splendid young man you're about to marry."
  • Love at First Sight: Henry and Martha. They stay together, but their marriage isn't perfect considering Henry's habit of getting around with the ladies.
  • Multigenerational Household: In 1908, four generations live at the Van Cleve house: Henry's grandfather Hugo, his mother Bertha, Henry and Martha and their son Jackie.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Subtly shown with Satan. At the start of the movie, he addresses Henry from across his desk, cordial but skeptical of the man's plea (he doesn't make much effort to press him for details and confesses that he hadn't bothered to read his file before receiving him), and is poised to throw him back out into the queue so he can get on with less murky work. When Henry manages to intrigue him, Satan casually sits atop his table, now genuinely interested to hear what his visitor has to say.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Hugo outlives his son Randolph.
  • Precocious Crush: The happens to a young Henry with his French tutor/nanny.
  • Pretty in Mink: Martha has a coat trimmed with gray fur, and a matching hat and muff.
  • Satan: His Excellency interviews Henry to see if he really deserves to be let into Hell. He is a surprisingly understanding and nice guy who sends Henry off to Heaven at the end.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell
  • Sneeze Interruption: When Martha is excused from a room by her fiancé Albert for "sneezing during the overture", this allows Henry to woo her and they run off to elope. She then sneezes again, interrupting the performance again and alerting everyone to the escape.
  • Together in Death: It's implied that Martha might be waiting for Henry in Heaven.
  • Trap Door: Satan dismisses an unpleasant visitor (and an old acquaintance's of Henry's) with one of these.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Henry's parents. His grandfather is much more on the ball.
  • World of Snark: From Hell to Earth, there's a lot of sharp wit to go around. Even among the witless.