Cleve Her to Heaven
There is a wonderful touch of irony to "Heaven Can Wait" because the hero of the movie, the man that we end up warming to is a man who has spent his entire life eyeing up women even when he's married. It sort of feels wrong to favour a philanderer but then "Heaven Can Wait" is a comedy where are hero believes that having died he is due to go to hell for his life of smoozing and womanizing. And to be honest it is a rather good comedy even though sitting here now I can't think of any real laugh out load moments just one amusing scene after another all of which is wonderfully acted thanks to Don Ameche and Gene Tierney. In fact "Heaven Can Wait" may be almost 70 years old but the tale is as amusing now as I am sure it ever was.
Having passed away after reaching the age of 70, Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche - Corrina, Corrina) expectedly finds himself at the gates of hell where he meets His Excellency (Laird Cregar - The Black Swan). But whilst Henry believes he deserves to go to hell after a life time of philandering His Excellency is unsure and so Henry sets about telling him his life story, how women fought over him as a baby and how he fell for Martha (Gene Tierney - Leave Her to Heaven) but was not always the honourable husband to her.
"Heaven Can Wait" takes on a series of episodes in the life of Henry Van Cleve and these episodes generally fall around an anniversary usually his birthday. But before it gets to that we have Henry meeting His Excellency at the gates of hell where he explains via basically one long flashback why he feels he should be there. And that is the lead in to these episodes from having his mother and grandmother fighting over him as a baby, wooing his first girl as a child and through his life and on to his marriage to Martha.
All of these episodes are built around Henry's eye for a woman such as at his 26th birthday he ends up sweeping Martha of her feet despite the fact she is engaged to his cousin Albert. Then we get another episode 10 years on where their marriage is going through hard times thanks to his wandering eye. And so it continues till we finally come full circle and Henry having died recounting his life to His Excellency.
What makes all of this work is the easy going charm of it all as Henry smoozes his way in and out of one difficult episode after another. You end up warming to him even when Martha discovers that he has been cheating on her, because you sort of accept that being a ladies man is just part of Henry, something he cannot contain despite truly loving Martha. And at the same time you enjoy the fact that by winning Martha he gets one over on his cousin Albert who is stiff and snooty. It is all very old fashioned and to be honest quite simple but it is enjoyable even something as simple as Henry's grandfather encouraging him whilst also winding up Albert. It's why it's more amusing than laugh out loud funny because there are no real set piece gags, just Henry using his charm to get himself in and out of trouble.
The main reason why all this works is down to Don Ameche delivering a wonderful performance as Henry, taking us on a journey through his life going from the dashing womanizer to the more portly family man but still with an eye for the female form. It's because Ameche makes him so charming and smooth that we warm to him despite his wandering eye and whilst it's so wrong we feel for him especially when he starts to put on a bit of weight and realises that his dashing figure is escaping him. In fact Don Ameche is so good that whilst Gene Tierney is beautiful as his wife Martha and Charles Coburn adds a touch of comedy as Grandpa Hugo they end up being over shadowed. Although having said that all 3 of them work well together and there are plenty of amusing scenes which work thanks to the sharp banter which riffs between them.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Heaven Can Wait" is almost 70 years old it is still a surprisingly amusing movie. There is something a little wrong that we take a philanderer and almost a scoundrel to our hearts but Don Ameche makes Henry Van Cleve a man we can so easily warm to. And whilst there are barely any laugh out loud moments the gentle humour which threads it's way through every scene as Henry charms his way in and out trouble is simply good fun.