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Heaven Can Wait (1943 film)

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Heaven Can Wait
Theatrical poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Written bySamson Raphaelson
Based onBirthday/Születésnap
1934 play
by Leslie Bush-Fekete
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
Narrated byDon Ameche
CinematographyEdward Cronjager
Edited byDorothy Spencer
Music byAlfred Newman
20th Century Fox
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 11, 1943 (1943-08-11)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office
  • $2.5 million (rentals)[3] or $2.8 million (US rentals)[4]
  • $3,963,600[2]

Heaven Can Wait is a 1943 Technicolor American comedy film produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The screenplay was by Samson Raphaelson based on the play Birthday by Leslie Bush-Fekete [de]. The music score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography by Edward Cronjager.

The film tells the story of a man who has to prove he belongs in Hell by telling his life story. It stars Gene Tierney, Don Ameche, and Charles Coburn. The supporting cast includes Marjorie Main, Laird Cregar, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Eugene Pallette, Signe Hasso, Louis Calhern, Tod Andrews, and Clara Blandick.


An aged Henry Van Cleve enters the opulent reception area of "where innumerable people had told him so often to go", to be personally greeted by "His Excellency". Henry petitions to be admitted (fully aware of the kind of life he has led), but some doubt exists as to his qualifications. To prove his worthiness (or rather unworthiness), he begins to tell the story of his dissolute life.

Born in Manhattan on October 25, 1872, Henry is the spoiled only child of stuffy, naive, wealthy parents Randolph and Bertha. His paternal grandmother is also doting and naive, although his down-to-earth grandfather Hugo Van Cleve, a self-made millionaire, understands Henry quite well. Henry grows up to be an idle young man with a taste for attractive showgirls. One day, Henry overhears a beautiful woman lying to her mother on a public telephone. Intrigued, he follows her into a Brentano's bookstore and pretends to be an employee to get to know her better. Despite learning that she is engaged to marry, he begins making advances, finally confessing he does not work there, whereupon she hastily departs.

Later, his obnoxious cousin Albert introduces the family to his fiancée, Martha, and her feuding parents, the Strables. Henry is shocked to find that his mystery woman and Martha are one and the same. It turns out that Albert was the first suitor of whom both her parents approved. Fearful of spending the rest of her life as a spinster in Kansas City, Martha agreed to marry him. Henry convinces her to elope with him instead. Though everyone except Grandpa Van Cleve is scandalized, eventually they are received back into the family.

Henry and Martha enjoy a happy marriage and become the proud parents of a boy. On the eve of their tenth anniversary, however, Martha finds out about what appears to be Henry's continuing dalliances with other women and goes back to her parents. Henry and Grandpa follow her there. Sneaking into the Strable house, Henry corrects the misunderstanding, begs her forgiveness, and talks her into "eloping" a second time, much to Grandpa's delight.

Fifteen years later, Henry meets chorus girl Peggy Nash in her dressing room shortly before her performance. What seems to be an attempt at courtship is soon revealed as an attempt by Henry to turn her away from his son, Jack, who has been dating her. When Peggy reveals her knowledge of his true identity, Henry buys her off, instead, for $25,000 (equivalent to about $340,000 in 2021). Jack later reveals he was glad to have got rid of her so easily.

Martha passes away shortly after their 25th anniversary. Henry resumes an active social life much to the amusement of his son. On October 26, 1942, the day after his 70th birthday, Henry dies under the care of a beautiful nurse, her coming having been portended in a dream. After hearing Henry's story, His Excellency denies him entry and suggests he try the "other place", where Martha and his grandfather are waiting for him, hinting that there may be "a small room vacant in the annex".



The film made a profit of $1,286,200.[2]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[5] Outstanding Motion Picture Ernst Lubitsch Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Cinematography – Color Edward Cronjager Nominated
Hugo Awards[6] Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form Samson Raphaelson and Ernst Lubitsch Won
Photoplay Awards Best Performances of the Month (September) Gene Tierney and Don Ameche Won


Heaven Can Wait was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2015.[7]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 241, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ a b c Mank, Gregory William (2018). Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy. McFarland.
  3. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 220, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  4. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, January 5, 1944, p 54
  5. ^ "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on October 14, 2013. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  6. ^ "1944 Retro-Hugo Awards Announced". The Hugo Awards. August 15, 2019. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
  7. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

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