After Henry (Don Ameche) dies, he heads straight to Hell’s lobby to tell Satan the story of his life in order to gain entrance to the underworld. You see, Henry is convinced that with all his womanizing over the years he’d never be admitted into heaven. What unfolds is the life of a wealthy man who’s not as bad as he says he is. The story becomes a classic romantic comedy that everyone can enjoy.
Now, when I say romantic comedy, don’t cringe (that’s my initial reaction anyway). Today when we hear those two words that flock estrogen filled women to theaters with their ill fated males in tow, we conjure up images of some chick who used to be in a popular show with that one hot guy and cliche moments of misunderstandings and the girl all mad and crying and the guy running to catch her plane just in time to kiss her as what ever song is popular then plays. How many of you imagined Jennifer Aniston or Sarah Jessica Parker in that mess? Then you know what a bad romantic comedy is. In 1943, that extent of dribble hadn’t been invented yet, what a wonderful world.
What makes Heaven Can Wait a romantic comedy is the fact that it follows Henry’s conquests in a delightfully humorous way. It starts at infancy and grows to where he gives a girl a beetle in the park. As a teenager, he sneaks out of the house to drink with the French maid and onward through adulthood and marriage. It’s funny, romantic and never becomes cliche.
One thing that makes this film so wonderful is the great spread of characters. That’s another thing that makes this so different from today’s RCs, their characters are usually flimsy as the newspaper their two star reviews are printed on. Here, in Heaven Can Wait, everyone is well rounded and interesting. Henry’s parents realize their son’s behavior is out of line, worry constantly over him and have a mind to punish him, yet the moment he walks in the door their hearts melt and they baby him and give him all he money he asks for until he’s a grown man. Henry’s cousin, Albert, seems to be the competition since he’s a good boy who becomes a lawer, but he’s such a twerpy little know-it-all no one can really stand him. He also has some air to him that reminds me of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. Even the few minutes we see of Satan are wonderful. I mean, he is His Excellency in a nice tux, slicked hair and some priceless facial expressions, but he never falls into a cliche when he could so easily have some horns.
Yes, in the realm of romantic comedies, I usually puke. But Heaven Can Wait is delightful, charming and just a wonderful film. Give it a try and I guarantee that it’ll make you laugh more than watching Sarah Jessica Parker and that lame British guy act like dopes in the country.
“Sometimes it looks as if the whole world is coming to hell.”