Heaven Can Wait (1943 film)

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. The music score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography by Edward Cronjager.

Heaven Can Wait
theatrical poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
Written byLeslie Bush-Fekete
Screenplay bySamson Raphaelson
Based onBirthday/Születésnap
1934 play
by Leslie Bush-Fekete[1]
StarringGene Tierney
Don Ameche
Charles Coburn
Narrated byDon Ameche
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyEdward Cronjager
Edited byDorothy Spencer
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)[4] or $2.8 million (US rentals)[5]

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 (Don Ameche) enters the opulent reception area of Hell, to be personally greeted by "His Excellency" (Laird Cregar). Henry petitions to be admitted (fully aware of the kind of life he had led), but there is some doubt 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, clueless, wealthy parents Randolph (Louis Calhern) and Bertha (Spring Byington). His paternal grandmother (Clara Blandick in an uncredited role) is also doting and naive, although his down-to-earth grandfather Hugo Van Cleve (Charles Coburn), a self-made millionaire, understands Henry quite well. Henry grows up 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 and pretends to be an employee to get to know her better. Despite learning that she is engaged, he begins making advances, finally confessing he does not work there, whereupon she hastily departs.

Later, obnoxious cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn) introduces the family to his fiancée, Martha (Gene Tierney), and her feuding parents, the Strables (Eugene Pallette, Marjorie Main). 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 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 begs her forgiveness and talks her into "eloping" a second time, much to Grandpa's delight.

Fifteen years later, Henry meets a chorus girl Peggy Nash (Helene Reynolds) in her dressing room shortly before her performance. What begins as a courtship is soon revealed as an attempt by Henry to turn her away from his son, who has been dating her. When Peggy reveals her knowledge of his true identity, Henry buys her off instead for $25,000.

Martha passes away shortly after their twenty-fifth 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, having portended her coming 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 might be "a small room vacant in the annex".



The film made a profit of $1,286,200.[3]


It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Cinematography – Color, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Unrelated namesake

Heaven Can Wait (1978) is a remake of an entirely different film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), which was based on a 1938 stage play originally titled Heaven Can Wait.


  1. "Leslie Bush-Fekete". IMDb. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  2. Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 241, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  3. Mank, Gregory William (2018). Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy. McFarland.
  4. Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 220, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  5. "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, January 5, 1944, p 54

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