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Heaven Can Wait is a 1943 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.

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 and Louis Calhern.


An aged Henry van Cleve (Ameche) enters the opulent reception area of Hell, to be personally greeted by "His Excellency" (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.

In late nineteenth century New Yorkmarker, Henry is the spoiled only child of stuffy, upper class parents Randolph (Calhern) and Bertha (Byington). His paternal grandparents are just as doting, though grandfather Hugo van Cleve (Coburn) is a free spirit, the only one in the hidebound family other than Henry. As a result, 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 bookstore 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 doesn't work there, whereupon she hastily departs.

Later, obnoxious cousin Albert (Joslyn) introduces the family to his fiancee, Martha (Tierney), and her feuding parents, the Strabels (Pallette, 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 both her parents approved of; previously, anyone her father liked, her mother couldn't stand, and vice versa. Fearful of spending the rest of her life as a spinster in Kansas, Martha agreed to marry him. Henry convinces her to elope with him instead. Everyone (except Grandpa van Cleve) is scandalized.

Eventually, they are received back into the family. They have a son, but on the eve of their tenth anniversary, Martha finds out about Henry's dalliance with another woman and goes back to her parents. Henry and Grandpa follow her there. Henry begs her forgiveness and talks her into "eloping" a second time, much to Grandpa's delight.

Their marriage is blissful from then onwards, until Martha passes away shortly after their twenty-fifth anniversary. Henry lives to a ripe old age, then dies (fittingly) while under the care of a gorgeous nurse. After hearing Henry's story, His Excellency denies him entry and suggests he try the "other place", where Martha is waiting for him, hinting that there might be "a small room vacant in the annex".


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

Unrelated namesake

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

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