Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Classic Scene #35
Arguably the greatest opening scene of any film, Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) redefines gentlemanly bravery in the face of impending death in Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death. It's a little movie unto itself. Carter is heartbreaking, facing his fate with stoic good humour, quoting Walter Raleigh's The Pilgrimage and Andrew Marvell's To his Coy Mistress. He's an ideal of a certain kind of Englishness, of gentlemanly values, a chivalric echo. Throughout the war years in films like A Canterbury Tale and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Powell was preoccupied with this English tradition, and here he gives us it's epitome in Peter Carter. Niven is fantastic but let's not underestimate what Kim Hunter brings to the scene. Her reactions are just as important to the connection they make. She provides American vitality and youth, the grave empathy of her peaches and cream complexion and not incidentally, all the information Peter needs to dream the rest of the film. And finally there's the technicolour which is like no other, a gorgeous burnished glow that's like life itself as seen for the last time.