Heaven Can Wait

Synopsis: Henry Van Cleve presents himself at the gates of Hell only to find he is closely vetted on his qualifications for entry. Surprised there is any question on his suitability, he recounts his lively life and the women he has known from his mother onwards, but mainly concentrating on his happy but sometimes difficult twenty-five years of marriage to Martha.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Director(s): Ernst Lubitsch
Production: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Rotten Tomatoes:
112 min

- How do you do, Mr. Van Cleve?

- Good afternoon, Your Excellency.

- Very kind of you to receive me.

- Not at all.

- Oh, please. Sit down.

- Thank you.

I hope you'll forgive me,

but we're so busy down here.

Really, sometimes it looks as if

the whole world is coming to hell.

Frankly, I haven't had an opportunity

to familiarize myself with your case.

When did it happen, Mr. Van Cleve?

Tuesday. To be exact,

I died at 9:
36 in the evening.

I trust you didn't suffer much.

Oh, no, no.

Not in the least.

I had finished my dinner-

- A good one, I hope.

- Oh, excellent, excellent.

I ate everything

the doctor forbade, and then...

well, to make a long story short...

shall we say,

I fell asleep without realizing it.

And when I awakened, there were

all my relatives speaking in low tones...

and saying nothing

but the kindest things about me.

Then I knew I was dead.

I presume your funeral

was satisfactory.

Well, there was a lot of crying, so...

I believe everybody had a good time.

It would have been an ideal funeral if

Mrs. Cooper-Cooper, a friend of the family...

hadn't volunteered to sing

"The End of a Perfect Day. "

You see, all my life I had succeeded in

avoiding Mrs. Cooper-Cooper's coloratura...

and this undoubtedly

was her revenge.

Mr. Van Cleve, I can see

that you have a sensitive, cultivated ear.

Oh, thank you.

Then let me warn you.

The music down here

is anything but pleasant.

Beethoven, Bach, Mozart -

you hear them only...


Yes. I know.

It won't be easy not to hear

the old masters again.

And there are several people

up there I would love to see.

Particularly one.

A very dear one.

- But I haven't a chance.

- Have you tried?

No, Your Excellency.

I have no illusions.

I know the life I lived.

I know where I belong.

I would like to get it over

as quickly as possible.

Very well. If you meet our requirements,

we'll be only too glad to accommodate you.

Would you be good enough

to mention, for instance...

some outstanding crime

you've committed?

Crime? Crime?

I'm afraid I can't think of any.

But I can safely say my whole life

was one continuous misdemeanor.

My dear Mr. Van Cleve, a passport to hell

is not issued on generalities.

No. I'm afraid you'll have to wait

until I have time to study your record.

Now look here.

I have to see His Excellency...

and no offiice boy's

going to stop me.

I beg your pardon, Your Excellency-

- Just a moment.

- I'm Edna Craig.

Oh, yes. I have your record here.

You'll be taken care of in just a moment.

I don't want to seem rude,

but I don't think I belong here.

- In just a moment -

- Please don't misunderstand me.

I think it is a charming place.

Isn't it?

Henry Van Cleve.

You know Edna Craig?

I'm sorry, madam.

I seem to be at a loss.

Oh, Henry.

Think back- many, many years.

The little brownstone house

around the corner from the old Waldorf?


Marmaduke Harrison's party.

We were all dressed as children.

And you came as, uh,

Little Lord Fauntleroy.

And they wheeled you in

in a baby carriage.

Little Constantinople.

Oh, Henry.

No girl in New York walked

on two more beautiful legs than you.

Little Constantinople.

Well, Henry, I still walk-

and on the same two legs.

And I'm sure they're still as beautiful.

Well, Henry, I'll let you

be the judge of that.

Those things are better left to memory.

But I must admit you're beginning

to interest me, Mr. Van Cleve.

I think I can spare the time

to listen to your story.

- Thank you, Your Excellency.

- Please sit down.

Perhaps the best way to tell you

the story of my life...

is to tell you about

the women in my life.

Well, let's start with

the first woman.

My mother.

A lovely lady, but prejudiced.

She thought I was wonderful.

She was the fiirst woman I ever fooled.

Then there was my grandmother.

She was just as prejudiced

as my mother.

How is the little darling?

Let me hold him.

No. Please, Mother Van Cleve.

Let the baby rest.

- You're just jealous, Bertha.

- I can't stand this any longer.

- I'm going to speak to Randolph about this.

- Yes, Randolph.

First you take my son away,

and now you want to alienate my grandchild.

My diapers needed changing,

and already women were fiighting for me.

What a way to start a man

on the road oflife.

I was not even two,

and I already got involved in a triangle.

At home, in the presence of my family,

I was the only man in my nurse's life.

I was her honeybunch,

her "oogi-woogi-woo. "

But the minute we got to the park-

Hello, Bedelia.

Well, if it isn't Patrick himself.

Ah, shut up, you nasty little brat.

No wonder I became a cynic.

My next lesson

came from little Mary.

- Hello, Mary.

- Don't speak to me, Henry Van Cleve.

You're a bad boy, and my mother says

I shouldn't talk to bad boys.

I bet you don't know

what I've got in this box.

And I'm not interested,

Henry Van Cleve.

Then I won't tell you it's a beetle.

A beetle?

- Do you like it?

- Oh, who doesn't like beetles?

- It's yours.

- Thank you.

Oh, thank you, Henry.

- I wonder if I should take it.

- If you don't want it -

Oh, I didn't mean it that way.

I was just wondering.

Don't worry.

I've got another one.

- Another beetle?

- Uh-huh.

Oh, it's beautiful.

It looks rather lonely though.

You know what I think?

I think it wants to be together with mine.

You mean you want this one too?

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Samson Raphaelson

Samson Raphaelson (1894–1983) was a leading American playwright, screenwriter and fiction writer. While working as an advertising executive in New York, he wrote a short story based on the early life of Al Jolson, called The Day of Atonement, which he then converted into a play, The Jazz Singer. This would become the first talking picture, with Jolson as its star. He then worked as a screenwriter with Ernst Lubitsch on sophisticated comedies like Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, and Heaven Can Wait, and with Alfred Hitchcock on Suspicion. His short stories appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and other leading magazines, and he taught creative writing at the University of Illinois. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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