The Presidents Analyst

The trouble is that, by the time the error's been discovered and the official goes to collect Niven, he's fallen in love with an American woman (Kim Hunter, in her pre-Planet of the Apes days). Niven demands an appeal on the grounds that he'd never have fallen in love but for the celestial slip-up, and that he therefore is entitled to life and marriage.

It's at this point that the film turns into an affectionate satire of postwar Anglo-American tensions, the easing of which was what the Brit government is said to have commissioned Powell and Pressburger to do with the film. The bone of contention that is argued in the heavenly court--whether a romance between an Englishman and an American woman is worthy--seems a bit quaint today, but it was probably a very real one at the time.

The stunning restored print of this enchanting picture, which Valley Art is showing, is making the art-house rounds courtesy of Martin Scorsese, under its original British title, A Matter of Life and Death. It's a thinking person's holiday film: warm and enchanting, but also witty, even a bit edgy.

Speaking of the holidays, if you've got last-minute shopping to do, remember that the movie freak on your list generally can be bought off inexpensively with a decent movie guide. Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide (Signet), though by no means error-free and sometimes irritating in its critical judgments, remains the best general-reader's reference to the movies I know, and it has the advantage of being updated every year, thus always being a viable gift.

Somewhat more narrow in intent is Mark Satern's Illustrated Guide to Video's Best (Satern Press), a tome compiled by Valley writer Satern. Designed specifically for use while browsing at the video store, it includes only films that have received mainstream critical approval, and each entry is accompanied by a picture of the video packaging. It's a purely functional book, but it does have one advantage over Maltin's: It doesn't just claim a film is available on video and leave it at that. If you can find what you're looking for in Satern's book, you'll probably be able to find it on the shelf.

Filling the gaps of books like these is a favorite of mine, Michael Weldon's the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine), a witty compendium of movies too obscure, or too disreputable, to be recognized in the mainstream canon. Note to Santa, or to any of my loved ones who may be reading this: I could use a new copy. Mine was ruined four years ago by the leakings of a tear-gas canister in Washington, D.C. Don't ask.--M.V.Moorhead

Directed by Oliver Stone; with Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods, Powers Boothe, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Hyde Pierce and Mary Steenburgen.


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