Top critical review
Lubitch's film makes adultery acceptable and even cute!
on June 30, 1999
Heaven Can Wait can be viewed as the director's attempt to introduce a "Lubitch touch" of sophisticated European sexual morality and attitude into the uptight moral structure that ruled Hollywood films in the 1940s. Lubitch came from a world where sexual relationships were based on "laisons dangereux," games, and loose sensual connections which evoke the court romances of Versailles in the reign of Louis IV. Armed with this attitude, Lubitch took on this film with a passion because here was material that was truly his cup of tea--a handsome, sophisticated gentleman who can't say No to the ladies from his earliest teenage years to his old age. In fact, Henry van Cleve is clearly a philanderer, a womanizer and a cheat! His wife realizes this early in their marriage and wants a divorce, but is convinced by her sweet-talking husband to "stand by her man." In fact Mrs. van Cleve is well aware of his habits and accepts them with a quiet and chuckling acceptance--and continues to do so until she dies conveniently off-stage. Strangely, she feels that her husband is finally hers when she notices he has a "little tummy." Of course, Mr. V continues his lecherous ways until the very moment of his demise which the audience is led to believe was brought on by the pretty blonde nurse who enters his sick room. Lubitch's moral position is strange indeed for a 40s Hollywood film. Through the character of the Excellency, he literally excuses or absolves the husband from his marital vow to stay true to his wife. He accomplishes this by having the husband continually announce his undying love for his spouse--and having the wife believe it!.
Viewed from one angle, Lubitch seems to be saying that in the end it is the love of husband and wife that really counts. But I see it rather as Lubitch's sophisticated European approach to sex where "Love (all Love) Conquers All."