What else can be said about Clarence talking George Bailey out of suicide in It’s A Wonderful Life? Heavenly comedies remain one of the most enduring old school Hollywood forms, but not only do they concern guardian angels, the Devil or God himself guiding the protagonist on his journey of self-discovery. Some of the best heavenly comedies take place in Heaven, Hell, or Limbo and usually involve the hero’s trip back to Earth from Heaven to right wrongs or wrong rights or otherwise prove his or her mettle. The following is a sample of some of our favorites and their conceptions of the Hereafter and the Heavenly Host.
Afterlife: Souls arrive at a kind of Purgatory where they are allowed to choose one significant memory from their lives. Angelic actors re-construct the scenes, obviously getting some details wrong. They are videotaped and the tapes are sent with the person to the Afterlife as the only remnant of their former lives.
The Hereafter: A cheap public-access soundstage.
The Heavenly Host: A Japanese theatre troupe.
South Park: After Kenny (Kenny) gets killed -- oh my God, those bastards! -- his soul flies through the cosmos on its way to heaven which is apparently on the other side of the universe. But because he saw a Canadian movie filled with obscenities, Kenny is vanquished to hell, where Satan and Saddam Hussein have a homosexual relationship.
The Hereafter: The sun pours through puffy cumulus clouds, or a burning pit of fire and torture.
The Heavenly Host: Animated naked girls with rather large breasts.
Defending Your Life: Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks), a selfish, cowardly ad exec gets into a horrible accident, dies and goes to Judgment City where he must convince the panel that he led a life free from fear and loathing or be doomed to return to Earth for do-overs. While he stands trial, he falls for Julia (Meryl Streep).
The Hereafter: Judgment City is not unlike a quintessential modern city, but everyone has to wear white robes.
The Heavenly Host: Judicial bureaucrats.
Heaven Can Wait: Beatty’s 1978 version and 1941’s Here Come Mr. Jordan are essentially the same movie. An athlete is snatched off to Heaven before his time to go by an over-enthusiastic angel. Mr. Jordan, the boss angel, attempts to return the athlete to his body. But to everyone’s dismay, they discover that the body has been cremated. The athlete is allowed to assume the identity of evil businessman, Mr. Farnsworth, recently murdered at the treacherous hands of his wife and business partner. No longer evil, regardless, Farnsworth is killed again and the athlete is allowed to return in yet another body in which he wins the championship and the girl.
The Hereafter: Lots of clouds, lots of blue, lots of white, lots of dry ice.
The Heavenly Host: James Masons and Claude Rains.
Heaven Can Wait: In Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 version, Henry Van Cleave (Don Ameche) dies and goes to Hades where His Excellency (Laird Cregar), a Satan almost as human as South Park’s Satan but not as gay, listens to Henry plead his case for entry (sort of the opposite of Defending Your Life). As the scenes unfold, we see that Henry is kind of a womanizer and a boozer, but really a decent guy. His Excellency points upward and says "If you'll forgive me, Mr. Van Cleave, we just don't want your kind down here."
The Hereafter: An office building.
The Heavenly Host: Fallen, but well-dressed.