Director.: Alexander Hall; Cast: Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains, Edmund Everett Horton, James Gleason | USA | Drama | 94 min.
Based on the play by Harry Segall and scripted by Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller – the trio won Oscars for best original play and best adaption – Alexander Halls’ Here Comes Mr. Jordan, is not only vastly superior to Warren Beatty’s 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait, but also Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 comedy of the same name – even though the latter is based on a different screen play, but also features a complicated after life.
Boxer Joe Pendleton (Montgomery) flies his own plane, and crashes just before a world title fight. His manager and best friend Max Corcle (Gleason) cremates his body but heavenly Messenger 7013 (Horton) is in deep trouble: he rescued Pendleton during the fatal fall, but has to admit to his superior, the registrar Mr. Jordan (Rains), that Pendleton was not yet dead when he collected him for Heaven. Mr. Jordan’s files state that Pendleton has another 50 years to live – but since his body is no more, Mr. Jordan has to find him another incarnation, so he can live the rest of his life. Jordan picks the body of the business tycoon Farnsworth, who has just been murdered by his wife and private secretary. Whilst the guilty duo talk to Bettie Logan (Keyes), whose father has been ruined by Farnsworth and is in jail, Farnsworth (with the soul and personality of Pendleton), appears alive, causing his guilty wife to faint. Joe immediately falls in love with Bettie, paying off her father’s debts and having him released from prison. Joe’s personality is taken over, and he starts to train again, asking Corcle to arrange a fight for him. But Julia and her lover kill Farnsworth/Joe again, and he has just time to tell Bettie to look out for a boxer who might love her, before slipping into the body of a fighter, who is going to compete in the championship that very evening.
Columbia boss Harry Cohen was not very keen on filming the screenplay of an unknown author or paying for a costly ecclesiastical studio design; on top of it he had to ‘burrow’ Robert Montgomery from MGM – all anathema for the very frugal mogul. But after the success of the original, Cohen and Columbia followed with a sequel, Down to Earth” (1947), with Horton and Gleason reprising their roles, and Columbia’s crown jewel Rita Hayworth playing an angel in love with a mortal.
The main reason for the success of Here Comes Mr. Jordan is DoP Joseph Walker’s black-and white photography – he shot the majority of Frank Capra’s films, as well as Hawk’s His Girl Friday. Whilst Lubitsch and Beatty both chose to film in colour, Hall’s film derives his humour very much from a the very ‘Capra-like’ realism. In particular, the over-eager apprentice Horton and the super-bureaucrat Rains are just the opposite from how we imagine heavenly creatures. Montgomery is also impressive acting the same straightforward Joe in every personality he has to play. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a reminder that craftsmanship outlasted lavish productions in the 1940 as well as the 70s. AS
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