Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
Release Date: August 21st, 1941 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Alexander Hall Actors: Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains, Rita Johnson, Edward Everett Horton, James Gleason, Donald MacBride
ere Comes Mr. Jordan” is a cleverly scripted fantasy that tells the farfetched tale of an accidentally premature death and the heavenly incarnation catastrophes that arise while attempting to correct the error. Showcasing excellent acting, cinematography, and direction, with a consistently upbeat and reasoning approach to heavy themes (through witty dialogue and comedically hectic situations), this film is an encouraging, hopeful example of risk-taking filmmaking in the ‘40s. Sustained optimism, lesser-known stars, and an unsung stage play basis couldn’t stop the production from picking up critical success, with an eventual seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.
Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) is an up-and-coming boxer on his way to winning a championship title. When he ill-advisedly flies a plane to his next bout and crashes mid-journey, courier angel #7013 (played by the delightfully fussy Edward Everett Horton) unseasonably takes Joe up to heaven – only to realize that he wasn’t supposed to die for another 50 years! When Joe’s earthly body is swiftly cremated, the messenger and his boss, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), take responsibility, scouring the earth in search of another form that Joe’s spirit can inhabit. They soon locate a wealthy businessman who is about to be murdered by his wife and secretary – and in the hopes of making everything right and winning the heart of sympathetic victim Bette (Evelyn Keyes), Joe agrees to don the body (like a suit) in what will become an uproarious chain of incorporeal consciousness-hopping chaos.
Rich with controversial notions, including spiritualism, reincarnation, inevitability, destiny, and fate, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” is a fascinatingly unique, consistently cheerful film that takes likeable characters and places them in outlandish circumstances. Joe’s soul is actually the star of the film, as his temporal body is quickly destroyed. In an unconventional method of preserving the lead actor’s personality and appearance, Joe stays the same each time he takes over a different physical body. The characters surrounding him still see the old figure, but the audience sees Robert Montgomery. It’s an easy way to portray jumping from one organic structure to another without recasting or using makeup/prosthetics, but it’s also one of many aspects that today’s audiences wouldn’t readily accept (there’s something comforting in the occasional dose of reality). The romantic interest, mentally bamboozled with Joe’s corpse-switching routine and intuitively re-falling for the same Mr. Right, is definitely another – though it occasionally points to the thought-provoking theory that love is a connection that transcends physical perception. And an amnesia explanation to tidy things up at the conclusion is notably contrived for the sake of cohesion.
Underappreciated and somewhat forgotten by contemporary audiences (it opened alongside the significant dramas of “Citizen Kane,” “How Green Was My Valley,” and “The Maltese Falcon”), this Alexander Hall-helmed romantic comedy was followed by a loose sequel, “Down to Earth,” in 1947. The sensationalism of the original was not lost on writer/director/actor Warren Beatty, who remade the film (reclaiming the play’s title “Heaven Can Wait”) in 1978, with practically the same plot, garnering an impressive nine Oscar nominations for his efforts. And even another adaptation surfaced in 2001, starring Chris Rock, with the confusing poaching of the title “Down to Earth.”
– Mike Massie