Cinema Sleuth – Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Stars: 4 / 5
Recommendation: A charming classic film where you get to see the soul living on when over-zealous angels are involved. Some call it a depressing ending, but I call it a seemingly fitting one for someone who has an urge to fulfill their destiny no matter how many lives they have to go through.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a 1941 American romantic fantasy comedy film directed by Alexander Hall, produced by Everett Riskin; and released by Columbia Pictures. The film stars Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Rains, Rita Johnson, Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason among others.

A boxer and amateur pilot, Joe Pendleton (portrayed by Robert Montgomery), dies in a plane crash, and his soul is taken to heaven by Messenger 7013 (portrayed by Edward Everett Horton), by mistake. But when they come back to earth to deposit his soul back in his body, they find it is cremated by his manager Max “Pop” Corkle (portrayed by James Gleason). Since he was brought to heaven by mistake, Mr. Jordan, 7013’s boss (portrayed by Claude Rains), sends him into another recently deceased body as a compensation. Problems for Pendleton begins and they only keep compounding with a plethora of comedy errors for the viewers’ benefit.

The film is based on Harry Segall’s 1938 play Heaven Can Wait. Screenplay was provided by Sydney Buchman and Seton I. Miller. The only person to reprise their role from the theatre version to film was Edward Everett Horton who portrayed the role of Messenger 7013. The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards of which it won two – Best Story for Harry Segall; and Best Screenplay for Sydney Buchman and Seton I. Miller.

Robert Montgomery was loaned from MGM to Columbia Pictures. For Montgomery MGM had been home since he started his career in Hollywood in 1929. His earlier portrayal of a sophisticated playboy in the romance and comedy movies in 1930s, is shifted to a more serious tone in this film. Even his speech and dialogue delivery is a contrast to suave playboy he was portrayed before. No wonder he got an Academy Award nomination for this film.

However, at the time of the film’s release, Montgomery joined the Naval Reserves, and went on a four-year hiatus from Hollywood, while fighting for the country during World War II. He received a distinction for his service.

Eveleyn Keyes is the love interest Bette Logan for Montgomery’s Joe Pendleton. Everyone remembers her as Suellen O’Hara, Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister, in the 1928 American epic historical romance film Gone with the Wind. Though portrayed as an innocent and young person in the film, in real life she found passion and more from her several relationships and four marriages. Interestingly enough she made a cameo appearance 15 years later in the 1956 American epic adventure-comedy film, Around the World in 80 Days , in which Davide Niven, her once lover, plays the lead Phileas Fogg.

Again we see her in one of my favorite TV series Murder, She Wrote. She played in three different episodes – In Season 2 Episode 10 Sticks and Stone, she is Edna. In Season 4 Episode 4 Old Habits Die Hard, she is Sister Emily. And finally In Season 9 Episode 18 Dead to Rights, she is Wanda Polaski.

Claude Rains never disappoints you, be it as Captain Renault or Mr. Dryden or in this case, Mr. Jordan, manager of angels in heaven. He reminds me so very much of Saeed-Jaffrey, a British-Indian actor known for his career in radio, stage, film and television that spanned 6 decades. See what I mean?

And who is this young man? Did you spot him? He is none other than Lloyd Bridges as the co-pilot Mr. Sloan.

Of course, how can I not bring the element of fashion into my post when it is designed by the famous Edith Head. All the gowns the actresses wore are splendid. Here are some of the gowns worn by Rita Johnson as Julia Farnsworth; and some by Evelyn Keyes as Bette Logan.

Don’t forget the timely comedy by James Gleason as Pendleton’s manager Max “Pop” Corkle. He not only adds comedy but also the sentiment that is much needed with Pendleton’s various forms.

The film also has a record in history of Academy Awards – James Gleason from this film; and Jack Warden from it’s 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait; both were nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Max Corkle. A first and only time that occurred so far.

The film is also attributed to the famous catch-phrase that comedian Lou Costello yells at his comedian partner Bud Abbott, when he desperately need him. He keeps saying “Hey, Abbott!”. You can hear that sometime around 0:58 minutes into the movie, when Joe Pendleton calls out Tony Abbott (portrayed by John Emery), “Hey, Abbott!”.

It is exactly as what the opening says – it is as fantastic a yarn as was ever spun. Would you believe if anyone tells you that it really happened to them? I don’t think so. However, I am sure everyone who watched the film would want to have such a story happen to them.

Spoiler Alerts:

  1. Movie Trivia:
    1. Mr. Jordan predicts that Joe Pendleton will die in 1991. Ironically in reality, Robert Montgomery who played the role of Joe Pendleton died 10 years earlier, in 1981 and was also cremated..
    2. Rains, Keyes, and Gleason reprised their roles for a 60 minute Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast on radio which aired on January 26, 1942.
    3. A sequel was made in 1947 as a musical comedy with the title Down to Earth. Roland Culver played the role of Mr. Jordan with Rita Hayworth, Larry Parks and Marc Platt in other cast with Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason reprising their roles.
    4. A remake of the film was made with the original title of the play, Heaven Can Wait, in 1978 with Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, Julie Christie and Jack Warden in the lead cast. I believe I saw this version. But not being a huge fan of Warren Beatty, I didn’t give much credit to the film at that time.
    5. Ice Angel, a 2000 American fantasy film was loosely based on this 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan; with a twist. Nicholle Tom, Aaron Smolinski, Alan Thicke, Tara Lipinski and Nancy Kerrigan are in the lead cast. I watched this film when it was aired on TV a few years ago. Pretty decent adaptation if I may say so.
    6. The 2001 American fantasy-comedy film Down to Earth was also based on the play.  Chris Rock, Lance Crouther, Ali LeRoi and Louis C.K were in the lead cast.
    7. Several adaptations in Indian languages were done:
      1. 1968 Hindi language romantic comedy Jhuk Gaya Aasman (= The Skies Have Bowed) starring Rajendra Kumar, Saira Banu, Rajendranath and Prem Chopra.
      2. The 1994 Indian Telugu language slapstick fantasy-comedy film Maga Rayudu (= Tomboy) also uses the premise of a person’s soul entering a different body when they receive an untimely death. However, there is a big twist here that causes all kinds of fun, confusion and misunderstanding. Nowhere it is acknowledged that the plot is very similar to Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
      3. The 1988 Indian Telugu language fantasy film Yamudiki Mogudu (= Overlord to Yama), uses the premise of a person getting an untimely death, and when Yama and Chitragupta tries to bring his soul back, his body is burned; and he is sent to another body. The film has Chiranjeevi, Radha and Vijayashanthi in the lead cast. Nowhere it is acknowledged that the plot is very similar to Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
      4. 2018 Punjabi language romantic comedy Mar Gaye Oye Loko (= Loko Has Died)
    8. John Emery (who plays the role of Tony Abbott) has his first screen appearance since the 1937 American war drama film The Road Back.
  1. Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
    1. Just before Joe Pendleton and the messenger arrive at Joe’s apartment, looking for his body, they pass a woman coming from the other direction. She moves her shoulder back and to the left to let Joe pass. According to the messenger’s comments just a moment later, neither he nor Joe can be seen or heard, so the woman should not have moved to let them pass.
    2. How could Joe’s soul have gone into a recently dead person Murdock who was shot by a gun, and immediately stand up to fight and win? It would have been near impossible for someone to be that alive with a bullet inside them.
    3. Also shouldn’t the bullet wound in Murdock be seen by everyone around even if Pendleton doesn’t see it or to the viewers since we see it from Pendleton’s eyes?

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