Directed by Alexander Hall
Written by Sidney Buchman & Seton I. Miller, from a stage play by Harry Segall
Starring Robert Montgomery, Evelyn Keyes, Claude Raines, Rita Johnson, James Gleason, John Emery, Edward Everett Horton
It’s always fascinating to see the origins of a well-used movie trope, and especially one that’s been remade many a time. Here Comes Mr. Jordan has been the basis of several films.
It’s the story of Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), boxer, sax player, and private pilot. When his plane crashes, he dies and finds himself being taken by Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) to a cloudy place in the sky. The person in charge is Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), who discovers a mistake has been made: Joe was not scheduled to die for 50 years.
This is a problem. His body has been cremated, so he can’t go back to that. So Mr. Jordan has to find a new body for Joe. After several tries, he’s given the body of Bruce Farnsworth, a millionaire who has just been murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and secretary (John Emery). Joe is reluctant, but he hears Betty Logan (Evelyn Keyes) begging for help. Betty’s father was convicted of a stock scam due to Farnsworth’s machinations, and wants his help. Sympathizing with Betty, Joe takes over Farnsworth’s body and life (to the surprise of his wife and secretary).
The setup leads to the usual and unusual complications and Joe tries to fix things for Betty* and avoid the murderous plans of the others.
Nowadays, the concept is well-worn, but back in 1941, they were new and I think the writers felt the need to make everything clear. Joe seems incredibly slow on the uptake, having to be told things many times before he catches on. But since this all was probably new for the audience, it was necessary to countersink the concept so people understood.
The movie was a major success in its time, winning a couple of Oscars for writing, and getting several other nominations. It was also the blueprint for Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait.** Several other films also remade the story, and the concept was used in many more.
The film is a little creaky these days, but still is a lot of fun.
*Who, of course, he falls in love with.
**The name of the play it was based on.