Adaptation · Black Comedy · Comedy · Criterion Collection · United States

#819 Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

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#819 Here Comes Mr. Jordan

1941 // USA // Alexander Hall

 

Criterion Release Date: 14 Jun 2016 (LINK)

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A meeting in “heaven”

Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a classical Hollywood screwball comedy which inspires sequel (Down to Earth in 1947) and remakes, most notably Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait (1978). It even got seven Oscar nominations, won two for the story and screenplay, in 1942, one of the golden years in Hollywood (other nominees included Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley which took the Best Picture Award). Although the film does not hold up as well as other competitors while loses the impact it used to have 75 years ago, Here Comes Mr. Jordan still keeps its delightful charm and glee even for contemporary viewers.

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Robert Montgomery, Rita Johnson and Evelyn Keyes

The story, based on Harry Segall’s play Heaven Can Wait, is rudimentary but mixed with multiple twists and turns before the end. A soon-to-be-champion boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) crashes with his own aircraft during his one-man flight to New York City, and “killed” as the result of Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) mistakenly “rescue” his soul before he is actually dead. A mistake that is soon being discovered by the Messenger’s superior Mr. Jordan (played by Claude Rains in a restrained and magisterial performance). Unfortunately, Joe’s body is cremated, and Mr. Jordan has to find a soon-to-be-dead body for Joe’s soul to take over.

The eventual candidate is Mr. Bruce Farnsworth, a corrupted but wealthy investor who is going to be murdered by his own wife Julia (Rita Johnson) and his secretary Tony Abbott (John Emery). As Joe develops a crush on Bruce’s visitor Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), he reluctantly accepts the body in order to save Bette’s father, who is a victim of Bruce’s fraud. Soon after, Joe, in the body of Bruce, finds his long-time boxing manager and friend Max (James Gleason) to continue his dream and destiny of being a world champion, but not before two more murders happen.

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A boxer and his manager

The film could hardly be conceived as a comedy with just the plot summary, due to the unexpectedly high body count, where deceptions are disclosed and evilness in humanity seems to be unavoidable. And there are not much visual gags either. But at the heart of the screenplay, written by Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller, is the not-so-bright but warmhearted Joe. His difficulty in fully understanding the rules in afterlife and being a bodiless soul, his insistence on finding a “has to be in the pink” body, and his selfless act to help a woman he just met, all add up to our sympathy and admiration of his innocent soul.

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The triumphant moment

At the end, bad guys are arrested, Joe fulfilled his ambition of being a boxing champion with the woman he loves. But Joe is no longer Joe, he lost his memory, thus his identity. The only possession that is kept throughout the film is his saxophone, the proof of his true identity and the one thing that convinced Max he is really Joe after all. Joe deserves a happier ending, but the truth is, he is dead, his body is lost, even Mr. Jordan can’t changed that. Who’s fault is that? Not Joe but Messenger 7013. Without him, Joe could live 50 more years. There is no mentioning of God, angels or heaven but theology of predestination. The happy ending under pessimistic circumstances could serve to prepare American citizens for the incoming war, a war that caused millions of death of innocents. What if the souls of the dead continue to live in another body happily ever after? That’s a happy ending for those who lost their loved ones, and ain’t it great?

Film Rating: 3.5/5

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