Thursday, April 9, 2015

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)



Director: Alexander Hall

Honors:

Second chances, life may not always be full of them, but for Here Comes Mr. Jordon this idea is the foundation as one must choose what his second chance is. The lighthearted comedy plays on what should be the woeful idea of death and twists it to ask the question of: if you had the chance to continue on living the life of someone else, who would you choose and how would you live out this opportunity? This somewhat screwy comedy would make for a surprising critical hit in 1941 as one of the most highly commended films of the last summer of peace in America.

Here Comes Mr. Jordon is a comedy about a prizefighter mistakenly taken to heaven before his time but a mistaken angel, but it given a second chance on earth in someone else’s body. Professional boxer, Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), arrives in heaven, but is shocked to discover that his angel (Edward Everett Horton) delivered him their 50 years too early, meanwhile his body has already been cremated back on earth. The supervising angel, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), creates the proposition that Joe can return to earth in another freshly vacated body (meaning someone who literally just died) and continue on his life in that person’s shoes with Joe as its new soul.

Joe assumes the body of a crooked banker named Mr. Farnsworth where Joe fixes the wrong doings of the millionaire’s life and begins to fall in love with the attractive Miss Logan (Evelyn Keyes) before being shot by Farnsworth’s greedy wife Julia (Rita Johnson). After losing his replacement body, Joe takes a new form of Murdoch, another professional boxer, which quickly allows Joe to achieve his dream to win the world boxing championship, as well as bringing justice to the people responsible for Farnsworth’s death. As Murdoch Joe is allowed to reunite with Miss Logan and to begin to fall in love all over again as she to recognize the goodness of Joe’s soul in someone else’s body. As Murdoch, Joe appears to have everything he needs to achieve all the good and happiness he strives for in life as he fully assumes himself as Murdoch in soul and spirit, much to the delight of an on looking Mr. Jordan.

The film makes for a lighthearted romantic comedy with a touch of a thriller mixed in there with the murder of Mr. Farnsworth. The story jumps around quite a bit with a frustrated Joe who in most cases is attempting to just find a way to get back in the ring until laying eyes of compassionate Miss Logan. The filmmaking is never elaborate, usually sticking to the standard Hollywood studio style sets with its only exception of an ethereally white cloudy vision of heaven.

What makes the film enjoyably different from the “usual” films that deal with death and heaven is that director Alexander Hall makes angels appear more so like a clerical staff rather than heavenly beings. Edward Everett Horton’s portrayal as an angel is priceless as he is more upset and bothered by his own mistake of pulling up Joe too early and how a pestering Joe continually annoys him.  Claude Rains plays his superior who has a clearer headed heavenly being and finds a solution for the mix up, becoming more of the ethereal father that finds joy in Joe’s triumphs in life as Farnsworth and Murdoch. In the end the comedy provides a plot that is enjoyable and keeps you rooting for the hero in a rather simple character of Joe played by a animated Robert Montgomery.

The driving force of the story becomes that of the romantic attraction of Joe’s soul to that of Miss Logan, played by the 24 year-old Evelyn Johnson whose biggest role was in classic Gone with the Wind as one of Scarlett O’Hara’s sisters. As a viewer you yearn for the two to get together. Joe first appears to her  in the form of an evil millionaire and then a strange prizefighter upon Farnsworth’s murder, which throws a wrench into the two coming together. This desire for the two to be together is the glue that keeps the picture collected as a real moral of love wins out over the greed and personal wants that surround their story.

For 1941 Here Comes Mr. Jordan would be a relatively good hit. Robert Montgomery’s career was on a short, but major upswing with a couple of well received films in the year, including here where he was nominated for Best Actor. The picture on a whole was nominated for an astonishing seven Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor (James Gleason), and ultimately came away with two wins for Best Story and Best Adapted Screenplay. Here Comes Mr. Jordan would be the only film besides Best Picture winner How Green Was My Valley to win multiple Academy Awards that year.
 
The film would garner a sequel in 1947 with Down to Earth, a musical comedy starring Rita Hayworth and Larry Parks with returning director Alexander Hall and featuring Edward Everett Horton and James Gleason reprising their previous roles. Remakes of Here Comes Mr. Jordan would be seen in 1978’s Heaven Can Wait and 2001’s Down to Earth, proving how well enjoyed this plot device of a man returning to earth in another body at first for his own wants , but then finding love was for movie audiences. For an upbeat comedy, with a bit of drama, and romance, Here Comes Mr. Jordan provides a generally good mix of pleasing movie entertainment for just over 90 minutes in classic Hollywood style.

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