Here Comes Mr. Jordan Reviews
This movie is superior to the 1979 remake, Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. Except for making the protagonist a football player instead of a boxer, the remake copied the original story line exactly in almost every respect, e.g., a businessman being murdered by his wife and his attorney, a crooked businessman falling in love when he meets the woman that he is swindling, the scenes when he convinces his friend who he really is, transferring his spirit to an athlete dying during competition, and the ending scene when he runs into the woman and they try to remember if they ever met before. In 2001, the film was remade is a miserable film on every level, with the dreadful decision to make our hero a comic rather than an athlete.
James Gleason plays Joe's trainer Max Corkle, who nearly steals ever scene he is in. The scene where Joe, in his new body, hires Gleason and then tries to convince him of his real identity, is just hysterical.
This is going to be another one of those movies where people tell me I'm overthinking things, but I think you're supposed to consider them. After all, this particular one is integral to the plot and the explanation you're going to get for why I didn't like it. For most of this movie, things are a lighthearted romp of questionable but vaguely entertaining nature. Sure, you've got Movie Theology, but of course you do. It's a movie, and a comedy at that. I don't expect it to conform to any particular belief system, given that no character ever espouses one. There isn't even a clear view of Heaven. Just a staging area. But as we got into the last five minutes or so, I started to be very uncomfortable with goings-on, and so I am giving you a spoiler warning now. This is getting into a theological debate for which the movie is not prepared, I think, but I'd imagine viewers have been having it for decades. I can't see how they wouldn't.
Joe Pendleton is a boxer and a good one. He's got a shot at the world championship. He just has to fight one more guy in order to go for the title, and he flies himself off to I think New York to enter the last phase of his training. Only while he's flying, something goes wrong with his plane. Just before he hits the ground, Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) takes him out. This turns out to be a mistake; Joe would have been able to straighten out the plane and wasn't scheduled to die until 1991. Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), who seems in charge of intake for deaths in airplane crashes (clearly a new job), declares that they must find a new body for him. They look at a lot of them, finally settling on one Bruce Farnsworth, who was due to be murdered by his wife, Julia (Rita Johnson), and confidential secretary, Tony Abott (John Emery). Joe falls for Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), whose father is slated to go to prison over certain business dealings for which Farnsworth is responsible. Joe straightens it out, then decides that he still wants to go for the title, only using Farnsworth's body.
The movie implies a few times that there's such thing as free will, with Mr. Jordan saying that things will work out between Joe and Bette if they work out. On the other hand, this movie is firmly in the camp of predestination. It isn't just that Joe is slated to live another fifty years. It's that, for example, he is specifically slated to win that championship, and he is told that he can't win it in Farnsworth's body, because that's not how it's supposed to go. The film is very big on how things are supposed to go. However, it is still possible for Messenger 7013--and why doesn't he get a name and Mr. Jordan does?--to make the mistake he did. Oh, it's out of kindness; he didn't want Joe to suffer. But how is that his decision to make? What's more, how is fate changed by the giving of three more weeks to Farnsworth? And if those three weeks are his fate, was Joe really taken out too early?
And then there's the ending. Joe is put into the body of Murdoch, who is given Joe's shot at the title. Murdoch, you see, has been shot by gamblers who couldn't get him to throw the fight. Joe Leaps into his body, wins the fight, and seems poised to go on in this new life with his old manager, Max Corkle (James Gleason), the only living person who knows what's going on. When Joe takes on the body permanently, however, all his memories of being Joe Pendleton are wiped in favour of those of the new guy. This worries me. We are specifically told early in the film that his parents are waiting and ready to meet him when he arrives, but if he's been Murdoch that whole time, so what? If he has the belief instilled in him that he is a different person and always has been, what will that say about his soul when he goes to Heaven permanently? Indeed, what is the soul if everything you are can be wiped out and yet it is still the same soul? Presumably he will go back to being Joe Pendleton, but why isn't he now? Because he'll talk? But he did as Farnsworth!
The movie wants to be a comedy romp with something a little deeper. Only in adding that "little deeper," it opens a barrel of questions I'm not sure the writers ever considered. Mr. Jordan is suave and debonair, a charming host. I'm even willing to believe there are flustered afterlife operatives like 7013, though I'm uneasy about the control this particular one seems to have. However, I think this movie has not considered its own theology enough. The important question left by this movie is about the very nature of the Self. I believe that any soul would necessarily entail the details of yourself, your personality. The fact that Joe's personality survives the first time and that no one is surprised by that indicated this to be the case. Murdoch is dead and is said to be a personality even after, capable of being pleased over the fight's outcome. There's even the touching fact that some part of Joe still recognizes Bette--and some part of Bette still recognizes Joe. However, Joe Pendleton has been completely wiped out for at least the fifty years he will spend in that body.