When Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), a good hearted boxer, looks like he is about to die, Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) acts too quickly removing his soul from his body to spare him the agony. This is a huge mistake, as it turns out that Joe was supposed to live for fifty more years. When Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), the guy running this foggy afterlife world, hears of the mishap, he sets out to find Joe a new body to inhabit for his allotted fifty years.
Joe is pretty picky over the bodies Mr. Jordan shows him and with good reason. He had worked hard to get himself into peak physical condition, which he calls “in the pink” and does not want to give up on his boxing dreams. When Mr. Jordan shows him Mr. Farnsworth, a millionaire who is about to be murdered by his wife, he sees an opportunity to help a young woman in need, Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes). Joe goes into Farnsworth’s body, saying that it will only be temporary and starts using the money at his disposal for good. When sparks start flying between Joe and Bette, it’s hard for him to move onto a permanent body, but Mr. Jordan assures Joe that he will achieve everything in his original destiny.
While Joe’s soul is transported from one body to another, certain things remain constant that make him recognizable. To us, the viewer, he does not change physically but we understand that his new body has not, but to he characters who knew Farnsworth the personality strangely has. He still retains his personality and memories from his life as Joe. This comes in handy when he seeks out his old trainer, Max Corkel (James Gleason). One physical object of his follows him from body to body, his lucky saxophone. To the people originally around Farnsworth before his death, this saxophone is a mystery, especially when they see Farnsworth playing it. I guess as Joe’s soul is transported, so is his knowledge and ability to play.
Underneath this quirky story is an attempt to understand the unknown journey of a soul. Individually, we all have different ideas on what happens to us after death, but it’s hard to find one universal outlook without getting into a messy philosophical debate. In the film, we are not shown or told about heaven, hell or angles, the only concrete terms used are soul and body. Mr. Jordan and Messenger 7013 are just shown to be men in suits, pretty un-mystical despite the fact that they transport souls of the recently deceased. Even more humbling is the fact that even they can make mistakes, like taking Joe away before he has even crashed.
The philosophies men have created over time are simplified to a modern understanding: each person has an allotted time in their life then their soul is transported out of their body, which is simply a physical shell for the soul. And when a mistake has been made, Mr. Jordan and his messengers will see to it that you get the time and all you were destined for. These ideas may not satisfy the deeply religious, but it’s not such a bad gig to find yourself caught in, considering the fiery alternatives.
“I’m following that saxophone!”