Wait, didn’t we review this already? Nope, there are two Best Picture nominations named Heaven Can Wait, one in 1943 and the other here in 1978. In the earlier Heaven Can Wait, a man tells his life story to Satan. Here is a completely different story, the remake of the 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) has just become starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. While he is out for a bike ride, he is about to be in a horrific crash, but The Escort (Buck Henry) in charge of taking Joe to the other side takes him just before the crash, to lessen Joe’s suffering. Big mistake, it seems that Joe would have lived through it and was not scheduled to die for another fifty years. Now Joe feels cheated and angry because he had his heart set on taking the Rams to the Super Bowl. So Mr. Jordan (James Mason) promises to find him a new body to occupy, one that he can play football in. They find a millionaire, Leo Farnsworth, who’s just been poisoned by his wife and accountant. Joe steps into his body to help a young woman, Betty Logan (Julie Christie), and is suddenly in charge of a huge corrupt company and makes some changes, which includes buying the Rams so he can try out for quarterback.
Compared to how fun and zany Here Comes Mr. Jordan was, this remake feels like a bunch of garbage. Though the plot is basically the same, it feels so outlandish and silly, somehow I couldn’t take it seriously. The characters are way too flimsy. Mr. Farnsworth’s murders are just dopey lovers who run around like headless chickens until they find a new means of murder. And this Joe is just a football jock. The heart that Robert Montgomery gave him in Here Comes Mr. Jordan seems to have been muted and forgotten. He’s dead up in clouds but he runs around with a soprano sax and does pushups because that’s all he knows. It’s a cute little motif and his big halftime pep talk in a board meeting is amusing enough, but it’s harebrained. I never felt that Here Comes Mr. Jordan was this silly. The whole thing goes way too far once he buys the Rams.
Once this film hit its final act, I could see every event right to the end (not just because this is a remake) and it takes too long to get there. I became annoyed with the whole eye being a portal to the soul reference; do we really need to watch people stare at each other so much? That idea came through perfectly in Here Comes Mr. Jordan without a staring contest. There needs to be a rule that when an ending is so blatantly obvious it shouldn’t be so stretched out unless you can create some decent suspense.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan worked wonders in 1943, but somehow the charm and heart was lost in this remake. Maybe it was entertaining enough in 1978, but honestly, I think this film is better off parodied by South Park. The jokes would be funnier and we would not be pressured to take Beatty’s version of Joe so seriously. I would love to see a little wide-eyed construction paper Joe running around in the clouds, carrying his soprano sax saying in a South Park voice:
“I gotta get the Rams to the Super Bowl!”