Considering I’d reviewed Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan last week, and that was based on Here Comes Mr Jordan, it seemed appropriate to follow up that review with this one. I hadn’t heard of Here Comes Mr Jordan before, though I have seen a later film (Ernest Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait) which was based on the same story—and which, interestingly, retained the name of the original story. Heaven Can Wait, as it turned out, is quite different from Here Comes Mr Jordan.
This story begins by introducing us to prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) as he trains somewhere out in the country while his manager and good friend Max Corkle (James Gleason) looks on. Joe is in fine form and is looking forward to an upcoming fight which can get him within arm’s reach of the world championship.
The bout over, Joe gets ready to fly his little plane down to New York City. Max tries to dissuade him; this fragile plane is dangerous, and Joe can’t afford to take risks like that. Joe scoffs at his fears; flying, like playing the sax, is one of his pet hobbies, and he knows he can handle it.
So Joe’s cruising along in his plane, now and then taking his hands off the controls to play his saxophone. He’s so busy tooting, he doesn’t realize that some wires attaching one wing to the body of the plane are unravelling—until suddenly, they snap and the plane goes plummeting earthward. And crashes.
Joe suddenly finds himself standing beside a uniform-clad man (Edward Everett Horton) amidst a flat, never-ending landscape clouded with swirling mist. Very quickly, Joe comes to know the truth: his companion is Messenger 7013, and they are in heaven. Messenger 7013 pulled Joe out of his plane. Joe is now dead.
Joe refuses to believe this, and a miffed Messenger 7013 (also miffed because Joe keeps telling him, “Let’s go,”, which is Messenger 7013’s line) takes him to a large plane which is standing by, being boarded by various people. Each name is ticked off on a list as the respective person climbs on board. Supervising this is the man (angel?) in charge, Mr Jordan (Claude Rains).
When he comes to know of Joe’s grievance, Mr Jordan is rather more helpful and sympathetic than Messenger 7013 has been so far. He even goes so far as to check the records, and discovers that Joe Pendleton was not supposed to die till fifty years later. It transpires that this is Messenger 7013’s first day on the job, and he has goofed up. He pulled Joe out of the about-to-crash plane before it crashed, unaware of something Joe is confident about: that Joe would have been able to save the plane (and himself) before it hit the ground.
No harm done, though, they assure Joe. Messenger 7013 will quickly take him back to Earth and return him to his body.
But, when they get back to New York City (which, thanks to the powers of these heavenly beings, happens within a jiffy), it’s to find that a zealous Max Corkle has already cremated Joe. Now there is no body for Joe to get back into.
Mr Jordan doesn’t easily give up. He has another solution. There are men across the world, dying or about to die. Hundreds of them, thousands of them. Joe’s spirit and soul can be put into any of them.
Joe isn’t one to accept this so easily. He doesn’t want anybody else’s body; he wants his own. And for no other reason than practical ones; he’s a boxer, after all, and has devoted his life to building up a strong, healthy body. Exercising, training, abstaining from alcohol, eating a good diet. He can’t just settle for any old body.
So Mr Jordan offers to take him around and show him the cream of the crop, so to say. The men closest in age and physical perfection to Joe himself. Joe can choose.
In a matter of a few minutes, therefore, they go all over the world, from Russia to Australia to South Africa, seeing more than a hundred men—and Joe rejects them all. Finally, they arrive at the New York City home of someone named Bruce Farnsworth. We never get to see this man, but Mr Jordan leads Joe into the plush mansion, and calmly tells him that right now Farnsworth is being drowned upstairs in his bathtub by his wife Julia (Rita Johnson) and her lover, Farnsworth’s secretary Tony Abbott (John Emery).
Joe flies into a panic: they should call the police immediately! But Mr Jordan reminds him, with a small and patient smile, that neither he nor Joe can be seen or heard by anyone living. Bruce Farnsworth’s death cannot be stopped or rolled back or anything; he has to die. But he’s a fine specimen, the same age as Joe, in excellent health. And, as Joe can see for himself, Farnsworth is obviously rolling in money. Joe, in Bruce’s body, will lack for nothing.
Joe refuses. He has no desire whatsoever to live the life of Bruce Farnsworth (because that is what it will be). Married to a murderous and adulterous woman—dammit, in his attempt to set a good example to his many fans (who also include little boys), Joe is clean as can be, down to staying away from women all these years! And with a secretary who’s not only carrying on an affair with his boss’s wife, but helping her kill her husband too? No, thank you.
Mr Jordan gives one of his mysterious and gentle smiles. Soon after, the butler ushers in someone who makes Joe suddenly sit up. This is Betty Logan (Evelyn Keyes), and Joe falls head over heels in love with her at first sight. Betty, it emerges from her hurried and tense conversation with Julia Farnsworth, who comes to meet her, is the daughter of a man who works for Bruce Farnsworth. Mr Logan has been wrongly implicated in the sale of millions of dollars worth of worthless stocks. These were actually sold by Farnsworth himself, and he’s framed Mr Logan, so that Mr Logan has now been arrested by the cops.
Betty Logan is here to plead, to reason, to beg Bruce Farnsworth to help. Very well, says Julia. She will let Mr Farnsworth know, and if he agrees, Betty can meet him. Julia will send the butler up right now to tell Mr Farnsworth.
Joe, watching and listening invisibly from the sidelines along with Mr Jordan, is befuddled. Tony Abbott has just murdered Farnsworth; how can he promise Betty Logan an appointment with a dead man?
Mr Jordan, of course, explains things. The idea is to frame Betty. Her father is already in deep trouble; if this happens, Betty’s goose will be cooked too. If Joe wants to help Betty (and the canny Mr Jordan can see that Joe wants to, very much), the one way to do it is to be Bruce Farnsworth. And quickly; there is no time to be lost.
So, before anyone else can go up to the bathroom (where Farnsworth’s corpse is presumably floating in the bathtub), Joe and Mr Jordan get there. Joe gets into Farnsworth’s body—and speaking, looking at his reflection in the mirror, realizes he still looks and talks just like Joe Pendleton. He hasn’t changed! Mr Jordan assures him, though: to everybody else, he will be Bruce Farnsworth on the outside.
Moments later, when the butler arrives to tell Farnsworth of Betty Logan’s arrival, Mr Jordan’s words are borne out. It’s obvious that the butler doesn’t think anything is amiss. Heartened, Joe dresses and goes downstairs with him—his appearance causing Julia Farnsworth to faint and Tony Abbott to look, by turn, both baffled and suspicious.
Betty Logan, of course, sees nothing wrong in this. She is an angry woman, and tells Joe why. She accuses ‘Mr Farnsworth’ of framing her father and asks that justice be done.
And Joe, not just in love with this girl but also—at heart—a good man, agrees. To Abbott’s shock, his boss, seemingly come back from the dead, now sets about pretty much ruining himself, or so it seems. The worthless stock, which has gone to hundreds of speculators across the country, is bought back (money, basically, gone down the drain), Mr Logan freed. Betty Logan eternally grateful (and surprised).
But it doesn’t stop here. Bruce Farnsworth, after all, is really not the type of man Joe Pendleton was (and still is, deep inside Farnsworth’s body). Farnsworth was a millionaire, a playboy, an unscrupulous and corrupt man not averse to illegal and dishonest dealings to feather his own nest. Joe Pendleton, on the other hand, is a sweet, simple and honest soul. No wonder, then, that it soon begins to irk him to find himself trapped in the body of a man everybody expects to behave in a certain way…
There is, too, the fact that this indolent life, consisting of nothing more than sitting around in offices and having minions make money for him, is not Joe’s style. Joe is a boxer, and he’s beginning to miss his boxing, especially when he remembers that the big fight, which he should have been fighting in a bid to be world champion, is just around the corner.
There’s lots more to come, with some more interesting plot twists, and a sweetly satisfying end.
What I liked about this film:
The humour of it, the unusual plot, the acting of Claude Rains, Robert Montgomery, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton in particular. These people—the four main characters, really—rule the film (even when, as in the case of Horton, the character appears only sporadically). Their chemistry is delightful, their dialogues fun, and the somewhat irreverent treatment of concepts like heaven, death, life, rebirth, the spirit and the soul—all too often reduced to matters of gravity in cinema, if not melodrama—is refreshingly different.
What I didn’t like:
A certain missing bullet hole which should have been there (and very easily noticeable too) but wasn’t.
And Evelyn Keyes as Betty Logan, whom I just couldn’t warm to.
Every time I review a cinematic adaptation of a story I’ve read or a film that is either a remake or has been remade, I try to include a comparison with the other version. In this case, though I’ve not read the story on which Here Comes Mr Jordan was based, I have (as I mentioned at the start of this post) seen the Hindi remake of this film, Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan.
Comparing the two films, it’s easy to see the similarities. Unlike (say) Chori Chori, which was a fairly faithful adaptation of It Happened One Night, Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan takes more liberties, making it a film that takes its own route, rather than staying true to the original. The similarities between the two are obvious: the good-hearted and sweet hero who ends up in the body of a debauched (and murdered) millionaire. The girl, whose wrongly accused father is the cause of her coming to meet the millionaire; the hero’s wanting to help her because he’s fallen for her. The evil relative who wants the millionaire dead. The hero’s friend, who becomes his confidant and helps him along.
But Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan tailors this story to Hindi cinema standards. A murderous wife would be an absolute no-no (Lekh Tandon is no BR Chopra, and Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan is no Ittefaq), so a murderous brother takes the place of Julia Farnsworth. And, because a long and protracted romance, songs and all, is so integral a part of a Hindi film, we have the first half of Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan focussing on establishing a romance between Sanjay and Priya. For me, this actually worked better in giving the male protagonist a reason to agree to ‘inhabit’ the millionaire’s body. It seemed to me more plausible that a man would want to save, no matter how, the girl he already loved so much, rather than a girl he’d only just seen.
Both films have a good amount of humour in them, though Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan’s cupboard sequence is close to slapstick, whereas Here Comes Mr Jordan’s humour draws more from the sheer unbelievability of what has happened to Joe Pendleton.
But the major divergence of paths and themes occurs in the second halves of the films. Sanjay pretty much gives up being the guide (it is not a passion for him); Joe Pendleton never gives up his dream of being a champion prizefighter. This governs the way they lead their lives, respectively as TK and Bruce Farnsworth: Sanjay tries to make TK turn over a new leaf, and settles—after some initial frustration and unhappiness—into being the epitome of a ‘socialist millionaire’. Joe, on the other hand, is focused not on being a millionaire, but on getting back to being a boxer. Both themes, I think, are an interesting reflection of audience expectations: Indian audiences of the late 1960s would probably not have thought ‘champion boxer’ anything worth aspiring for; philanthropist millionaire, on the other hand, is something to be proud of.
On the whole, I thought both films fairly good and satisfying in their own very different ways. Jhuk Gaya Aasmaan does the masala, songs, comedy, romance and all, well; Here Comes Mr Jordan does the more restrained comedy, the (slightly) darker film, the slightly less believable romance, and the somewhat more stretching-one’s-imagination ending, equally well. Both watchable films, even if they are eventually very different from each other.