Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2016)
As a kid, I really liked Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait from. As an adult, I saw – but didn’t enjoy – Chris Rock’s Down to Earth from 2001. Both flicks were based on 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, so when that movie debuted on DVD, I figured it was finally time to check out the effort that inspired the other two – and now reinspect it on Blu-ray.
Boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) is on the verge of a bout with KO Murdock that will allow the winner to subsequently fight for the championship. However, as the amateur aviator flies himself to New York, he hits a snag: a malfunction causes his plane to crash. Now deceased, Joe meets Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), the boss in charge of Heavenly departures.
Joe claims that he shouldn’t be there, and it turns out he’s right. He was taken by his “messenger” (Edward Everett Horton) before he actually crashed, so he needs to head back to Earth. Mr. Jordan authorizes this, but it’s too late: Joe’s manager Max Corkle (James Gleason) already had him cremated.
This creates an awkward situation but Mr. Jordan comes up with a solution. He’ll place Joe in the soon-to-be-deceased body of his choice. Joe eventually settles on the almost corpse of wealthy Bruce Farnsworth. His wife Julia (Rita Johnson) and her lover Tony Abbott (John Emery) drown Farnsworth, and Joe wants nothing to do with this sordid situation.
However, when Joe meets Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), a babe whose father Farnsworth cheated, our boxer falls for her and decides to become a new man to help, though he only agrees to be Farnsworth long enough to assist Betty.
Mr. Jordan slips Joe into the body before anyone notices the demise. As Farnsworth, Joe cleans up some ethical messes and does right by Bette. This complicates matters since Mr. Jordan finds an athletic new body for Joe so he can continue to fight.
However, Joe goes with his heart first and decides to stay as Farnsworth to woo Bette. In an attempt to have his cake and eat it too, Joe tries to turn Farnsworth into a fighter. The movie follows these various plot threads along with additional complications.
As I mentioned at the start, Jordan stands as the third iteration the story I saw, so I didn’t think I’d find anything unexpected in the tale. Though that remains true, the movie’s execution proves so fresh and delightful that nothing else matters.
Much of the credit goes to Montgomery’s terrific performance as Joe. In the early moments, he proves amusingly combative and pushy as he works with Mr. Jordan and the messenger. Montgomery maintains that slightly insolent tone through the movie but manages to let the character grow and become more human. He’s valuable for comedic moments but also quite good as the more emotional moments.
Montgomery isn’t alone, as the rest of the cast chips in plenty of fine moments. Horton provides a prissy little turn that makes his scenes valuable, and Gleason adds life to Joe’s confidante. Rains is always solid, and he allows Mr. Jordan to manage events with a serene confidence. The various actors bolster the flick well.
At a brisk 94 minutes, Mr. Jordan also knows better than to overstay its welcome. With an inherently goofy plot, the flick could have exposed various holes and become tedious with a longer running time. However, since the movie cranks along the way it does, it keeps us entertained and involved. The balance of comedy, drama and romance also moves the action nicely.
Really, there’s little about which I can complain on display here. Here Comes Mr. Jordan tells an inventive tale that holds up even for those of us who’ve seen its remakes. The flick charms and amuses.