Fantasy films that deal with getting a second chance at life have always aroused a great deal of fascination with moviegoers. The rediscovering of certain personal potentials or making up for past regrets, or doing things differently and better than the first time are all intriguing new opportunities in these tales. One terrific fantasy is Alexander Hall’s 1941 gem Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which explores the life of Joe Pendleton, a boxer who dies too early but is allowed to come back in the body of a wealthy playboy. Written by Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller, Here Comes Mr. Jordan is an adaptation of a play called Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall. The film became so popular it eventually received 7 Oscar nominations, including best picture, director, and actor.
Robert Montgomery stars as Pendleton, the eccentric boxer who played a saxophone for inspiration and who died piloting his own plane on route to training for a title bout. But his death was a mistake; it was 50 years before his predetermined time and he is prematurely pulled from his crashed plane by an overanxious heavenly messenger (Edward Everett Horton). These events thus set him on the trip of reincarnation. Claude Rains is actually the title character Mr. Jordan, the heavenly guide who will try to set the record straight and make sure that Joe will live to his predetermined date of death in 1991.
The first potential replacement Pendleton could embody is Bruce Farnsworth, a millionaire businessman, whose wife, Julia (Rita Johnson) and business manager, Tony Abbott (John Emery) have just poisoned. Pendleton quickly becomes Farnsworth, much to the shock of his wife and partner and starts changing all his previous business methods. But Joe still wants to compete for the boxing championship and he begins getting Farnsworth’s body in shape. He persuades his former trainer Max Corkle (James Gleason) to join him and convinces him he’s actually Joe. Before Joe can completely abandon the business world of Farnsworth to pursue this revived boxing career, a damsel in distress Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes) enters Joe’s life and becomes his love interest.
Then, just as things are running more smoothly, Farnsworth is murdered again, this time for good, and Mr. Jordan must quickly make one more attempt to give Pendleton another body to inhabit. But now Pendleton must give up Ms. Logan, whom he truly loves. All turns out for the best as Mr. Jordan brings Joe and Bette together, after Joe gets his dream of being a boxer again. Montgomery is very effective as Pendleton and has good chemistry with Keyes. His acting is remarkably different than his usual polished roles of the ‘30s, like that of Private Lives.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan won two Oscars for writing—best original story and best screenplay. Hall was later inspired to make a sort of sequel in the 1947 musical fantasy called Down to Earth. The original Mr. Jordan remained so well liked that in 1978 Warren Beatty was motivated to co-write, co-direct and star in an updated remake of this story, as a Los Angeles Rams quarterback who dies and returns as a wealthy millionaire, calling it by its original title Heaven Can Wait. Chris and Paul Weitz later directed Chris Rock, in Rock’s modern adaptation of this tale, in the 2001 film also called Down to Earth.