September 26 - Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.
No, this is not a biography about arguably the greatest basketball player to ever
don the shorts and sneakers. In fact this is a movie about boxing. And this 1941
story is not just indigenous to pugilism; it was remade in 37 years later with a
This splendid fantasy is about a boxer named Joe Pendleton. He is in training for
a crack at the title. Upon breaking training camp, Joe, who flies his own airplane
and plays his lucky saxophone while floating in the sky, crashes and seemingly is
killed in the wreck.
With his soul on his way to heaven it is discovered that the Heavenly Messenger
made a rookie mistake in claiming him. Pendleton wasn’t scheduled to die for another 50 years.
Thus, Mr. Jordan(the chief angel in charge of all arrivals to the hereafter) sends Joe back to earth to
resume life in his own body.
The only problem was that his body was cremated.
And now, Pendleton must find a new body.
What follows is a beautiful tale a man trying to recapture his destiny, told in a whimsical fashion that
will make you both laugh and cry and wonder if Joe will ever become a Champion.
This is a film where all of the components are near perfect. The script by Sidney Buchman (one of the
most underrated of Hollywood’s golden age scenarists) and Seton I. Miller makes you believe what is
happening even though you know this can’t be true. Buchman and Miller won an Oscar for this, as
did Harry Segall, who wrote the original play.
Alexander Hall a journeyman director turns in his best work(so good he directed the musical remake
“Down To Earth in 1947). Hall was Oscar nominated for this but lost to John Ford for “How Green
Was My Valley”.
The acting is wonderful. Robert Montgomery, on loan from MGM (where he often played the rich,
pampered playboy type), successfully began to change his image (and would change it even further
when he enlisted in the Navy after the completion of this film, commanding a PT Boat and serving
aboard a destroyer that participated in the D-Day Invasion). Montgomery was nominated for an Oscar
for this portrayal but lost to Gary Cooper for “Sergeant York”.
The supporting cast is a virtual Who’s Who of Hollywood Characters.
A young Evelyn Keyes (just off her portrayal of Scarlet O’Hara’s younger
sister) is the love interest. Claude Rains is Mr. Jordan, whose job it is to
find the boxer a body, assisted by Edward Everett Horton as rookie
There’s Rita Johnson, Donald MacBride, John Emery, Don Costello and,
if you look fast, you’ll spot a young Lloyd Bridges in a bit part.
And then there’s James Gleason, who plays Max Corkle, Joe’s trainer who runs the emotional gamut
knowing that Joe is dead while still believing that Joe lives on. He merely steals the film, and earned
an Oscar Nomination for this.
Joseph Walker was Oscar nominated for his photography and the picture was nominated for Best
The story was so successful that it was reused several times. The aforementioned “Down To Earth"
eschewed the sports background and made the protagonist a woman angel (Horton reprises his role
of Messenger 7013 as does Gleason as Max Corkle, with Roland Culver playing Mr. Jordan). And
with the same title it was made in 2001 with Chris Rock playing a comedian who mistakenly goes
before his time is up.
The most famous remake though was in 1978 as “Heaven Can Wait” (the original title of the 1940
play). Warren Beatty plays Joe Pendleton, now a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, with Julie
Christie, Jack Warden (terrific as Max) and James Mason as Mr. Jordan. And under the same title,
this was done as a segment of “The DuPont Show of the Month” in 1960 with Anthony Franciosa,
Robert Morley and Wally Cox
While this may not be about THE Mr. Jordan, I’m sure he would never mind his name being
associated with this picture.