Here Comes Mr. Jordan
The year before he was shocked, shocked in Casablanca, in 1941 Claude Rains played a put-upon official of a more celestial sort in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, a light romance-fantasy that's one of the more charming comedies of the 1940s. As a Heavenly way station manager, he must take charge when an excitably hasty angel, Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton at his fussiest), rescues the soul of prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) from an apparently imminent plane crash fifty years before the Front Office has Pendleton scheduled to die. It's vital that Joe return to Earth to fulfill his destiny as the next world heavyweight champ.
Trouble is, his original body has been cremated. Mr. Jordan (Rains) finds Joe a suitable replacement in the corpus of millionaire cad Bruce Farnsworth, who has just been murdered in his bathtub by his scheming wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover (John Emery). Naturally, the murderers are more than a little surprised when "Farnsworth" emerges from his bath, behaving strangely and carrying Joe's lucky saxophone. From here it's up to Joe to get Farnsworth's body "in the pink" for the big fight. But he can't do that without convincing his old manager, Max Corkle (James Gleason), who's not at all comfortable talking to dead boxers and invisible angels. Meanwhile, the big-hearted palooka must right the wrongs of crooked bank tycoon Farnsworth (whose soul evidently headed in the opposite direction). First on the list is saving the father of lovely Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), an act that leads, of course, to romance. However, the murderers are determined to try again, and this time they succeed....
In its contemporary review, The New York Times correctly called this bit of whimsy "witty, tender and not a little wise." There's not much to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but what's there is rather delightful. It won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (by Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller and Harry Segall) and Best Screen Story (Harry Segall). Director Alexander Hall received his only nomination, as did Supporting Actor James Gleason. Robert Montgomery was nominated for Lead Actor, and the black-and-white cinematography got a nod as well. The film itself was up for Best Picture against, among others, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion, Sergeant York, and the winner, How Green Was My Valley.
Look for uncredited 28-year-old Lloyd Bridges as Sloan, the pilot of Heaven's commuter plane #22, and silent-era comedy star Chester Conklin as an old Newsboy.
In 1947 Alexander Hall directed a remake/sequel with returning Horton and Gleason, Down to Earth. Proving that belief in reincarnation has never been a problem in Hollywood, Here Comes Mr. Jordan was remade again faithfully as the 1978 Warren Beatty hit Heaven Can Wait and more loosely as a Chris Rock vehicle also titled Down to Earth.
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Although it's the most plain-jane generic commercial disc we've ever seen, Sony/Columbia Pictures' DVD delivers Here Comes Mr. Jordan with a first-rate print (1.33:1) that, according to the pre-show title card, was "preserved by UCLA Film and Television Archive with the cooperation of Columbia Pictures and The Library of Congress." The b&w image and transfer are very satisfying, with rich blacks, fine definition, and only minimal signs of age or wear. Likewise, the DD 1.0 audio is plenty vivid and clean. There's a French audio track, and subtitles in English, Japanese, and Portuguese.
There are no extras. Even the menu, which doesn't even list the chapter-stops present on the disc, appears to have been designed with the most basic template from someone's free downloadable graphics software. Odd. Keep-case.