Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Director: Alexander Hall
Screenwriters: Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller
Adapted from: Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall
Cast: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, James Gleason, Evelyn Keyes, Edward Everett Horton, Rita Johnson, John Emery
Nominations: Picture, Director – Alexander Hall, Actor – Robert Montgomery, Supporting Actor – James Gleason, Screenplay, Cinematography (b/w), Original Story
Wins: Screenplay, Original Story

We heard a story the other day… from a fellow named Max Corkle… as fantastic a yarn as was ever spun.  You’ll say it couldn’t have happened.
Anyway, this one was so fascinating, we thought we would pass it on to you.

Here Come Mr. Jordan is an unusual film.  It has the feeling as if someone dropped a bunch of genres into a hat, pulled out a few, then wrote a screenplay based upon those genres.  There are elements of romance, slapstick, farce, screwball, boxing, and supernatural films—but instead of an eclectic mess with confusing jumps in tone and purpose, what results is a charming tale concerning fate, friendship, love, and the idea that an ethereal part of us lives on even when the corporeal part of us ceases its earthly use.  Despite all the death (there are three murders and a single-person plane crash), there’s an abundance of optimism throughout the film.

Beginning in Pleasant Valley, New York, boxer Joe Pendleton is in the prime of his career—“in the pink,” as he so often remarks—eager to get his shot at the championship title.  As more of a reason to get Joe on a plane than anything else (really, it’s not mentioned beyond the film’s first 15 minutes), our hero, known as the “Flying Pug,” chooses to fly to New York City instead of taking the train with his manager, Max Corkle.  Unfortunately, his plane has a mechanical malfunction and Joe crashes into the farmland below.  Five minutes into the story and the main character is dead.  But the following scene gives us a full dose of the optimism to come: Joe’s soul has been escorted to an afterlife waiting area before catching a flight to Heaven/Nirvana/Paradise.  Turns out there’s been a mistake and Joe wasn’t supposed to die for another fifty years, so Mr. Jordan—the man/being in charge of this part of the afterlife—offers to get Joe a new body to inhabit.

What follows is nothing short of Capraesque escapism, with Joe entering the body of rich financier Bruce Farnsworth, who was just murdered by his wife and his secretary.  While Joe’s goal is still to become a champion prizefighter, he sees an opportunity to help others with Farnsworth wealth.  His first beneficiary is Bette Logan and her father, whom Farnsworth had set up to take the fall for selling worthless investments.  With Joe at the helm, everyone is confused by Farnsworth change of personality and ideology.  Granted, Joe’s benevolence is greatly influenced by his falling for Bette, but it’s evidence of Joe’s goodness and desire to do the right thing.

Because Joe’s boxing itch can’t be ignored, he begins training and contacts Max to be his trainer.  At first Max doesn’t believe that Joe is in Farnsworth, but Max comes around after Joe plays Max’s favorite song on his saxophone.  It’s a beautiful moment when Max double takes after realizing Joe still exists.  Theirs is a friendship that has transcended death and even social class.

Max’s moment is mirrored later on, after Joe has entered the body of fellow boxer K.O. Murdock and won the championship, when Joe (as Murdock) runs into Bette.  It’s a sweet and tender scene, yet so heartbreaking and frustrating because Joe is no longer Joe—Joe’s soul lives on in Murdock, but Mr. Jordan has erased Joe’s memories.  However, in an ending referenced in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004), another genre-bending romance, there’s something that lingers from the past for both Joe/Murdock and Bette.  Even though so much has been lost for the pair there’s so much potential to be had.  It’s a reassuring sentiment that keeps hope alive, no matter what happens in life and death.