Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, Edward Everett Horton
Director: Alexander Hall
Original Year of Release: 1941
Run Time: 1h 34min
A Matter of Life and Death (1946), A Guy Named Joe (1943), and Heaven Can Wait (1943) are but of a few titles in the fantasy genre in which someone dies and comes back to Earth. Here Comes Mr. Jordan precedes all these. Robert Montgomery stars as Joe, a boxer, pilot, and would-be saxophone player who is about to get his shot at the heavy weight title of the world. With Joe being a pilot, anyone can easily see how this lead character will meet his end. However, Joe’s death tuns out to be a mistake, he wasn’t supposed to die for another 50 years. An over eager angel, Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton), took Joe’s soul from his body soon thinking he was surely to die in the plane crash. Unfortunately, Joe’s earthly body is cremated before the mistake can be corrected, so the powers that be decide to give him another body. The only problem is, Joe spent his life training/loving his old body and still has that heavy weight prize fight on his mind.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan came as sweet surprise to this film aficionado. The powers that be in this film take form as Mr. Jordan, played by none other than Claude Rains. Being a fan of the actor, I was surprised to have never heard of this film, especially knowing full well that Rains played the antithesis of Mr. Jordan in Angel on my Shoulder (1946). Rains is only third billed here, but his presence in the film is powerful as he shapes the destiny of this boxer in his new body.
The story is easily accessible through Robert Montgomery’s performance. In being a child of the eighties, it is evident that Quantum Leap producer, Donald P. Bellisario, drew inspiration from Here Comes Mr. Jordan for his story about a man changing bodies and helping the greater good. This is what happens in the film. Joe assumes the body of a rich, greedy man named Farnsworth, who was just murdered. The dark comedy ensues when Farnsworth’s wife, Julia (Rita Johnson) and her lover are shocked to see that the man they just drowned is walking around. Joe also finds out that Farnsworth had shamefully wronged a man in business deal, a man who now is imprisoned and who’s beautiful daughter Bette (Evelyn Keyes) has come to fight for him. Mr. Jordan encourages Joe to set things right in Farnsworth’s life before moving into a permanent body that is more fitting to his athlete way of life. Joe agrees and quickly makes Farnsworth into a new man and starts to woo Bette in the process. Before long Joe has everything going his way, including a new title shot. That is, until his wife and her lover start scheming again.
The love story is the key to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Robert Montgomery and Evelyn Keyes really sell the audience on their would-be romance. Nothing physically happens on screen between the two (Joe is technically married to the woman who killed his host body) but there is enough longing to see that these characters both want something good from this life despite what is happening around them. This love story is important because the time comes when Joe must leap again into another body and is left with no memory of any of his other forms. Can Bette see the soul of Joe in a new body? Are the two really meant to be together? All your questions are answered in one of the best bittersweet love stories that anyone under fifty years of age has never seen.
The Criterion Collection has, once again, released a beautiful restoration. The film itself may seem odd to us now (with what a boxer once looked like, especially), but it’s a movie from another time. It has a great deal humor and love mixed perfectly with the bittersweet. You will not regret adding Here Comes Mr. Jordan to your Criterion library.
New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New conversation between critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker/distributor Michael Schlesinger
Audio interview from 1991 in which actor Elizabeth Montgomery discusses her father, actor Robert Montgomery
Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Here Comes Mr. Jordan from 1942 starring Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, and James Gleason
PLUS: An essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme