Friday, November 9, 2018

Angels in Transit

This is my entry in the "They Remade What?!" Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.

Remakes don't usually compare too favorably with the originaal in the cinema world.  In fact, just the term "remake" can usually inspire a kind of "Oh God! You can't be serious!" kind of response in the average aficionado of cinema.  Especially if said aficionado is enamored of the original.  Just ask any fan of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho what they think Gus van Sant's so called "homage" to the classic and you are probably in for a rant of unprecedented proportions.

On rare occasions the remake does turn out to be acceptable even to fans of the original.  On even rarer occasions, the remake turns out to be astoundingly better.  I'm thinking in particular of the 1941 John Huston/Humphrey Bogart version of the classic Dashiell Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon.  The Maltese Falcon was so much better than the 1931 version or the remake from 1936, Satan Met a Lady, that it is now considered the definitive version of the book.

In 1941, a play called Heaven Can Wait garnered the attention of Hollywood.  The play was so good that, instead of actually being produced on Broadway, it went directly to the studio.  Re-titled Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the film was so good, it gained the attention of the Academy, where it was nominated for 7 awards, of which it won two.  It suffered from being pitted against How Green was My Valley.

In 1978, the film was remade, using it's original title of Heaven Can Wait.  This movie, too was so good, it also gained the Academy's attention.  It was nominated for 9 Academy Awards.  Unfortunately the competition included The Deer Hunter and Midnight Express, both of which deserved every award they won.

For your enjoyment I include here all the awards for which both movies vied for awards.  You make the call on whether the Academy was right:

1941 Academy Awards:

Best Picture: Here Comes Mr. Jordan lost to How Green Was My Valley
Best Director: Alexander Hall lost to John Ford (How Green Was My Valley) 
Best Actor: Robert Montgomery lost to Gary Cooper (Sergeant York)
Best Supporting Actor: James Gleason lost to Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley)
Best Screenplay: Won
Best Original Story: Won
Best Cinematography (Black and White): Joseph Walker lost to Arthur Miller (How Green Was My Valley)

1978 Academy Awards:

Best Picture: Heaven Can Wait lost to The Deer Hunter
Best Director: Warren Beatty and Buck Henry lost to Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter)
Best Actor: Warren Beatty lost to Jon Voight (Coming Home)
Best Supporting Actor: Jack Warden lost to Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter)
Best Supporting Actress: Dyan Cannon lost to Maggie Smith (California Suite)
Best Screenplay: Elaine May and Warren Beatty lost to Oliver Stone (Midnight Express)
Best Original Score: Dave Grusin lost to Giorgio Moroder  (Midnight Express)
Best Cinematography: William A. Fraker lost to Nestor Almendros (Days of Heaven)

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and
Heaven Can Wait (1978):

(Note: The two movies are so similar that I chose to combine the two into one overall review)

Joe Pendleton (1941: Robert Montgomery; 1978: Warren Beatty) is an athlete who is up-and-coming for stardom.  (In the 1941 version Joe was a boxer.  In the 1978 version, after a deal to try to get Muhammad Ali to star fell through, Joe became a football quarterback).

Joe's trainer and best friend Max Corkle (1941: James Gleason; 1978: Jack Warden) tries desperately to keep his star in top shape.

Joe runs into some bad luck and ends up dying (1941: in a plane wreck; 1978: in a bicycle vs. truck accident) and is taken to Heaven by his escort (1941: Edward Everett Horton; 1978: Buck Henry).  Joe, however, refuses to accept that he is dead.  He argues his case with the head bigwig at the transport station, Mr. Jordan (1941: Claude Rains; 1978: James Mason).

 It is discovered that Joe was NOT scheduled to die until 50 years hence.  The escort made a mistake and pulled his soul a moment or two too early.  But getting Joe back to his original body proves to be problematic.  Max had Joe's body cremated.  The solution that Mr. Jordan comes up with is to have Joe transferred to another body, one that is scheduled to die forthwith.  But Joe is adamant that the body he gets be in primo physical condition because he intends to fulfill what he considers to be his destiny (1941: be the boxing champ; 1978: play on the LA Rams team in the Super Bowl).  He rejects several options in due course because they don't fit his ideal standards.

Finally, Mr. Jordan introduces Joe to Leo Farnsworth, a millionaire.  Leo's wife, Julia  (1941:Rita Johnson; 1978: Dyan Cannon) and his personal secretary, Tony Abbott (1941:  John Emory; 1978: Charles Grodin) are secret lovers and have been plotting Leo's murder.

Joe initially rejects this option, too, until he sees Betty Logan (1941: Evelyn Keyes; 1978: Julie Christie).  Betty is on a mission to get Leo to change his mind about a rather illicit business affair.  Joe decides to be Leo, just long enough to help Betty get her problem resolved.

Of course, Julia and Tony are devastated that their first attempt at murder has not succeeded, but they refuse to give up.  Joe, as Leo, causes consternation not only with them, but also with his business associates.  Seems that Leo had a history of stepping on other people to get to the top.  And his new attitude is at odds with that.

In the meantime, Joe hires Max to help him personally train Leo's body to try to achieve his ultimate sports goal.   To do that, he somehow first has to convince Max that Leo is really he, Joe, in another body, making Max complicit in the affair that only Joe and the escort and Mr. Jordan know.

Joe eventually wangles the cards in his favor with his new body, but the dream is not exactly as he plans.  The rest of the movie I'm leaving as a surprise.  If you only decide to watch one of these, I recommend it be Here Comes Mr. Jordan, simply because I think Evelyn Keyes is one of the hottest women from the classic film era.  Both are well worth the view, though.  The remake has the advantage of getting to see Warren Beatty get his ass creamed by real football players cameoing as the real Los Angeles Rams.  (A story goes that a couple of the real players plotted to give Beatty a real taste of being sacked in one of the scenes.)

Above all, avoid at all costs the Chris Rock remake Down to Earth, which follows basically the same plot, but is absolutely horrendous. (if the fact that it stars Chris Rock didn't already give that away...)  But if you are of a more salacious bent, the theme was revisited in a pornographic film Debbie Does Dallas...Again.  But I can't comment on it, since I have never seen it.  Honest!

Well, folks, it's time to fire up the old Plymouth.  And, just in case, if some new blogger comes along and tries to convince you he is me, it just MAY be true.... Drive safely.



  1. I've yet to watch Heaven Can Wait, but I really enjoyed Here Comes Mr. Jordan. I think Jackie Gleason almost stole the show from Robert Montgomery.

    I agree with your point about remakes. My usual reaction is...ugh! But occasionally I like them better than the original. For me, such is the case with Sabrina (I can't handle Bogart as Linus), and You've Got Mail (I mean, how can you top the charm of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks together, not to mention NYC in the spring?!)

    1. Heaven Can Wait is worth it just for Dyan Cannon's portrayal. My Bogart is limited to film noir mostly. Haven't seen Sabrina.

  2. Here Comes Mr. Jordan is an old fave of mine, but I haven't seen Heaven Can Wait. The supporting cast in the remake interests me greatly, but I've never been able to watch Warren Beatty for more than a few minutes at a time. Something about him irks me. I know that fans will say it is my loss, but we all have those bugaboos.

    1. I feel the same way about Tom Cruise, so no problem there. Unless you want to take issue with that... :-D Thanks for reading.

  3. Loved to read about the original as recently reviewed the remake, sounds like one to check out thanks to your post!

    1. The remake is surprisingly good. I never know whether to expect good or mediocre from Beatty. Although I must admit I never expect bad. Even Ishtar isn't nearly as bad as critics make it out to be... Thanks for reading.

  4. Grodin and Cannon are the best thing in the 1978 version. James Mason is good too.

    I prefer the 1941 version since Warren is an unbelievable QB, and his charm has always been lost on me. But he certainly made the most of his limited acting ability.

    BTW, I loved Keyes in "Mr. Soft Touch" a forgotten movie with Glenn Ford.

    1. When Warren Beatty smiles it always seems like a contrived moment just to allow him to smile, even if smiling is a valid reaction to the scene. That's the main reason I don't watch many Beatty movies, even though I don't particularly hate him or anything. Dick Tracy and Bonnie and Clyde are great movies. Thanks for reading.


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