When devouring the screwball comedies of the ‘Golden Age’, it’s easy to miss Here Comes Mr. Jordan. It’s not directed by Frank Capra, but it clearly inspired the ‘Guardian Angel’ role in It’s a Wonderful Life and shares the playfulness of Capra’s unmistakable tone.
Even across the pond, as Powell and Pressberger released films such as A Matter of Life and Death, it’s worth remembering that many of the plot points were there before in Alexander Hill’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan. It’s heavenly, comedic spin in a story of death and the fragility of life has been imitated multiple times since. It may not be the most memorable but it set the stage for the esteemed classics that followed.
Boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) has a huge fight ahead of him. Training, he is “in the pink” and prepared to go to war, with his trusty saxophone by his side. Flying a plane (as he’s known as the “flying pug”), Pendleton crashes down and emerges in the clouds of heaven. Pendleton isn’t sure what has happened until Mr Jordan (Claude Rains) appears, explaining that, though he may have been badly injured, he was not due to die today. This mistake means that Mr. Jordan needs to find Joe a new body quick, and together they set off to Earth to track one down. Luckily (?) for Joe, investor Bruce Farnsworth is due to be murdered by his wife and secretary. Partly because Joe’s heart skips a beat when seeing a knockout girl, he decides to take on Farnsworth for a bit. The murderers are shocked to discover he hasn’t died and Mr. Jordan reveals that winning the boxing match is still in Joes future. Pendleton now needs to simply train his body up, prepare for the fight, convince his manager that he is the same guy and woo the girl that Farnsworth knew.
Like A Christmas Carol, Here Comes Mr. Jordan has the fantasy of observing life as a voyeur. No one can see you but you can see them (also reminds me of Bran in Game of Thrones). To imagine the ‘Guardian Angel’ to accompany you is Claude Rains (Casablanca, Brief Encounter and The Passionate Friends) is the icing on the cake. His wry smile and warmth manages to perfectly capture that spiritual confidence an angel, or God himself, would surely hold. In one scene, there’s a dark glee as Mr Jordan waits for the murder of Farnsworth to take place. He’s not in control of our actions but has become comfortable with the uglier side to humanity. But it was Robert Montgomery who was nominated for best actor in his role. Montgomery exudes the stature and charm of Tim Robbins with the “gangshter” voice of Jimmy Cagney. Prior to the casting of screen icon Clark Gable, Montgomery was rumoured to be Capra’s first choice for It Happened One Night and watching Her Comes Mr. Jordan, it’s easy to see why.
This Criterion edition includes a conversation between film producer Michael Schlesinger and critic Michael Srago. They explain how Joe is a “Robust American Male”, akin to the many men who lost their lives in the Great War. Director Alexander Hall realises a world whereby, in heaven, all sorts of mistakes are made. This must be a small piece of comfort to families and loved ones across the world who coped with so many losses.
Released in the same year as Citizen Kane it is clearly not a worthy comparison, but Here Comes Mr. Jordan does acknowledge certain social issues as a scrappy boxer becomes a filthy rich man. There may not be as many timeless elements, with a muddy finale as bodies are switched, a saxophone moves and jokes are repeated to groaning effect, but it is a fun tale. Its likeable characters, influential tale of life and death and snappy pace is worth watching and, setting a precedent, worth crediting when considering the many classics that followed.