Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Heaven Can Wait (1978)

heaven can wait 1978This 1978 comedy with Warren Beatty has nothing to do with the 1943 version of the same name but it is in fact a remake of a nineteen forties movie, Here Comes Mr. Jordan. A few changes have been made perhaps unsurprisingly, with this film no longer about a boxer who was taken to heaven before his time but an American football player, and the original version didn’t exactly have the same sense of humour.

Initially Warren Beatty’s Joe Pendleton is recovering from an injury but looks set to be able to play in the forthcoming Super Bowl, but when out cycling he enters a tunnel and never comes out of it thanks to a nearby speeding car. Up in a mist filled afterlife he learns he’s at a way station and meant to board a plane that’ll take him to Heaven, but after whining a lot they discover that Beatty was never meant to die that day, and he was taken from this planet by a brand new guardian angel who didn’t know how to do his job properly.

Joe manages to persuade the guardian angel’s boss Mr Jordan (James Mason) to let him take charge of another body on a temporary basis until they find him a permanent one, and he ends up in the form of just murdered millionaire industrialist Leo Farnsworth, though Farnsworth now gets to live a little longer much to the shock of his wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and her lover Tony (Charles Grodin) who were responsible for his death. Farnsworth was a rich bastard and perhaps unsurprisingly Joe starts to like living his life, especially after falling for a woman (Julie Christie) who was protesting against him.

It’s an odd mix as it’s essentially a (deep breath) supernatural body swap fish out of water underdog corporate satire rom-com, and a few other genres I’ve probably forgotten too, and while it’s a mixture that probably shouldn’t work they just about pull it off, though it’s only mildly funny rather than hilarious. Beatty’s the best value for money, his Joe Pendleton is an always optimistic, chipper type but James Mason and other undead types have fun with their roles too.

Strangely despite having previously had a real life relationship the chemistry between Beatty and Christie is lacking, and she isn’t exactly given a lot to do other than initially be annoyed with Beatty and then rather enamoured with him. Some of the decisions made by Mr Jordan are also a little questionable (albeit explained away as being all part of God’s mysterious plan) but it makes for quite an unusual comedy that moves at a great pace and ends on a pleasingly strange high note.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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