By Adam Roche
As you can see from the above poster, marketing bods in the 40’s had completely misshapen ideas about how to sell a film. Seriously, this is a terrible poster, which is a shame because it’s attempting to sell a very, very good movie. Someone somewhere must have had their head screwed on correctly, as the following poster was produced almost immediately to replace this drunk, orange nightmare:
It’s marginally better, but not much. Still, it does feature the movie’s star attraction attempting to grab the breasts of both his leading ladies, which certainly catches the eye (one obviously likes this attention, the other is horrified). We are also told that it is “Daring! Different! Delightful!”. Helpful to know before you go into a film, I feel. Still, the same headline could have been used to advertise Highlander 2, with only a third of it’s adjectives being a bare-faced lie.
Still, this is a pretty accurate headline. Whimsical flights of fancy concerning heaven and the afterlife were popular during the thirties and forties, mainly due to the horrific conflicts that raged at the time.
In 1937, ‘Topper’ was released. It was a screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as the Kirbys; rich, spoilt drunks, who die in a car crash and return to perform the good deed that was absent from their life. They choose to reform Cosmo Topper, a stuffy banker played brilliantly by Roland Young. Topper is a small, downtrodden man who only lives in shades of grey. Through the help of the Kirby’s, Topper finds the lion inside him and becomes a man. In 1946, the year after WW2 finished, Britain gave the world ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’ from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the fabulous story of a man taken too late by an erring angel, and allowed to fight for his right to return to Earth in a heavenly court. In the same year, Frank Capra’s seminal ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ was released, the perennial, heartbreaking story of a man who spends his life and youth on others, and begins to doubt his own existence. When he contemplates suicide, an angel is sent from heaven to show him what life would have been like for his friends if he had never been born.
Somewhere between these classics falls ‘Here Comes Mr Jordan’. Released in 1941, mere months before America entered the second world war, it tells the story of Joe Pendleton, a boxer on the rise to fame and fortune, who whilst flying to his next bout in a self-piloted plane, crashes in the mountains. Assuming him to be dead, his soul is taken by an angel to the gates of heaven, where he is informed by the titular Mr Jordan, that actually he survived the crash, and isn’t due in heaven for a long while yet.
The problem is, that whilst this has been going on, Joe’s body has been removed and cremated, making it impossible for him to return. Outraged, Joe demands a replacement. He and Mr Jordan travel back to Earth, where Joe is ‘inserted’ into the body of wealthy Bruce Farnsworth. The problem is that Farnsworth didn’t die of natural causes, and when his murderous wife and her lover find that he is miraculously ‘alive’, they conspire to put an end to him once more.
Posters aside, ‘Here Comes Mr Jordan’ is a marvellous, warm film, the sort that (to use a cliche) they just don’t make anymore. From it’s dry ice heaven to it’s breezy views of Manhattan’s suburbs, this is simply a world that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s easy to see why people felt comforted when they saw it. We all hope that there’s a kindly Mr Jordan ready to take us by the hand when the time comes, and in 1941 that time seemed closer than ever.
The cast, headed by Robert Montgomery, is a marvel. He’s superb in the lead, displaying just the right amount of confusion and anger at his predicament, but it’s Claude Rains who’ll live in your memory as Mr Jordan. His soft-spoken, wise chaperone was the template for movie angels from here on in. Also of note is Edward Everett Horton, Fred and Ginger’s right hand man in most of their films, as the dipsy, double-taking angel whose mistake kicks off the whole muddle.
Whilst the film itself has slipped somewhat into obscurity, especially dimmed by the long shadow cast by ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, which shares many of its themes, it is a true classic that more than deserves a wider recognition. Whilst ‘Wonderful Life’ does still hold the gold medal for angel movies, ‘Mr Jordan’ is a worthy second at the podium. It definitely still has the power to surprise, the plot in the last third of the film moving in directions you simply won’t expect, and offering up surprises and satisfaction despite its minor contrivances.
I urge any fans of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to check out the movie here. You won’t be disappointed. You may even begin to think of Claude Rains when you hear a bell ring.
P.S: For the sake of circularity, click HERE to see the worst movie poster in history
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