Today is July 24 of #CleanMovieMonth. This is our fourth week celebrating movies from the Breen era of Hollywood (1934-1954). During this time, all movies had to be made according to the Motion Picture Production Code. This miraculous document provided rules and guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable topics for motion pictures. Through the brilliant self-regulation of the Production Code Administration under Joseph I. Breen, the Golden Era of Hollywood was born. Here at PEPS, we think more people should know about and appreciate this wonderful era of decent films. Thus, we designated July as a whole month to celebrate movies from this time. We are only watching movies from the Breen era, and we are writing a review about a different Code film every day.
This is a very trying day for both coasts of the United States. On the East Coast, 32 million are in danger because of flooding due to excessive rains. On the West Coast, my part of the country, 40 million people are in danger due to excessive heat. In this extreme weather, it seems like the time when we need some heavenly intervention! Thus, my film choice for today is Here Comes Mr. Jordan from 1941. Starring Robert Montgomery and Claude Rains, this movie is about an angel who helps a deceased boxer find a new body when he is removed from his too soon.
Joe Pendleton is a young boxer who is preparing for a try for the championship. He is also flies an airplane and mediocrely plays the saxophone as a hobby. His manager is Max Corkle, a lovable, comical fellow who is like a father to Joe. Joe refuses to take a train to go to New York City from the training area; he insists on flying his airplane, despite Max’s protestations. During the trip, his plane malfunctions and begins plummeting toward the ground as Joe tries to right it. The next thing he knows, he is walking among clouds with a messenger who he knows is crazy. He keeps insisting that Joe is dead! Joe, however, feels fine, and he refuses to be agreeable. With his saxophone in hand, he rushes toward an airplane he sees in the distance. This airplane is being boarded by many passengers, under the supervision of the serene Mr. Jordan, a distinguished gentleman in a black suit. Mr. Jordan eventually convinces Joe that he is dead, since his plane crashed. However, he can’t understand why “Pendleton, Joseph” isn’t on the list. When he consults the registry department, he realizes that Joe isn’t supposed to die for another fifty years! It seems that Messenger 7013, the angel who collected Joe’s soul, took Joe out of his body before he crashed; apparently, his destiny was not to die in that accident. Thus, Joe is entitled to another fifty years on earth. Mr. Jordan orders Messenger 7013 to return Joe to his body. Back on earth, his remains are not in the ruined plane, so they go to Max Corkle’s apartment. While they can see and hear activities among the living, they can neither be seen nor heard. They are horrified to hear Max say that Joe has been cremated! Not knowing what to do, they return to Mr. Jordan for further instructions. He is dismayed by the news, but he agrees to find Joe another body. Joe doesn’t like the sound of that one bit. He doesn’t want just any body; he wants his body, since it was “in the pink” for boxing. However, having no alternative, he agrees to review bodies throughout the world with Mr. Jordan until he finds one he likes. The first one which looks interesting is Bruce Farnsworth of New York. He is a young millionaire who is about Joe’s age. His body will soon be available, since he is being murdered by his wife and her sweetheart, his personal secretary, at that moment. Joe doesn’t like the sound of the whole thing. However, he changes his mind when he sees a beautiful young woman come in and ask Mrs. Farnsworth for her husband’s help. She is Betty Logan, a young woman whose father was put in prison because Mr. Farnsworth sold worthless stock under his name while he was in Europe. Only Mr. Farnsworth can clear her father’s name, but now he is dead. The only chance for her to receive justice is for Joe to enter Bruce’s body, or “overcoat,” as Mr. Jordan says. Joe agrees to do so, but only long enough to help Betty; then, he wants to find a more athletic body. Mr. Jordan consents, and they go upstairs. When he comes back down as Mr. Farnsworth, Mrs. Farnsworth and the secretary, Tony Abbott, are petrified to see the man they thought they had murdered. Joe, now Bruce, talks to Betty, but she thinks he is just making fun of her. After she has left, he determines to help her and make her like him for himself. Mr. Jordan leaves him in his new surroundings. Bruce decides to clear Mr. Logan by paying back all the money that people lost on the worthless stock. Although his associates don’t like this costly, impulsive decision, the common people praise him for his generosity. Betty comes to visit him, and she thanks him for his kindness. They feel a deep connection, and Betty says that she sees something behind his eyes that is special and rare. Because of her, Joe decides to continue to be Farnsworth for a while and get his body “in the pink.” He contacts Max and, after difficultly convincing him that he is really Joe, asks him to set up a championship fight for him. He trains rigorously, and his wife and Mr. Abbott think he has gone insane. Meanwhile, Betty supports him in anything he does. They are clearly falling in love, but it is far from simple, since his “overcoat” is married. Will he be able to get away from the vicious wife of the previous inhabitant of this body? Will he be able to find the true destiny for his remaining fifty years of life? Will he and Betty be able to get married in any existence? Watch this movie to find out!
Joe Pendleton, later known as Bruce Farnsworth, is played by Robert Montgomery. Mr. Jordan is played by Claude Rains. Betty Logan is played by Evelyn Keyes. Max Corkle is played by James Gleason. Messenger 7013 is played by Edward Everett Horton. Mrs. Farnsworth is played by Rita Johnson.
At first glance, the synopsis of this story might sound somewhat like reincarnation. You might think that that would be a rather odd topic for the 1940s. However, the theme of the film is more based on Western than Eastern religion. The idea of people living more than one life on earth is not promoted in this film. Technically, Joe only lives one life. However, he has to complete his life in a different physical covering, since his original covering was destroyed. This is all handled in a very fanciful way. No one expects the audience to take this seriously or as reality. You go along with it for the movie, but it isn’t meant to be accepted as the truth.
When I first watched this movie, I wondered how it was going to be conveyed that Joe was in Bruce Farnsworth’s body. I expected to see another actor as Bruce Farnsworth. However, no other actor was used. Mr. Farnsworth was first seen when Joe inhabited his body. When he looks in the mirror, he is surprised to see that he still looks like himself. Mr. Jordan explains to him that the soul never changes. Inside, he’s still Joe Pendleton; he will always feel, think, and act like himself. However, he looks like Bruce Farnsworth to others, since that is his physical covering. However, his personality and identity will shine through. Thus, no other actor is used. Robert Montgomery plays Joe throughout the movie.
This movie came from a book entitled Heaven Can Wait. When Columbia first suggested this idea to the Production Code Administration, Joseph Breen had some concerns. Angels had not been widely depicted by actors up to this point. The film couldn’t contain anything to offend people religiously. A particularly delicate subject was the element of predestination. Thankfully, this movie was properly self-regulated, so it ended up being a perfect Code film. The angels were depicted seriously but in a fanciful way. Predestination was left very vague and general. I appreciate the care which was used in this delicate situation.
In addition, there were some other elements which could have been problematic. Firstly, there is the matter of Bruce Farnsworth’s murder. Mr. Jordan casually remarks that he is being drowned in the bathtub. No gory details are given, and this doesn’t inspire imitation. However, we know that this crime, although it does not appear to be successful, must be punished. Another troublesome item is the relationship between Mrs. Farnsworth and Tony Abbott. Mr. Jordan makes a remark to Mr. Abbott being the man whom Mrs. Farnsworth is “in love with.” However, in the actual film, they have no relationship. We see them talking, and they are obviously partners in crime. One could infer that there is an adulterous relationship between them, but this is not emphasized. We don’t know how far this relationship has gone. All we know is that they are two horrible people who want to kill her husband for his fortune. A final difficult point is the fact that Bruce Farnsworth is married. Technically, Joe Pendleton is not married, since he himself never took any vows of fidelity to Mrs. Farnsworth. However, his physical covering was married, so people think that he is married. This presents a very difficult situation, since Joe is falling in love with another woman. Their relationship had to be handled very carefully for Betty’s sake. She knows that Mr. Farnsworth is married, so it would be wrong for her to pursue a married man. She always maintains decency and propriety. Without spoiling the ending, I will just say that the situation is handled in complete accordance with the Code.
This is a really wonderful movie. All the actors are excellent, and the script is very witty, clever, and touching. I greatly enjoy this film. If you are looking for a picture to watch when escaping scorching heat or raging waters, why not watch Here Comes Mr. Jordan?
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