Until roughly three years ago, I'd only seen three Robert Montgomery movies: MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), and HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, which I saw at L.A.'s Vagabond Theater as a teenager.
Over the last three years I've seen 30 additional Montgomery movies, and he's become one of my favorite actors. Tonight I revisited HERE COMES MR. JORDAN for the first time in many years. I especially enjoyed taking a fresh look at the movie in the context of now being so familiar with the rest of Montgomery's work; I was extremely impressed with his performance.
The Oscar-winning story is well known, not only from the original film but from its remake, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). Prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Montgomery) is erroneously removed from his body by a Heavenly messenger (Edward Everett Horton) who is new on the job. Joe's body is cremated, so it's up to the messenger's boss, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), to find Joe a new body.
Joe temporarily takes up residence in the body of multimillionaire Bruce Farnsworth, who was going to be murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover (John Emery). Joe/Bruce only has eyes for lovely Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes)...which is a problem when Mr. Jordan delivers the news Joe can't remain in Farnsworth's body after all.
Montgomery, Rains, and James Gleason as Joe's trainer, Max Corkle, provide a trio of performances which are nothing less than superb; they simply couldn't have been any better. Montgomery, complete with New York accent, completely submerses himself in Joe Pendleton, leaving behind some of the (endearing) mannerisms seen in his other performances. He skillfully navigates a tricky part, playing not only Joe Pendleton, but Joe-as-Farnsworth and later still a completely different character. Montgomery greatly deserved his Oscar nomination as Best Actor.
Rains is a chameleon; his Mr. Jordan is nothing at all like his Prince John, his Louis Renault, his Adam Lemp, or any of the other characters he played so memorably. Mr. Jordan is at all times soothing and reassuring, even when initially baffled by Joe's insistence that he's not dead. When Mr. Jordan walks into a room, the viewer knows everything will be all right.
The film evokes both laughter and teary eyes, particularly during Gleason's scenes, first when he recognizes that Farnsworth is really Joe, and later in the story when Farnsworth disappears. It's a marvelous performance. Like Montgomery, Gleason was Oscar-nominated, in his case as Best Supporting Actor.
The final shot of Mr. Jordan waving farewell also caused me to choke up a bit, not simply for a lovely ending, but because the classic shot symbolizes in just a few seconds the movie magic which was possible under the studio system.
This was Montgomery's second Best Actor nomination; his first nomination was for NIGHT MUST FALL (1937). In addition to nominations for Montgomery and Gleason, the movie was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Hall), and Best Black and White Cinematography (Joseph Walker). The movie won Oscars for Original Story and Screenplay.
The Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, and Black and White Cinematography were swept that year by HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, while Gary Cooper took home the Best Actor trophy for SERGEANT YORK. The acting competition also included Orson Welles in CITIZEN KANE. Those were the days...
The movie runs 94 minutes. The supporting cast includes Halliwell Hobbes as Farnsworth's butler, Donald MacBride as a police inspector, and Lloyd Bridges as a young Heavenly pilot.
HERE COMES MR. JORDAN is available on a bare-bones DVD which has no extras but is a beautiful print restored by UCLA. It's also had multiple VHS releases.
The film is also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, where it is next scheduled to air on December 27, 2009. If you've never caught this film, make a note on your calendar to watch it; you will be amply rewarded.