The advantages to having a guest living with us for a while weren’t hard to imagine. First, I won’t worry about my friend as much, knowing he now has a roof over his head that might leak but won’t go away anytime soon.
Second, I get a new appreciation of the things we take for granted. Internet access being one; I gave him an old Roku stick and showed him how to connect to our Netflix and Amazon accounts, so he now has something to watch and a way to watch it. I get some pleasure out of this, somehow.
And we all get an upgrade in our socialization skills. He came in last night and we enjoyed a conversation as we did 30 years ago, bouncing around books we’ve read and things we’ve seen.
Not to mention some hours spent rearranging the basement; it’s always fun to reclaim the space, as dusty and full of crap as it is. A massive dump run is needed; lots of crumbling, cheap particle-board furniture and at least three solid chests-of-drawers and dressers, along with a million books and trashy trash trash. But there’s room for living, and now there’s a life.
In 1938, a writer named Harry Segall wrote a play called Heaven Can Wait, a romantic fantasy about a professional boxer who bumps up against destiny. Dying in a plane crash on his way to a boxing match, the fighter, Joe Pendleton, realizes that his life wasn’t supposed to end at that time, and the heavenly authorities agree. An angelic administrator from heaven, Mr. Jordan, takes charge of the situation and tries to get Pendleton back to his timeline and life. Eventually, Segall changed the title to Here Comes Mr. Jordan, although the play wasn’t a huge success and never made it to Broadway.
It was good enough, though, for Columbia Pictures to buy the rights as a vehicle for Cary Grant. In 1941, Grant somehow slipping out of the plan, Robert Montgomery played Joe and Claude Rains was Mr. Jordan. Here Comes Mr. Jordan was a big success, nominated for a bunch of Oscars (winning a couple for the screenplay), and inspiring a little run of films in the 40s and 50s featuring angels and destiny and life after death (including The Bishop’s Wife, in which Cary Grant played an angel; a great Christmas movie, by the way).
Another inspiration was a 1943 Ernst Lubitsch film featuring Don Ameche, playing an elderly man who dies and ends up in hell, although the Devil suspects he’s in the wrong place. Hijinks ensue. This film was called, as it turns out, Heaven Can Wait.
Fast forward three decades: Warren Beatty decides to remake Here Comes Mr. Jordan, using its original title of Heaven Can Wait. He originally wanted Muhammad Ali to play Joe Pendleton, but Ali was (unfortunately) trying to prolong his boxing career. Beatty decided to cast himself in the part, but figured he’d be an unrealistic boxer, so he changed Pendleton into a pro quarterback. Otherwise, it was a faithful remake, featuring a stellar 1970s-era cast (Dyan Cannon, Julie Christie, Charles Grodin, and Jack Warden), along with the elegant James Mason as Mr. Jordan (after trying, but failing, to persuade our hero, Cary Grant, to come out of retirement).
The 1978 remake was also a big success, garnering 9 Academy Award nominations. I remember this well, as my taste for this sort of well-made throwback to an earlier era runs deep and long; I was as interested at 20 as I am at 59. I saw it in the theater, and it’s still one of my favorite films.
And tonight I’m showing it at church as part of our Wednesday Summer Movie Nights, which I guess I invented. There was no plan or purpose; after the apparent success of last week’s showing of Local Hero, we decided to continue with films but needed the next week’s title almost immediately, for the newsletter. I had a short time to pick one, and with my mind racing about what I could show that I didn’t have to preview for content (no one would probably object to more adult themes, but it felt important that I find movies that wouldn’t jar anyone expecting a certain kind of decorum in a church sanctuary, and I love finding those anyway), I suddenly thought of Heaven Can Wait. It’s not only a wonderful, funny and romantic movie, it was an aberration from the gritty 1970s style of filmmaking, which I imagine Beatty intended.
I had to scramble to find a copy, but we’re all set. I look forward to sharing this with my friends, on a warm Wednesday in the Pacific Northwest, with temperatures heading up toward 90 today, maybe much warmer than that.
In a sanctuary without air conditioning. This might be interesting. Heaven is going to get a little hot tonight. Don Ameche would fit right in.