Here Comes Mr James Mason in a Heaven Sent performance…
When Warren Beatty’s American footballer Joe is No Ordinary Angel.
.Heaven Can Wait (1978) Trailer, TrailersTeasersClips
How to describe this charismatic (then) 70 years old actor and his role in this late 1970s movie? I’d say he’s a captivating English actor with gravitas, dignity and screen presence. The film to be reviewed is the remake of Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) and named as Heaven Can Wait (1978). This actor’s role as Mr Jordan is one which inspired a recent parody of this actor in an animated adult cartoon (and more on that later in the post). With this film, an homage in an Iron Maiden song.
This actor provided a memorable and captivating appearance in his small but important role in this romantic fantasy comedy, where he stole this movie from his then 40-year-old Hollywood heart-throb co-star, Warren Beatty. Possibly, just possibly this film could be best described as a Quantum Leap (1989-93) episode with a deadly twist. Adding these clues together you would be right to guess this actor is James Mason.
James Mason is an actor who I first watched many years ago in Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) and he is no stranger to Realweegiemidget Reviews. I’ve loved, watched and reviewed many of his movies made in those last ten years of his illustrious and prolific acting career. He’s appeared in roles and reviews for Voyage of the Damned (1976), Murder by Decree (1978), ffolkes / North Sea Hijack (1980) and Yellowbeard (1883). So click on those titles, to find out more…
Now on with the review… Warren Beatty is a man with a dream, Joe Pendleton, who is determined to play for the Los Angeles Rams, an American football team (despite him approaching middle age). He’s trained his body constantly with his mentor and best buddy, Max Corkle (Jack Warden). So Joe’s dutifully gone for liver smoothies (with an in-film recipe if men, you too want a body like the then approaching middle-aged Warren Beatty). Lovestruck women, who also want a man with a body like Beatty ask Mrs Beatty, actress Annette Bening. Joe also plays the saxophone, as you did back in the day.
Joe is celebrating his quarterback debut for the Rams with a wee training session of a run and a cycle in a truly unsexy (even on Beatty) grey track suit. He literally collides with fate on entering a tunnel. Noises coming from the tunnel infer Joe is the victim of a collision with a truck. There’s an eerie fade to black shot, then we find Joe in Heaven with his saxophone (as you possibly do in pre to late 1980s heaven).
Joe’s surrounded by fluffy clouds and this scene reminiscent of the heaven seen in Somewhere in Time (1980) apart from a plane. And waiting outside a queue of nameless passengers waiting to board. Joe is accompanied by his angel guide, a newbie at the job named The Escort (Buck Henry). Joe discovers he shouldn’t be there after a list of the passengers is checked – after making a run for it then causing a commotion after he is captured – as he was wrongly plucked from earth just before the accident happened. So Joe should be alive and well until 2025 (and its 1978) and more importantly he should still able to play his first game for the Rams.
So The Escort calls upon head angel, Mr Jordan (James Mason). In his quiet and masterful way Jordan takes charge of this celestial error to try to rectify things. He Mason-planes just why Joe must return to his body. Jordan’s later is told there’s a catch as Joe’s body has already been cremated. So the newbie is then dismissed from his role with Joe as Mr Jordan tries to help Joe find the body of his dreams. Or at least one he can train up to look like a 40-year-old Mr Warren Beatty.
After finding himself in an opulent home, Joe finds that he could slip into the life albeit temporarily of Leo Farnsworth (still played by Beatty), a heartless industrialist. And to prevent confusion I’ll refer to Joe as Joe and Farnsworth as Farnsworth as needed. Farnsworth has just been murdered by his scheming and adulterous wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and his secretary and her lover, Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin).
On entering Farnsworth’s life Joe meets a fiery and pretty English ecologist and teacher Betty Logan (Julie Christie). Joe is lovestruck. Betty is concerned how Farnsworth’s proposed refinery will affect her quaint little English town. Joe listens to her well-meaning rants, and there’s an obvious romantic connection for the two. Meanwhile Farnsworth’s wife Julia is increasingly on edge and paranoid with her lover Abbott just plainly stupid. These lovers find out and their increasing fears that Joe as Farnsworth’s rumbled their affair. So the pair step up their murderous plans.
Meanwhile, Joe falls in love with Betty even more. The pair remeeting at a board meeting, and here she appears to fall in love with Joe, believing him to be “Farnsworth”. She’s struck by his honesty and passion after he makes a stirring speech comparing their proposed plans in terms of an American football game. This after he proposes to go along with her ideas (and these appear not just in a bid to get the gal).
Betty and Joe’s attraction seen as they go on a date. He tells her his hopes for love, divorce and marriage with her (and I stifle a sob). Joe as Farnsworth then convinces Max in a heartfelt scene of his current predicament (with an in film catch up for the easily confused, that I probably missed as a kid watching this film). And in this scene Joe is guided and supported by the celestial presence of Mr Jordan. And after Joe as Farnsworth reminds Max of things only Joe would know, Max believes in him and his story and that he’s Joe. However in time, complications arise as Joe is told he has to give up Farnsworth’s body by Mr Jordan. Joe makes a final heartfelt and moving speech to Betty.. just as Farnsworth is shot by Abbott…
This film was a wonderful romantic comedy and well cast by this terrific cast. I remember watching this film years ago when it was part of that 1980s (or beyond) Christmas TV Scottish TV line up. With Mason’s small but effective role making more of an impact on me then than his co-stars. Now this film as a whole made much more of an impression on me, being now a total sucker for those 1970s romantic comedies. (And usually ones my mother enjoyed back then).
However despite now knowing the cast from other great movies the enthralling storyline and sincere and touching performances from Christie, Beatty, Warden and Mason made me weep one moment. Grodin and Cannon made laugh the next in their wonderful comic double act. In an eerie moment, I got that familiar feeling watching those scenes set at Farnsworth’s house, recognising it as the one that – soon after this film was made – became the Carringtons’ mansion in the original Dynasty (1981-89)TV Series.
It was Mason that made is presence more of a memorable one. Be it in his presence, his well delivered eloquent speeches he really was the only actor for this role. This despite Cary Grant being Beatty’s first choice for this role. So it was easy to see just why he was selected by Beatty who directed, wrote and starred in this film. Mason is his own quiet way supported the others in their scenes, not meaning to dominate but inadvertently taking the limelight. With his final scene as Jordan, sending a shiver up my scene literally.
This shiver increased after Darlin Husband joined me soon after my viewing of this scene. He reproduced his James Mason impersonation of that stirring speech. With my Darlin’ husband replicating his perfect impersonation of this actor did in ffolkes /North Sea Hijack. On this particular viewing, he provided me with his own rendition of the actors scenes with a double act of Mason and his co-star Roger Moore.
I then – after prompting from Darling Husband – rewatched that previously mentioned parody including an animated James Mason playing himself. This time his voice from impersonator Peter Serafinowicz with a certain adult superspy – clad in a familiar looking track suit and clutching a sax – meeting who he called a “cut-rate James Mason”. With “Mason” in a similar role to Mr Jordan, and this film a target for a fabulous pop culture inspired scene that series called Archer (2009-).
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: The Archer parody
Archer won’t stop tooting his tooter, djura
This film was added to Maddy Loves Her Classic Films James Mason Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include James Mason in North by Northwest, Voyage of the Damned (1976), Murder by Decree (1978), ffolkes / North Sea Hijack (1980) and Yellowbeard (1883). Charles Grodin appears in Dave and Julie Christie in Doctor Zhivago. Jack Warden stars in Death on the Nile. Buck Henry wrote The Graduate and Vincent Gardenia appears in Moonstruck. Warren Beatty appears in posts for One Step Beyond and Bonnie and Clyde.