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 and photos © Paramount Pictures
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). This film is also heard in a 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. I believe 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. If you add 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). Mason 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 (1983). Do 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).
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, wich implies he died 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 there’s a plane (and no Jane Seymour). As he waits in a queue of nameless passengers waiting to board the plane, Joe is accompanied by his angel guide. This guide a newbie at the job named The Escort (Buck Henry).
Joe makes a run for it, then he is captured after causing a commotion. Joe discovers he shouldn’t be there after the list of passengers is checked. This as he was wrongly plucked from earth just before the accident happened and he was due to survive the accident. Joe should be alive and well until 2025 (and it’s 1978). More importantly (to him) he should still able to play his first game for the Rams.
The Escort calls upon head angel, Mr Jordan (James Mason) to sort things out. In his quiet and masterful way, Jordan takes charge of this celestial error to try to rectify things. He Mason-plains just why Joe must return to his body.
However, the men learn that Joe’s body has already been cremated. The newbie is then dismissed from his role with Joe. Mr Jordan takes over 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. 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 believing with increasing fears that Joe as Farnsworth’s rumbled their affair. The pair then step up their murderous plans.
Meanwhile, Joe falls in love with Betty even more. The pair remeeting at a board meeting. Here she appears to fall in love with Joe, believing him to be “Farnsworth”. She’s struck by his honesty and passion. This 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 mutual attraction is 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, as he confides his current predicament with him. This in an in film catch up for the easily confused, that I probably missed as a kid watching this film. In this scene Joe is guided and supported by the celestial presence of Mr Jordan.
After Joe (as Farnsworth) reminds Max of things only Joe would know, Max believes in him and his story and believes 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. I remember watching this film years ago when it was part of that 1980s (or beyond) Christmas TV Scottish TV line up. 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. These usually, the 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 sob.
Grodin and Cannon made laugh 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.
InMason’s presence and his well-delivered eloquent speeches, he proved he really was the only actor for this role. This despite Cary Grant being Beatty’s first choice for this role. It was easy to see just why this actor was selected by Beatty who directed, wrote and starred in this film.
Mason is his own quiet way supported the others in their scenes. Here not meaning to dominate a scene but inadvertently taking the limelight. His final scene as Jordan, sent a shiver up my spine literally. This shiver increased after Darlin Husband joined me soon after my viewing of this scene.
Darlin Husband then reproduced his James Mason impersonation of that stirring speech. With my Darlin’ husband replicating his perfect impersonation of this actor as he did as we watched ffolkes /North Sea Hijack. On this particular viewing, he provided me with his own rendition of the actor’s 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 provided by impersonator Peter Serafinowicz with a certain adult superspy. This character also clad in a familiar-looking tracksuit and clutching a sax. This character meeting that chief angel, who he called a “cut-rate James Mason”. “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
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 , Murder by Decree, ffolkes / North Sea Hijack and Yellowbeard. Dyan Cannon stars in Deathtrap. 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.