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Here Comes Mr. Jordan: Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // June 14, 2016
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 2, 2016 | E-mail the Author

If you've never heard of Alexander Hall's Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)...well, you probably have and didn't realize it. As the first---and quite possibly, best---adaptation of Harry Segall's 1938 play Heaven Can Wait, it spawned a sequel in 1947's Down to Earth (also directed by Hall) and several remakes: 1968 Indian film The Skies Have Bowed, 1978's Heaven Can Wait (starring and co-directed by Warren Beatty), and 2001 Chris Rock vehicle Down to Earth.

Got all that? Luckily, the plot itself is easier to follow...and though it's prefaced by a silly text introduction, Here Comes Mr. Jordan has the good sense to get right down to business. We're introduced to working class Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), a promising boxer who's almost never without his lucky alto saxophone; he's also an amateur pilot, often flying to matches across the country against the wishes of manager Max Corkle (James Gleason). This habit eventually catches up with Pendleton, who dies in a freak accident and is cremated after the wreckage is found.

Problem is, Joe Pendleton wasn't supposed to die in 1941. According to Heaven's paperwork, he's got another 50 years left...but due to that whole cremation business, there's no body for Joe to return to. Luckily, well-dressed angel-in-charge Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains) offers a solution: Joe's soul can enter the freshly-slain body of crooked millionaire Bruce Farnsworth, who was just murdered by his unfaithful wife Julia (Rita Johnson) and her new love interest Tony (John Emery). Joe is reluctant to move on so quickly...but the sudden appearance of beautiful young Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), whose father was swindled by Farnsworth, prompts him to take Mr. Jordan's challenge. Much to the surprise of his (attempted?) murderers, the "new and improved" millionaire is very much alive and armed with a moral compass. He looks and sounds like Bruce to everyone else, but we see and hear the same old Joe.

It sounds like some strange hybrid of science fiction, horror, and film noir, but Here Comes Mr. Jordan manages to succeed as a lighthearted comedy that asks a lot of big questions. They aren't all answered---not even close---and the film's fuzzy logic and self-written rule book give it a free-wheeling and entirely spontaneous atmosphere, even if you've seen it a dozen times before. There's a lot more to like about Alexander Hall's adaptation: no shortage of great performances, a memorable score, charming low-budget effects, and a life-affirming story that doubles as a touching whirlwind romance. But that all-too-convenient rule book can be something of a double-edged sword, too: the home stretch of Here Comes Mr. Jordan almost collapses in on itself by piling on too many layers of complexity, especially once it's time to switch bodies again. Luckily, the film exits gracefully before all its seams show, leaving audiences with a sweet, simple, and well-earned ending that ties everything up as neatly as possible.

Either way, a few minutes' worth of head-scratching is a small price to pay when everything else flows so smoothly. Both the source material and this adaptation were years (if not decades) ahead of their time, enough so that Here Comes Mr. Jordan holds up surprisingly well even today, 75 years after its original release. Criterion pays tribute to this overlooked gem with a new Blu-ray edition, which easily beats Sony's 2007 DVD with a stronger A/V presentation and a few terrific supplements. Simply put, it's a strong package for title that deserves extra attention.

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Here Comes Mr. Jordan looks much stronger and more stable than Sony's 2007 2007 DVD, which was impressive in its own right. This 1080p transfer is the result of a new 2K restoration and, combined with the obvious benefits of better encoding, everything about these visuals is more impressive overall. Black levels are consistent, image detail and textures are quite good, and the film's strong grain structure is represented perfectly well from start to finish, which results in an extremely natural, clean, and crisp appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or heavy manipulation (including compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.) could be spotted along the way, either. I simply can't imagine Here Comes Mr. Jordan looking much better on home video than it does here, so fans of the film should be enormously pleased with Criterion's efforts.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

There's less to say about the PCM 1.0 track, aside from that it's perfectly adequate and sounds a little better than expected for a film that just reached its 75th birthday. Dialogue, sporadic music cues, and background effects are relatively crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while the overall experience even manages to showcase a few moments of depth at times. Overall, this lossless mono presentation seems true to the source material and purists will enjoy the lack of surround gimmickry. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature.

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is locked for Region A players; it's packaged in their typical "stocky" keepcase and includes eye-catching, colorful artwork by illustrator (and frequent Criterion contributor) Caitlin Kuhwald. The included Insert includes an essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme.


Less than expected, but what's here should be of interest to die-hard fans. The most accessible and entertaining is a casual Conversation with critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Michael Schlesinger (32:14); both are younger than the film itself but long-time fans of it, and have little trouble filling this chat with personal anecdotes, analysis, and historical perspective. Among other topics, the many different versions, spin-offs, sequels and source material for Here Comes Mr. Jordan are briefly touched upon, including various clips and still photos through the decades.

Two audio-only extras are up next, including a feature-length Interview with actress Elizabeth Montgomery (89:13), who discusses her father Robert's life and career in great detail. A Lux Radio Theatre Adaptation of the film (52:46) is also here; produced a year after Here Comes Mr. Jordan, it features Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, and James Gleason. Rounding out the supplements is the film's Trailer (1:50). No optional subtitles are included.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan, though adapted from (almost) bulletproof source material that birthed several remakes and sequels, still feels like a hidden gem that occupies its own little corner of film history. Tremendously likable and extremely forward-thinking for its time, there's a lot to like about Alexander Hall's picture: fine performances, plenty of laughs, charming low-budget effects, and no shortage of clever twists along the way, just to name a few. The film's tendency to "write its own rules" as it goes along (an observation made by critic Michael Sragow during a bonus feature) does lead to a few unnecessary complications in the home stretch...yet Here Comes Mr. Jordan does so much so well that it's easy to forgive. Criterion's Blu-ray celebrates the film's 75th birthday in style, serving up a terrific A/V presentation and a handful of welcome extras. Highly Recommended, even as a blind buy.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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