Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Wave (2015)

*. Damn. Fjords. Now that’s what I call some beautiful scenery. I have a picture of a fjord set as my background as I’m writing this. I really need to visit Norway sometime before I die.
*. Now, take away the scenery and what we have here is a pretty standard disaster flick, which was by design. Director Roar Uthaug was inspired by Hollywood disaster movies like Twister and Armageddon and basically wanted to do the same thing in his native land. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be the Norwegian Michael Bay? Career-wise, probably not. On the strength of this film Uthaug would be tabbed to direct the Tomb Raider franchise reboot.
*. There’s a very obvious three-part structure. We begin with an intro that explains how disaster is looms above a Norwegian town in the form of a cliff that’s poised to fall into the fjord, which, when it does, will generate a tsunami. Everybody knows this is going to happen, they just don’t know when. In the meantime, they don’t want to scare off the tourists. Geiranger is like Amity North.
*. We are also introduced to the likeable family: mom (who manages a hotel), dad (he’s the paranoid geologist), teenage son (take off your headphones!), and little girl (clutching a stuffed animal). These will be our protagonists.
*. Then the much-anticipated disaster strikes. It’s CGI, but given how the place looks so much like a Lord of the Rings location I found this didn’t bug me as much as it usually does. Plus it’s not bad CGI. Which is to say it’s credible, as far as these things go.
*. Then a rather disappointing and improbable third act where the family have to reunite and save each other from the (strangely) burning wreckage of the town.
*. I’ve said the third act is disappointing. The Wave has the unfortunate look of a film that ran out of money and then had to wrap up shooting on a single set. This set, in turn, is only another version of the people trapped in a room slowly filling with water, pressing them up against the ceiling before they have to make the swim-for-life. Really. How many times have we seen this? This seems to me like one of those clichés that really should be retired unless somebody is going to try and reinvent it. Uthaug doesn’t do anything interesting with it here. Indeed, it even ends with a rehash of the famously bad scene in The Abyss where, after CPR fails to do the trick, you revive someone just by yelling at them to snap out of it.
*. Public service announcement: Don’t do CPR like you see people doing it in the movies. You’ll be wasting your time. You might as well just yell at them to snap out of it. There’s a reason it’s hard to show people doing proper CPR. It’s because you can’t do real CPR on a healthy person. You often break ribs and you can damage a heart that’s already beating. You really have to push down hard on the chest. Movie CPR is very misleading.
*. I wonder if there was any thought given to throwing in a bit of a twist at the end. Probably not. The family that stays together will survive big waves together. Group hug!
*. Well, it looks great. And there was one action sequence, when the wave hits the line of stopped cars, that had a somewhat fresh feel to it. But aside from that, it’s a pretty conventional disaster-movie-of-the-week. With fjords!

Silkwood (1983)

*. It’s hard not to get sucked into the hybrid game trying to classify this one. As in “this movie is a combination of movie x and movie y.” So, yes, my first thought was that I was watching a combination of The China Syndrome and Norma Rae (both 1979). This immediately led me to wonder how many people today watch any of these movies. How many young people will have even heard of them? And yet at the time they were all celebrated, award-winning films on controversial political subjects.
*. Well, it may be that nothing dates as much as the political. “Of course,” David Thomson says of Silkwood, “it’s a subject that we all prefer to forget.” Or, I would say, that we would prefer not to look at or into too closely in the first place. I think we’re all aware of the fact that a lot of the work people do is not only hard and poorly paid but unsafe and degrading. We all know that many of the comforts and conveniences of contemporary life have a dark side, but we prefer not to think about where the meat on our plate comes from, where our waste goes, who’s mining our data online, or just how little the big corporations that rule the world care about our well being.

*. The movie poster (and DVD box cover) is something else that has dated. The trio of leads (Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, and Cher) look like the group from a 1980s romcom. But this is something else that led me on to further thoughts. Why is this movie so centred on these three characters and their cozy household and not just on Karen Silkwood? I couldn’t even remember the names of the other two characters five minutes after the movie was over (he’s Kurt Russell is Drew and Cher is Dolly). I was trying to remember the names while reading Roger Ebert’s review and found, to my slight chagrin, that he doesn’t name them either but just names Russell and Cher. I wonder if he forgot their names too. There may be something significant in that.
*. Do they really add that much to the film? Not in the eyes of many reviewers. Thomson writes them off quickly: “Cher was better than anyone expected, and Russell does nothing to get in the way.” Pauline Kael was even more withering: “Kurt Russell . . . is used mostly for his bare chest and his dimples.” No disagreement here. He’s cute, and he does spend a lot of time with this shirt off. Meanwhile, “Cher . . . has a lovely, dark-lady presence, but she’s used as a lesbian Mona Lisa, all faraway smiles and shrugs. It’s a wan, weak role.” Note how, in the scene when they’re all on the airplane together, she’s kept out of focus even in the foreground, when it would be interesting to see her face so we can judge what she may be thinking or hiding from the others.

*. So why are they there? A buff good ol’ boy who doesn’t get in the way and a dark lady in a wan, weak role? They don’t even have enough presence to act as foils for Karen. Craig T. Nelson has more gravity, projecting a field of dull menace.
*. This leaves us with Streep. The two critics I’ve been quoting — Thomson and Kael — are divided. Thomson describes her portrayal of Silkwood as “a wolflike maverick, sexy, insolent, and rebellious, but casual and lazy.” Kael: “She has no natural vitality; she’s like a replicant — all shtick.”
*. This shouldn’t be surprising. Streep has a reputation for being an actor who divides opinion. Some people just don’t like her (I mean, of course, as an actor). To be honest, I’m not a big fan myself and I’ve tended to like her more in supporting or character roles. In big parts I always feel like I’m watching a programmed star turn. Maybe that’s unfair, but even here I was always conscious of the fact that I was watching Meryl Streep doing an Okie accent. Maybe it’s just the curse of overfamiliarity. I have the same problem with Tom Hanks.
*. I saw Silkwood first sometime in the mid-’80s and I remember it having a much greater impact on me then. Today its message seems muted. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we’ve all become inured to the existence of such corporate misbehaviour and conspiracies. Maybe it’s because Bridges and Cher seem so laid back (and remember that even Thomson found Streep’s Silkwood “casual and lazy”). And maybe it’s because the fact that Karen is dying of radiation poisoning while she’s chain-smoking and drinking her way to an early grave anyway seemed sadly comic.
*. Worst of all, however, is the ending. Reviewers found it abrupt, which was something forced on the production for legal reasons (they didn’t want to get into a fight over what really happened on the night of Silkwood’s death). Personally, I wish it had been even more abrupt, as the montage that plays to “Amazing Grace” struck me as awkwardly sentimental and cloying. I wonder if that’s how Mike Nichols wanted to end the movie. I have my doubts.
*. I still think it’s a good movie, but like The China Syndrome (another good movie) it just doesn’t seem that essential any more. Maybe it needed to be angrier. Or maybe we’re all too jaded now to relate, or care.

Quiz the twentieth: Timestamped (Part one)

Usually just a note to tell the audience when and where they are (though they can also give weather reports), on-screen timestamps are a handy device in every filmmaker’s toolbox. But do the following names and dates make identifying the movies they appear in any easier?

See also: Quiz the forty-eighth: Timestamped (Part two), Quiz the one hundred-and-ninth: Timestamped (Part three).

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Panic in the Streets (1950)

*. The outbreak plot has long been a staple in movies and television episodes. But I wonder just how long it’s been around. It seems like somebody must have done it before Panic in the Streets (whose original working title was Outbreak). The DVD liner notes here say that Darryl Zanuck didn’t want to do a disease movie because he knew they had trouble finding an audience. That suggests an already established track record for the genre (or sub-genre).
*. Whatever its original in this regard, you could think of Panic in the Streets as a slightly groundbreaking movie in other ways too. For one thing, there’s the debut of (Walter) Jack Palance. There he is, standing alone on the DVD box cover, but tucked in the credits under the leading triumvirate of Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, and Barbara Bel Geddes. Like any star, however, he commands the screen in every shot he’s in, looking like a sort of praying mantis in his oddly-buttoned shirt and severely plaited pants. And that face, which already looks so old and like a caricature. The story has it that he had suffered burns in the war and had reconstructive surgery, but he later called that into question. The flattened nose at least made him look like someone who had been busted up.

*. The rest of the cast looks just as odd. Widmark was relieved not to be playing another heavy, but he seems a bit unsure of himself as the heroic doctor. Paul Douglas was, as James Ursini notes on the commentary, best known for playing “comic shlubs.” Here he’s the chief police detective. Again, he feels out of place. Paired with Palance as Blackie’s sidekick is the inevitably comic Zero Mostel. It’s as though this film is daring us to take it seriously, especially as we watch the climax with Palance literally dragging Mostel along like a prison ball he’s chained to.
*. Then there’s the matter of Elia Kazan’s direction. Ursini and co-commentator Alain Silver point out that Panic in the Streets was a transitional film for Kazan, meant to show that he could direct something less theatrical. Hence all the location shooting in New Orleans. But aside from the locations, and pace the gushings of Pauline Kael (“Seeing this film, one wouldn’t know that he had ever worked in the theatre”) it still seems like a movie that’s rooted in his theatrical background.
*. I’m thinking of two things when I say this. In the first place there all the long takes. Some of these are indeed impressive, especially the one right at the beginning involving a moving train. But they are not necessarily cinematic. A lot of directors liked long takes in part because they were a way of showing off but also because they were more theatrical in nature (there not being any cuts, aside from the scene breaks, in live theatre). This is, I think, clearly behind their use by directors like Welles, Olivier, and Branagh, who all came to film from the stage.
*. The other theatre habit Kazan keeps using in this film is a particular way of organizing characters in the frame: with two characters facing off and a third in the middle background. This is a traditional bit of positioning on stage, and it works on screen too but done so often it does start to look like it’s a kind of visual comfort zone that Kazan is falling back on. You start to wish he’d think of some other arrangement.

*. Is it true that the long takes are a way of building tension? This is suggested on the commentary but I’m not so sure. I don’t think they necessarily do. A long take slows the action down, as opposed to frantic cutting that compresses time. Long takes could be used to create suspense, but just as often I think they just suggest a kind of elegant continuity.
*. Something seems off, really off, with the relationship between Widmark and Barbara Bel Geddes. Maybe it’s just a lack of chemistry, but I never had the sense that these were two people who liked each other much.
*. As you might expect, there’s a political angle to the proceedings. Note the number of scenes where we’re surrounded by crowds of the working class: in the seamen’s hall, on board the ship, in the coffee warehouse. These are the masses, exploited but not without a sense of solidarity. It’s interesting how Blackie is recognized by the one guard at the warehouse as having once been one of them. He shows them how far he’s come.
*. There’s a curious scene where Douglas complains about how much Doctor Reed must make working a government, civil service job. This from a cop! Meanwhile, Reed can’t even pay his grocery bills on his chief medical officer’s salary. I guess those were the days.
*. I do like how Douglas has never heard of a shish kebab before. I guess they weren’t that big back in 1950.
*. Widmark’s speech about how any notion of “the community” belongs in the middle ages predates Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” by ten years, but I think McLuhan was talking about something slightly different. Of course, given a similar outbreak scenario today any attempt at containment would be even more difficult.
*. What a strangely anticlimactic ending. Blackie isn’t even gunned down but simply drops from exhaustion. That’s sort of odd given how much he’d been built up as a stone-cold killer.

*. I can’t say this is one of my favourite noirs, though it has some nice moments. I like how Blackie and Fitch attempt to get away in a produce delivery truck, and the way they toss poor Poldi off the staircase. That’s almost as bad as what Widmark did to the lady in the wheelchair in Kiss of Death. But the casting is just a little too odd and it never really ratchets up the suspense. The breaks to Doctor Reed’s home life are annoying interruptions with no purpose and I never felt that the city itself was under any kind of threat. After all, it seems as though there is an effective inoculation for the plague so it’s not like a pandemic is going to break out. Why would people flee the city when they can just get a booster shot?
*. I guess in the end I felt like all the pieces didn’t add up. They probably should have trimmed things down a bit, cutting out some of the more awkwardly introduced characters (like the reporter) and shrinking a couple of Widmark’s overly heroic speeches. I’m guessing Kazan felt the movie had to be making some kind of point, but I don’t think in this case a message was really that important.

97% (2013)

*. We’ve all seen the zombies among us, heads bent over their iPhones, buds nestled in their ears, oblivious to the world around them. Plugged in to social media they seem to live profoundly anti-social lives, not just unconnected but worlds apart from the person sitting next to them on the subway.
*. And yet we still believe, or at least some of us still believe, in the Internet as being a great bonding agent, a technology that brings us all together in virtual networks of friends or “friends.” Why, with the right app it can even pick a mate for us! Algorithms do this kind of thing better, you know.
*. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but for whatever reason a lot of us do seem to have bought into it. In 97% we have a short film that follows the quest of one “Lovely Bertje82” (his digital handle) as he is informed while on the subway that a 97% love match is within 25 meters of his present location. The hunt is on!
*. Since this is a short, less than ten minutes long, I don’t think I need to give a spoiler alert. (But in case you need one, consider yourself warned.) The upshot is that Bert is so enthralled by playing the game on his cellphone that he fails to connect with the woman sitting right in front of him. This is actually presented in a beautifully artful way, as the “Reflection Girl” (as she is billed in the credits) and Bert are shown looking at each other indirectly, as reflections in a subway window that acts as yet another screen for their romance to blossom on.
*. But alas, Reflection Girl is not The One. At least not The One picked out for Bert by the matchfinder app. So he loses her and goes off to chase yet another dream, another virtual prize.
*. This gives the film a bite in the end as we realize that Bert really is quite shallow, hunting after a girlfriend like a kid chasing cartoon monsters on Pokémon Go.
*. Well, they do say that the chase is the fun part of falling in love. The thrill of the hunt and all that. But how depressing is such programmed behaviour? Where is Bert’s agency? He’s little more than a puppet attached to satellite strings. Clearly on the subway of life we are all just passengers and tech is in the driver’s seat. So much for romantic traffic. Now I feel sentimental for The Spoons.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

*. I think I should begin by saying that I watched this movie on a streaming service, not on DVD. Which means I haven’t heard the director’s commentary, so some of these notes may be more speculative than usual.
*. I’ll begin with the matter of the title. It was originally shown at festivals, and released in the U.K., as February. That’s not very catchy, so it was quickly changed to The Blackcoat’s Daughter. This has a chillier ring to it, but I’m still not sure what it refers to. Another curious thing is that the version I saw gave the title as The Devil’s Daughter. So I guess the “Blackcoat” is the devil. But I also associate it with priests as well (the infamous “black robes”).
*. The bottom line here is that a title like The Blackcoat’s Daughter sounds good, but it’s also kind of vague. Which sort of sums up the movie as well.
*. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against vague. And I liked The Blackcoat’s Daughter. But it is one of those movies where the action is rather murky. I’ll say what I think is going on now, so consider this a spoiler warning.
*. As I see it, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) is just a disturbed girl who is (a) suffering a bit of shock from the loss of her parents (which she has been alerted to in a dream) and (b) stricken with cabin fever due to being left in a religious boarding school over the winter holidays. She begins to see visions of a shadowy devil figure and receives staticky telephone calls telling her to kill. She goes on a rampage, carving up a couple of administrative nuns and another girl named Rose. Years later, she escapes from an asylum and, adopting the identity of Joan, gets a ride back to the school from Rose’s parents. A fatal bit of circumstance. She kills the parents, but in the end feels abandoned by her dark master.
*. A couple of things complicate matters. First, the story is presented on parallel tracks, moving back and forth from the events of Kat’s original outbreak and her return journey some time later. This in itself isn’t hard to figure out, but what makes things complicated is the fact that Kat is played by two different actresses (Shipka and Emma Roberts) who don’t look that much alike. So when “Joan” is revealed to be Kat you really have to do some mental adjustments to make it fit. I’ll confess that when I first saw the movie I assumed that Joan was being possessed by the same devil that had taken over Kat earlier as she got closer to the school’s grounds.
*. The other complication has to do with the nature of Kat’s hallucinations. I assumed these were imaginary, since that’s how they are represented. Nobody else sees or hears anything but Kat. I thought of the story here as being akin to the Slender Man stabbing. As far as the visions themselves go, they certainly could have come up with a scarier devil than the guy with bunny ears, but aside from that I felt this part of the story was better handled than the business of the two Kats.
*. Where The Blackcoat’s Daughter really succeeds is in creating atmosphere. This is a genuinely creepy movie, a little slow for some but I found it very suspenseful. The sound design got a lot of praise, but things like way the noise of a door opening made me jump (three times!) have to first be set up with the general handling of the film’s look and feel, its slow pans and unexpected cuts.
*. So my hat goes off to Osgood (“Oz”) Perkins for how creepy it all is, and for his brother Elvis’s score, whose forbidding gutturals fit well with the bleak depopulated landscape. The table is well set.
*. Alas, such an exquisite slow burn fizzles when it comes to actual scares. This movie is all about the anticipation of horror. When the knives come out the resulting violence and gore isn’t even startling. It just registers as a disappointment. In contrast, I love the shot where the camera turns about in the front room of the house the dead women are in, finally showing us the police coming in the back but only revealing a blood stain on the doorjamb. That’s it. Because there’s no point showing us anything more right then.
*. I wonder what the first horror movie was to make use of these body-artist contortions and movements. Perhaps the famous “spider walk” sequence that was cut from the theatrical release of The Exorcist. They’ve gone on to become very popular, especially in J-horror. I like the surprise shot here of Kat doing a back arch in bed, but at the same time I guess I’ve seen enough of these extreme yoga moves that it wasn’t as surprising as it should have been.
*. The cast (Shipka, Roberts, Lucy Boynton) is really good, but they don’t have to do much aside from observing or bearing witness in an enigmatic silence that allows for suspicious ambiguity to sneak in to their every glance and gesture. Shipka’s first scene with the priest sets the tone nicely. She’s even creepier than he is, and he’s the one in partial silhouette.
*. I’m glad the film is mostly silent, as I have to register (once again) my dismay at what’s being done to dialogue in today’s movies. Without closed-captioning I think I would have missed at least a third of the lines. Do filmmakers not even care if an audience can hear what the characters are saying? Do they think it’s not important? Or do they think it’s more realistic to have the dialogue muttered or whispered inaudibly?
*. For some reason this kind of horror film became popular around this time. A lot of people found The Blackcoat’s Daughter very similar to The Witch, and it is, but I found Black Mountain Side to be another close analog (the cabin fever, the delusions, the strange score, the even stranger-looking “devil”). These movies all tend to have a slow pace and are much quieter than the usual American horror fare. Could it be a coincidence that they were all filmed in Canada? Or that they were early work (if not the feature debuts) of their directors?
*. I don’t think The Blackcoat’s Daughter is entirely successful, but I do think it’s a very good first film. Perkins makes us imagine a bogeyman without revealing it, conjuring a sense of threat out of empty space. Not even darkness seems so dangerous as eyes looking past us to something invisible, or just over our shoulder. I’ve heard a lot of people call this film boring, but that wasn’t my response. If anything, I would have slowed it down even more, and shown even less.

Seoul Station (2016)

*. Seoul Station is billed as a prequel to Train to Busan, the Korean “zombies on a train” film. I’m not entirely sure which came first, though Train to Busan was released a few weeks earlier. In any event, I don’t see much of a connection aside from the fact that they were both directed by Sang-ho Yeon, they’re both set in Korea, and they both have zombies. Nowadays we say that such films inhabit the same cinematic “universe.”
*. The big difference is that this film is animated and Train to Busan was a live action feature.
*. I didn’t think Train to Busan was anything very new, and in terms of the action in this film I think it’s even less original.
*. The story plays out as just another outbreak scenario. There is the now familiar political subtext. We are immediately presented with a society that is falling apart. Seoul Station is a sort of unofficial homeless shelter, and it’s among the homeless that the zombie virus takes hold. Later, the police will think that they’re caught up in an outbreak of rabid derelicts. Meanwhile, families are dissolving. The younger generation can’t afford to live in even the most squalid apartments. A landlady complains that the young have no respect for their elders. Crazy people wander the subway system. When the shit hits the fan the state has to come in and go full martial law, and it’s not clear if that’s a bad thing.
*. I say the political subtext is familiar because the zombie genre is by now almost automatically associated with social satire and political commentary. Indeed, one can make the argument that this has been the form it has taken since the beginning.
*. The big disappointment here, however, is the one thing that is new: the animation. I was hoping for at least one of two things from this. Either (1) animation showing me something that live action can’t, or (2) a distinctive new look or visual style.
*. The first is, admittedly, very hard to do these days because effects films use so much CGI that they are already, to a significant extent, animated. I’m not sure there’s much left that animation can do that “live action” (I have to put the words in quotes) can’t. Mass armies of zombies taking over an urban downtown? Brains splattering in all different directions? This can all be done with digital effects, and done better.
*. This leaves the matter of a fresh look. Seoul Station doesn’t have one. The animation is as generic as it gets. Sure it looks OK most of the time, though the characters walk and run in a rather stiff way. But there’s no personal style to it, or individual artistic vision being expressed. It’s the film equivalent of Marvel or DC comics.
*. In sum: a garden-variety zombie apocalypse with hardly any gore and dull animation. The story actually has a nice twist near the end, but then settles for tying things up on a predictable note. Zombie fans may want to check it out just to see what a feature-length cartoon zombie movie looks like, but aside from that it’s not worth bothering with.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

*. I began my notes on Here Comes Mr. Jordan by talking about how it was a movie that fit its time. What was it about 1978 that made people so eager to embrace a remake? In itself this is a modest little film, but it got a raft of Oscar nominations and did big box office. I remember when it came out and I can attest that people loved it.
*. Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, began his review with the same sense of confusion: “There is something eerily disconnected about Heaven Can Wait. It may be because in a time of comparative peace, immortality — at least in its life-after- death form — doesn’t hold the fascination for us that it does when there’s war going on, as there was in 1941 when Here Comes Mr. Jordan was released and became such a hit. Or perhaps we are somewhat more sophisticated today (though I doubt it) and comedies about heavenly messengers and what is, in effect, a very casual kind of transubstantiation seem essentially silly.”
*. Comparisons to the 1941 version are inevitable and don’t come out in this film’s favour. Beatty and Mason are basically trying to get by on charm, and heaven knows they both have plenty. Mason’s Mr. Jordan, however, is a much reduced part, to the point where he almost seems irrelevant.
*. The love interest is an interesting case study in that most difficult of qualities to capture and define: on-screen chemistry. In the original, Robert Montgomery and Evelyn Keyes apparently didn’t care for each other much but they really clicked. Here Beatty and Julie Christie had been a couple, and had starred together previously in McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Shampoo, but I don’t sense any spark between them.
*. Here Comes Mr. Jordan had a lot going on, and almost all of it worked. In this movie there’s a lot going on but much of it just seems like a distraction. As noted, Mr. Jordan goes from being a co-start to almost disappearing. The Escort (co-director Buck Henry) is undistinguished. The police investigation gets short shrift, spending most of its allotted time dragging us through some really unfunny business about Farnsworth’s dislike of hats. Hey, if you had Warren Beatty’s hair you wouldn’t want to wear a hat either!
*. What’s up with Farnsworth’s uniform fetish? Was it supposed to be funny?
*. I did like Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon as the scheming couple. They were interesting and fun to watch. “Pick up The Fountainhead, pretend you’re reading.” That’s a good line.
*. But really, if you want to see the difference between the two movies just compare the final scene in the tunnel between Joe and Betty Logan. In the original the lights go out and they’re exposed as reverse silhouettes, outlined in light. It’s a beautiful shot, perfectly framed, and it has a glimmer of that old-school moonshine about it. You can feel magic in the air. In the remake the lights go out and . . . you can’t see anything! Then they come back on. How magical is that? How romantic? I don’t mean to sound like some crotchety lover of Hollywood’s golden age — because I’m not — but how could Beatty have messed up something so simple?

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

*. Our visions of heaven and an afterlife fill a need. In the aftermath of the First World War seances and spirit-rapping became a popular way of communicating with the next world. In the next global conflagration there was a similar need to believe in an afterlife, however cloudy and generic. The play, Heaven Can Wait, had come out in 1938, but had never been produced. It had suggested the coming conflict though, and the movies latched on to the idea of an afterlife in a big way a few years later when so many young people were dying.
*. During wartime there was a need for this movie’s comforting message of a strictly non-demoninational, indeed non-religious, afterlife promising that “in the final reckoning everything will be accounted for” and “eventually all things work out, there’s design in everything.” Who wouldn’t want a piece of that? (Oddly enough, the Breen Office objected to any suggestion of predestination in the script, which led to some tweaking.)
*. That’s not the world we live in any more, but the sentimental whimsy of Here Comes Mr. Jordan has never gone out of style. There have been various remakes and spin-offs, including most famously the 1978 Warren Beatty vehicle Heaven Can Wait (which, as noted above, was the original title of the play, and not to be confused with the 1943 film Heaven Can Wait, which was something completely different).
*. Then again, it’s hard to date a film so non-specific in its setting. There’s no mention of a war going on, and the wings the angels wear look more like airline logos than military decorations. Meanwhile, heaven itself is, as already noted, a not very religious place. Everyone’s welcome! Nobody’s going to judge you.

*. Even the presentation is generic. Farran Smith Nehme in the Criterion essay calls Alexander Hall’s direction “unobtrusive to the point of invisibility.” There’s just nothing here to upset, or offend, or get in the way of a good time.
*. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that it’s a story where actions seem to have no consequences. Yes, Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) actually survives that opening plane crash! Did he bail out? Does Joe not know anything about business? That doesn’t matter, making money is all about having a good heart. Honest! And if Farnsworth Enterprises goes bust, who really cares? Meanwhile, Farnsworth’s wife and secretary are scheming adulterous murderers, but they almost get away with it (and I’ll bet at least one of them will beat the rap). And finally when Joe/Murdoch is shot in the ring during his championship fight no one notices! Apparently he is shot right in the chest too! But I guess there are no lingering health effects for Murdoch.
*. So even leaving aside the whacky body-hopping premise this would still be a very silly movie. And yet it’s so resolutely optimistic and inoffensive, and put forth so smoothly (thanks mainly to the deep cast of character actors), that it defies you not to be charmed. Who would want to resist? The secret of such a film is that it’s selling what we want to buy. The war was just another thing that didn’t really matter, and it’s Christmas in heaven.