Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 17, 2021)
1978’s Heaven Can Wait became one of the year’s biggest hits. It brings us a remake of 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) plays quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. This takes a turn when he dies in a traffic accident.
However, it turns out his soul shouldn’t have been “taken” so soon, so he convinces “heavenly way station” man-in-charge Mr. Jordan (James Mason) to give him another shot on Earth. Because Joe’s corpse has already been cremated, he winds up in the body of millionaire industrialist Leo Farnsworth, a recently-deceased man, and this sends him on a series of adventures.
Because Jordan already offered a high-quality movie, Wait lacked much room to improve on its predecessor. This means that while the remake doesn’t turn into anything remarkable, it brings a likeable mix of comedy and romance.
I never thought Beatty was a great actor, and Wait demonstrates his limitations, especially in terms of the role’s dramatic elements. However, he seems charming and engaging enough to carry the role.
Wait doesn’t ask much of Beatty other than to seem earnest and slightly eccentric. Beatty manages these aspects of the part just fine.
Wisely, Beatty surrounds himself with a top-notch supporting cast. In addition to Mason, we find talents like Buck Henry, Charles Grodin, Julie Christie, Dyan Cannon and Jack Warden, among others.
With a roster like that, Beatty could totally flop and the movie would still work. I can’t claim any of the actors do any heavy lifting but they add verve to the proceedings.
Co-directed by Henry and Beatty – from a script by Beatty and Elaine May - Wait - manages just enough quirkiness to work. It stays sincere much of the time, but it veers into a little bit of appropriate wackiness for comedic flavor.
43 years after its release, Heaven Can Wait holds up well. Nothing about it screams “classic” but the film still offers an entertaining comedy/fantasy.