Hello, Mr. Rains…
Claude Rains could play anyone…well, almost anyone. He never was a song-and-dance man. He was known for his elegant gentility, whether he played a villain, a hero, or someone in between. In 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Rains plays what appears to be his usual type, only he holds an extra set of cards: He has the ability to send people to heaven…or a new body.
Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) is a famous boxer. He’s training with his manager, Max Corkle (James Gleason) in upstate New York and is all set to fight another big-time boxer, Ralph “K.O.” Murdoch. Joe feels good. He’s in the pink. He’s ready to go. Max, on the other hand, is nervous, and tries to convince him to take a train instead of flying back to the city, but Joe is adamant: He’s going to fly. His nickname is the Flying Pug, after all.
Unfortunately, Joe’s plane crashes while he’s trying to play “Swanee River” on his saxophone and steering with his knees (Don’t try this at home or anywhere, kids, even if you’re just driving a car). Joe is spirited away to the afterlife, where he meets Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), the supervisor and Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton), who pulled him away from the wreckage.
Only thing is, Joe’s not on the list to fly to heaven with the other passengers. Oops. In fact, he’s not due to die until 1991. Double oops. 7013 pulled Joe’s spirit away from his body before the plane really crashed. Triple oops. The only thing to do is for 7013 to put Joe’s spirit back in his body, but then he finds out Max had his body cremated. Quadruple oops.
All righty, then. What’s next? Why, find Joe a new body, of course.
Joe doesn’t want just any body, either. He’s worked hard to get in the pink so he has to have a body that’s at least comparable to the one he lost. Mr. Jordan helps him shop around, but nothing’s good enough. Finally, the two of them end up back in New York, where Mr. Jordan takes him to the house of someone named Bruce Farnsworth. Farnsworth’s wife, Julia (Rita Johnson) and his confidential secretary, Tony Abbott (John Emery) have just drowned him in the bathtub because they want Farnsworth’s money, and Joe is going to foil their plot by taking over Farnsworth’s body. He’ll have Farnsworth’s voice and face, but he’ll still be Joe Pendleton.
At first, Joe is reluctant. How does being Joe Pendleton in Bruce Farnsworth’s body make sense? What sways him is when he sees Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes) and hears that Farnsworth made her dad the fall guy in a stock trading scam. Chivalry wins out. Joe steps out of the tub and into Farnsworth’s bathrobe, just in time to answer the butler, Sisk (Halliwell Hobbes), when he knocks on the bathroom door.
Joe makes quite a sensation when he comes downstairs as Bruce Farnsworth. Julia ends up passing out on a couch while Tony applies the smelling salts. After hearing Bette out, Joe gets right to work undoing everything Farnsworth did. He buys back all the fraudulent stock, and most importantly, clears Bette’s dad’s name. It’s all very expensive, much to Julia and Tony’s chagrin, but Joe doesn’t care. Mr. Jordan checks in periodically while 7013 goes on a search for Joe’s perfect new body.
When Joe sees that Murdoch is set to fight Gilbert instead of him, he starts really thinking. Why can’t he train Farnsworth’s body into fighting shape and go up against Murdoch the way he planned? Joe sets up a full gym in Farnsworth’s mansion, complete with electric horse, and goes at it the way he used to. He even enlists poor Sisk to help him throw around a medicine ball.
Joe also sends for Max and explains the situation to him, talking to him as if he knows him. Max only sees Farnsworth and thinks he’s nuts until Joe picks up the saxophone and plays “Swanee River.” Then Max is gobsmacked. He almost goes comatose when Joe tells him about Mr. Jordan, and gingerly goes around the gym as if he’s afraid of stepping on him. Joe asks Max to book a fight for him so he can make Farnsworth’s presence felt.
Meanwhile, Joe and Bette develop a sweet relationship, even though Joe as Farnsworth is technically married. Julia and Tony are fuming, and they won’t accept defeat. They shoot Farnsworth’s body, stuff it in a basement refrigerator, and Joe and Mr. Jordan are on the move again.
Joe finds even more trouble. Max hires a private investigator, Williams (Donald McBride) to find Farnsworth, and Williams corrals Tony, Julia, Bette, and Sisk for questioning on several occasions. He’s not the most amiable sort. Tony and Julia lie about Bette’s and Farnsworth’s relationship, of course, insinuating that it’s not above the board. Joe, who has come back with Mr. Jordan to get his saxophone, is livid, but there’s nothing he can do but stand by helplessly.
Meanwhile, Murdoch is still set to fight Gilbert, and Joe learns Murdoch’s manager hatched a plot to shoot his client and throw the fight. Joe has quite a dilemma, but somehow will end up having it all. It’ll just take a little bit of help from Mr. Jordan to do it.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a very interesting and original film. It’s definitely meant to be universal, as the idea of the afterlife consisting of going to heaven or being sent back to earth, is not rooted in any one religion. Hell is never mentioned, either. It doesn’t disparage any of these philosophies, as per the Production Code, but it doesn’t present any real yardstick for what happens, either, except for Messenger 7013’s initial mistake.
Still, the story is a lot of fun. Robert Montgomery, usually the very suave leading man, played Joe as a rough-around-the-edges, salt-of-the-earth jock. He and Evelyn Keyes’ society woman are a bit of an odd pairing just because what they really have in common is a bit of a mystery, but it somehow works. James Gleason plays himself, good-hearted and pugnacious, which is never dull.
The highlight of the movie is, of course, Claude Rains as the title character. For being such a major figure in the film, he stays in the background quite a bit, allowing Joe to experience his new reality and even fall on his face now and then. Mr. Jordan watches everything that happens with a bemused smile, and like a wise parent, steps in only when absolutely needed. He brings a lot of humor and strength to the film, and while none of the characters can guess what will happen to them, there’s always a sense that things will work out for the good of those who deserve it.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan was so successful that Columbia planned a sequel, Hell Bent For Mr. Jordan, but as they could never secure all of the original cast, the idea was shelved. This was no loss, though. Some films don’t lend themselves to franchises, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan deserves to stand on its own.
For more of the immortal Claude Rains, please see Tiffany and Rebekah at the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. Thanks for hosting, ladies. I hope you can bring Mr. Rains back for another salute! Thanks for reading, all, and hope to see you on Monday for our next blogathon…
This film is available on Amazon.