Sunday, June 18, 2017
1941: Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Adapted from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall
Prizefighter Joe "The Flying Pug" Pendleton's soul is prematurely taken from his body when a messenger from heaven sees his plane about to crash and thinks there's no way he can survive. By the time the messenger's boss, Mr. Jordan, realizes that Joe is actually supposed to live for several more decades, his body has been cremated, so they must find a different body for him to inhabit.
This was a pretty faithful adaptation, apart from a few minor changes. I'm not sure why they felt the need to come up with a different title for the movie, since they're pretty much exactly the same story. Max the manager changes his last name from Levene to Corkle, and Mrs. Ames the housekeeper is replaced by Sisk the butler, but neither of these changes really affects the plot. A few scenes are added to the film that were only talked about in the play, like the plane crash and a few boxing matches, as is almost always the case when a play is adapted for the screen. The biggest changes have to do with the person whose body Joe inhabits for most of the story: Farnsworth, whose first name is Jonathan in the play and Bruce in the movie.
In both versions, the reason Joe agrees to become Farnsworth is to help Bette Logan, a young woman whose father is in jail because of a financial scheme Farnsworth orchestrated and then pinned on him. In the play, Farnsworth's plan before he died was to agree to get Mr. Logan out of jail if Bette went away with him for the weekend. Apparently that was too scandalous for the movie; in the adaptation, Farnsworth has no intention of helping her at all. Either way, Joe as Farnsworth gets her father out of jail, no questions asked. Then he decides to get Farnsworth's body "in the pink" (which is his favorite phrase) so he can be a boxer again, until Mr. Jordan tells him he can't be Farnsworth anymore. In the play, this is because Farnsworth's soul is protesting that he hates prizefighting and doesn't want to be remembered this way. In the movie, however, we never hear from Farnsworth in the afterlife; Mr. Jordan merely states that it's time for Joe to find a different body, and we're just supposed to take his word for it. This is probably the most significant change, and I'm not sure why it was necessary. Possibly the screenwriters didn't want a villain like Farnsworth to dictate what the hero did in his body. Or maybe they just wanted to shorten that part to accommodate the extra scenes they added. Regardless, the reason Joe needs to leave doesn't really alter the outcome, so on the whole, the movie is very consistent with the play.
Having watched the 1978 film Heaven Can Wait (which is significantly different from the play and original film, although still unquestionably the same story) many times, I noted that many of the changes from the play to Here Comes Mr. Jordan carried through to the remake. In the later film, the trainer's name is Max Corkle and there's a butler named Sisk instead of a housekeeper, and when Joe has to leave Farnsworth (whose first name is Leo in that version) it's just because Mr. Jordan says "it's time," not because Farnsworth had any say. So that was interesting.
Coming up next: Best Picture and Best Actress winner Mrs. Miniver, based on newspaper columns by Jan Struther, which have conveniently been compiled into a book.