1978 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress

Film #288: Heaven Can Wait (1978)

If anybody can cast their minds back to the 1940s part of this blog then you’ll remember the confusion that erupted between the films Heaven Can Wait and Here Comes Mr. Jordan. That was because the next film on our list, Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, was a remake of the latter film rather than the former.

It was an also a film that was fraught with casting catastrophes as Beatty was initially on scheduled to direct and wanted Muhammed Ali to star in the lead role as, you guessed it, a boxer. When Ali declined the offer Beatty himself decided to play the 1970s version of Robert Montgomery’s baseball player; a successful quarterback named Joe Pendleton. In the film, Joe’s motorbike ends up colliding with a track and he’s taken to heaven too early by an over-zealous Guardian Angel. As with the 1940s film, the problem-solving Mr. Jordan is later called upon to sort out the mess caused by the Guardian Angel. It seemed that Beatty really wanted Cary Grant to take on the role of Jordan; however the star didn’t want to come out of retirement. The role eventually went to James Mason, who’s character resolves the Joe problem by temporarily placing him in the body of billionaire Leo Farnsworth.oe, as Farnsworth, surprises the current Mrs Farnsworth and the old man’s business manager as the pair had recently finished killing him off. But Farnsworth’s revival results in them ultimately being rumbled for the crime. Elsewhere Joe falls for environmentalist Betty Logan who has come to Farnsworth industries to complain about their unscrupulous activities. Despite the age difference, Betty soon falls for Farsnworth also buys Joe’s old team and tries to make himself quarterback. Obviously, anybody who’s seen one of the three versions of the film knows exactly how it will end, but I’m not going to spoil it for you here.

It’s very rare in this day and age that a comedy makes its way into the Best Picture line-up and it was in the 1970s that the genre began to disappear altogether from the Academy Awards nominations. I personally feel that Heaven Can Wait got into the Best Picture list due to its star power rather than its comic ability. Alongside Beatty, who was actually pretty good throughout, the all-star cast included Julie Christie, James Mason and Charles Grodin. I do feel that Christie in particular was given little to do aside from standing around and playing the love interest. Though there were some changes made to the characters from the original film version, the pivotal parts of the plot remained the same. The question then has to be why remake it in the first place? The only reason I can possibly offer is that cinematic effects had moved on quite significantly since the early 1940s and, to be fair, the supernatural elements of the plot were more visually spectacular than they had been thirty years ago. One of the biggest shocks of the film was that the film was nominated for a staggering ten awards including nods for Beatty as both actor and director as well recognition for cast members Dyan Cannon and Jack Warden. Thankfully it only triumphed in one category as the grandiose art direction picked up the film’s only deserved award. Overall Heaven Can Wait is a decent enough comedy, but to me really didn’t feel like one of the best five films from any year.


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