Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) | The supernatural Hollywood classic is comic perfection and a must-see on Blu-ray
Nominated for seven Oscars (and winning two for its story and screenplay) and the inspiration for a slew of guardian angel pictures, including a 1947 sequel, Down to Earth with Rita Hayworth, and two remakes, as Heaven Can Wait, director Alexander Hall’s delightfully droll 1941 fantasy, Here Comes Mr Jordan, is comic perfection.
When working-class boxer Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery) dies in a plane crash, he finds himself arriving in heaven 50 years too early owing to a clerical error by an over-zealous chief dispatcher’s messenger (Edward Everett Horton).
On discovering his body has been cremated, his angelic minder, Mr Jordan (Claude Rains) fixes it that so that he can return to Earth using the body of crooked banker Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his adulterous wife (Rita Johnson) and secretary (John Emery).
Falling in love with the daughter of one of his duped investors (Evelyn Keyes), Joe tries to remake Farnsworth’s unworthy life, while also trying to stop a world championship prizefight from being thrown by gamblers…
Robert Montgomery makess for a believable and solid everyman hero as the boxer given a second chance, while Claude Rains gives great support, as do James Gleason as Joe’s boxer manager and Evelyn Keyes as the breezy love interest. But it’s Edward Everett Horton who steals the show as the dithering Messenger 7013. Sweet, sophisticated and super smooth – they certainly don’t make them like this any more – and its prime a slice of Hollywood’s golden age that deserves pride of place in any classic film fan’s collection.
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray release features a new 2K digital restoration, which really makes Joseph Walker’s diffused cinematography zing, and includes the following extras…
• Critic Michael Sragow and filmmaker Michael Schlesinger discuss the film and its influence.
• Audio interview from 1991 in which Elizabeth Montgomery (who died in 1995) looks back at her relationship with her staunch Republican actor father Robert Montgomery (1:19min).
• 1942 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation starring Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes and James Gleason.
• Essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme.
• New artwork by Caitlin Kuhwald.
Unmasking the Masterpiece is a 105-minute long visual retrospective of the famed 1910 Gaston Leroux novel, which has spawned numerous film, stage and television adaptations; turned the character of the Opera ghost into one of the most recognisable and iconic images in popular culture; and influenced famous horror films from House of Wax to The Abominable Dr Phibes and The Phantom of the Paradise.
Focusing on the three classic film versions in which Lon Chaney, Claude Rains and Herbert Lom each gave their own distinctive portrayal of the Phantom – in 1925, 1943 and 1962 respectively, this labour of love from Cortlandt Hull, the owner of The Witch’s Dungeon classic horror movie museum in Connecticut, features interviews with a 103-year-old Carla Laemmle, the only surviving cast member of the 1925 film, and Ron Chaney, the great grandson of Lon Chaney.
Fleshing out the retrospective, famed make-up artist Tom Savini talks about how he was inspired by Chaney, while film historians Michael Blake, Steve Haberman and Daniel Roebuck trace the making-of the three films, highlight the differences in the 1929 international version, and profile James Cagney’s 1957 Lon Chaney biopic, The Man of a Thousand Faces. The anecdotes told here will certainly thrill classic film buffs (who knew set designer Charles Gemora was also one of the famed gorilla suit actors of the golden age of cinema?) and there’s a peek inside Chaney’s famous make-up box – without doubt the important artefact in the history of film make-up.
Almost 1000 rare movie posters and photos have been carefully restored to accompany the interviews, plus there’s a tour of the actual opera set on soundstage 28 of the Universal Studios lot which was built for the original 1925 film, and is today the oldest standing set in Hollywood. Bringing the Phantom’s legacy up to date, Hugh Panaro, the current Broadway star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, closes the proceedings with a look at the secrets and makeup used on the stage version, which is celebrating its 25th year.
Phantom of the Opera: Unmasking the Masterpiece is available on DVD (NTSC only) (click here to order from Amazon).
The restored UK Blu-ray version of 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera is available from the London BFI store (click here).
DID YOU KNOW?
It was on this day (25 November) in 1925 that Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera went on general release in the United States?