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HEAVEN CAN WAIT (directors: Warren Beatty/Buck Henry; screenwriters: Warren Beatty/Elaine May/based on the play by Harry Segall; cinematographer: William A. Fraker; editors: Robert C. Jones/Don Zimmerman; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Warren Beatty (Joe Pendleton), Julie Christie (Betty Logan), James Mason (Mr. Jordan), Jack Warden (Max Corkle), Charles Grodin (Tony Abbott), Dyan Cannon (Julia Farnsworth), Buck Henry (The Escort), Vincent Gardenia (Det. Lt. Krim), Joseph Maher (Sisk), Hamilton Camp (Bentley), Arthur Malet (Everett) ; Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Warren Beatty; Paramount Pictures; 1978)
“Frivolous and amusing in spots.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There’s no connection with this lightweight romantic/comedy fantasy, except for having the same title, and Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 more astute and sublime one in 1943. It’s a pleasant remake of Alexander Hall’s mildly engaging 1941 comic fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan that is based on the play by Harry Segall. Warren Beatty is the producer, star, cowriter (with Elaine May), and codirector (with Buck Henry, who also plays a supporting actor part); it’s the first time that Beatty goes behind the camera, and he does an adequate job. The film remains frivolous and amusing in spots, but never reaches beyond being likable and well-executed.

The plot centers around aging health and fitness nut backup Los Angeles Rams quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) finally winning the starter’s job on a team expected to go to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately while riding his bike through a tunnel he’s involved in a traffic accident. Inexperienced celestial escort (Buck Henry) prematurely brings Joe to a station area to await heavenly judgment but his supervisor, Mr. Jordan (James Mason), recognizes the error that Joe’s time is not up and corrects the mistake by personally taking Joe back to earth to get back his old body–only to find it was cremated. Instead he finds Joe another body to temporarily inhabit, that of a nasty multi-millionaire industrialist named Oliver Farnsworth. He’s just been poisoned by his floozy wife (Dyan Cannon) and her nerdy spineless lover Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin), hubby’s private secretary. When Joe becomes Farnsworth it leads to meeting an angry environmentalist from a small English town named Betty Logan (Julie Christie, former lover of Beatty) upset with Farnsworth’s company for making her community ecologically unsafe with his projected new factory, but who will become his love interest when he halts the factory; dealing with his adulterous wife and her scheming lover; buying the Rams so he can play QB; and, turning around his company’s corporate greed image by playing fair and clean.

Always entertaining as popular escapist fare, but the lunacy is only thinly played out when it should have been thickly played out and, furthermore, there’s too much sentimental slop dripping all over the story line. It’s nice enough, but doesn’t score enough points to win the big game.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”