bw 93 min.
Director: Alexander Hall
CLV: Though not currently available, this title may be returning at a later date.
1 disc, catalog # CC1262L
Once upon a time -- a
perfectly logical way to start a discussion of a fantasy, I think -- so here goes
. . .Once upon a time there was a handsome young man whose face smiled down from
movie screens all over the world. He was, according to critics of the day,
charming and debonair with a flair for comedy, and spent much of his screen time
romancing such formidable and glamorous ladies as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and
This man was my Dad . . . Robert Montgomery.
Born in Beacon,
New York on May 21, 1908 to a well-to-do family, he was named Henry by his
parents and changed it later to Robert because -- well, I can only guess because
he liked it better. When he was 16, his father died, leaving the family (mother
and brother Donald) almost penniless and my dad's days of privilege and private
schools came to an abrupt end. To help keep heads above water he went to work as
a railroad mechanic and also a round-the-world oil tanker deckhand.
middle 1920s, he decided to become a writer and moved to New York's Greenwich
Village. Things didn't work out quite as planned. A few years later he made his
Broadway debut -- not as a writer -- as an actor! He met and married Elizabeth
Allen while doing summer stock on the East Coast. Somewhere around 1929 they
moved to Hollywood where he would begin his movie career at MGM. At first he
specialized in sympathetic leading man roles in melodramas, but he also displayed
a flair for comedy and began to appear in drawing room comedies and screwball
parts. By the mid-thirties, however, tired of playing mostly debonair playboys,
my father began to long for a change.
In 1937, he approached the head of the
studio, Louis B. Mayer, with the idea of playing entirely against type by
portraying a psychopath to end all psychopaths in the planned filming of Emlyn
Williams's successful play, Night Must Fall (evidently, Emlyn Williams's
first choice for the role was Dad). Mayer was dead set against the idea and -- it
has been suggested -- that he gave in to my dad's wishes only to teach him a
lesson. Mayer was certain, so the story goes, that my father would fall flat on
his face in the part. Such a failure would prove cost effective, Mayer reasoned:
My father would learn a valuable lesson and go back to playing the kind of parts
Mayer felt he did best. If the idea truly was for Night Must Fall to be a
failure, things didn't quite work out as planned. My dad was nominated for an
Academy Award, and the film was a critical and financial success. After that,
things were never quite the same again for my father. He began to demand, and
gain, more control over his career. He set his sights on becoming an
actor/director -- following in the wake of the likes of Chaplin and Welles. But
the chance to successfully work behind the camera on such films as The Lady in
the Lake(1946) and Ride the Pink Horse (1947) didn't come to him until
nearly a decade after Night Must Fall -- and several years after he'd
scored another offbeat success with his performance in Here Comes Mr.
Jordan in 1941.
Like Night Must Fall, Jordan was also a problematic
project. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, didn't really want to make
the film because he felt fantasy films didn't make money. After Jordan turned out
to be a major success, someone at the studio is reputed to have pointed to its
popularity as a good reason for making yet another fantasy, but Cohn was
stubborn: "Yeah," he is reported to have said, "but think how much it woulda made
if it hadn't been a fantasy."
Here Comes Mr. Jordan manages to be not
only poignant, but also wonderfully warm and funny. Robert Montgomery stars in
the Oscar-nominated role of Joe Pendleton, a lug of a boxer accidentally spirited
off to heaven before his time. Claude Rains is the title character whose job it
is to find a way for Pendleton to live out his allotted years. (If the plot rings
a bell, that's because Mr. Jordan was remade by Warren Beatty in 1978 under its
original story title, Heaven Can Wait.) Winner of two 1941 Academy Awards
for Best Original Story and Screenplay, Here Comes Mr. Jordan was a
highlight in the careers of not only my father and Claude Rains, but also
co-stars Evelyn Keyes (whose character name, Belle, was named after my Mom),
Edward Everett Horton and wonderful character actor James Gleason, who received
one of the film's seven Oscar nominations.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan joins
the list of exceptional films Dad made that are becoming more available for us to
see, thanks to home video. It isn't your typical whimsical tale, but a fantasy
about death that also contains comedy, romance and a degree of slapstick, all of
which are carried off in grand high style. Surely, any film that successfully
satirizes Heaven without offending anyone has to be considered as being in
a class all its own.
I have had a super time researching and writing these
notes. I am proud of Dad and his accomplishments in our crazy profession. He was,
and is, a wonderful and versatile actor.
CreditsDirector: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller
From the story Heaven
Can Wait by: Harry Segall
Director of Photography: Joseph Walker,
Editor: Viola Lawrence
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Director: William Mull
Gowns: Edith Head
Musical Director: M. W. Stoloff
of Here Comes Mr. Jordan was transferred digitally from a 35mm fine grain
print made from the original negative.