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Heaven Only Knows

Heaven Only Knows title card

Year - 1947
Studio - United Artists
Stars - Robert Cummings, Brian Donlevy, Jorja Cutright, Marjorie Reynolds, Bill Goodwin, John Litel, Stuart Erwin, Gerald Mohr, Edgar Kennedy
Director - Albert S. Rogell
Writing Credits - Art Arthur (writer), Ernest Haycox (adaptation), Roland Leigh (writer), Aubrey Wisberg (story)
Music - Heinz Roemheld

Synopsis

In Heaven, the angel Michael (Robert Cummings) discovers that an unprecedented mistake has been made, a man on Earth has not been recorded in the Book of Life and is in danger of losing his soul due to the bookkeeping error. Michael is sent down to Earth to rectify the mistake, and "guide" the man, Adam "Duke" Byron (Brian Donlevy) to his intended destiny.

On Earth, Duke is a ruthless casino owner in the town of Glacier, who is at war with rival casino boss, Plumber (Bill Goodwin) and his gang. Plumber has hired a gunslinger, the Kansas City Kid, to kill Duke, but when Michael arrives in town, he is mistaken by Duke's gang for the hired killer. Michael goes to Duke's casino to begin his rehabilitation process with him. When the real Kansas City Kid attempts to shoot Duke, Michael accidentally intervenes, and the Kid is, himself, shot. Duke, grateful for Michael's intervention, offers him a job as an assistant. Michael, with his Heavenly assignment in mind, accepts. His goal is to help Duke renounce his wayward life, and to tall in love and marry the town schoolteacher, Drusilla Wainwright (Jorja Cutright).

Heaven Only Knows poster

Plumber sets fire to Duke's casino to draw him out into the open where his men can kill him, but Michael guides Duke safely out, and takes him to the schoolhouse. Drusilla is conflicted in her repulsion for his lifestyle but in her attraction for the man, and Duke admits to her that he believes he has a better purpose in life.

Duke's sidekick, Treason (Gerald Mohr) sets fire to Plumber's casino, in revenge, but a sickly little boy, Speck (Peter Miles) is trapped by the fire in a room upstairs. Duke bravely enters the flaming structure to save the boy, but a cache of dynamite explodes and he and the boy appear to have perished. But Michael provides divine intervention, and Duke walks out of the building carrying Speck, both unharmed. Michael takes Duke to the town church to try and help him understand the path he now must take in life.

Egged on by the town sheriff, Plumber challenges Duke to a gunfight. Plumber accepts the challenge, and they meet at 5pm, each with a loaded six-shooter. Their initial shots miss their target but then Duke is hit in the arm. Plumber aims his pistol to finish the job, but then is momentarily blinded by the sun peeking out from the clouds (caused by Michael) and his shot instead kills an old man attempting to help the wounded Duke. Duke kills Plumber with his last bullet.

Duke realizes the time has come for him to leave Glacier, and he convinces Drusilla to go with him. Intent on hanging Duke, the angry townspeople demand that Michael tell them where he is. Michael refuses, and they prepare him to be hanged instead. They put him astride a horse, with a noose around his neck, tied to a tree. But when they whip the horse, it refuses to budge. Duke and Drusilla arrive and, with the town pastor's assistance, convince the mob that Michael is innocent of any wrong-doing, and that Duke is a reformed man.

Michael tells Duke and Drusilla that it is time for him to leave. As his coach prepares to depart, little Speck begs to go with him, at least to the point where the road splits. Knowing that the little boy is dying, Michael agrees to take him, to his final destination.

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Heaven Only Knows is an unusual blanc, one of the very few in the Western genre. Unlike most of the other films blanc of the 1940s which combine humor with spirituality, it is very earnest and even preachy in its Christian theology. Duke's grinning, amoral sidekick (with the telling name of "Treason") is an obvious representation of the Devil's temptation on Earth.