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Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait title card

Year - 1978
Studio - Paramount
Stars - Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Vincent Gardenia, Jack Warden
Director - Warren Beatty and Buck Henry
Writing Credits - Elaine May and Warren Beatty (screenplay), Harry Segall (play)
Music - Dave Grusin

Synopsis

Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, working hard to repair an injured knee so that he can get back into the starting position and lead the team to the Super Bowl. As he works out, bicycling through a highway tunnel, a car passes another entering the other end of the tunnel. A loud crash is heard.

Joe walks along a cloud covered landscape with the Escort (Buck Henry) trying to comprehend what has happened, and they arrive at a large airplane with a line of passengers waiting to board. When Joe refuses, the Escort calls Mr. Jordan (James Mason) to intervene. Joe continues to argue his case and the Escort, on his first assignment, admits that he retrieved Pendleton before the actual crash, rather than letting him experience the fatal injury. Mr. Jordan is forced to agree that Joe must be allowed to return providing he can find a suitable body from another man about to die.

They visit the home of Leo Farnsworth, a billionaire captain of industry, who lies dying in a bathtub, having been poisoned by his wife (Dyan Cannon) and her lover and Farnsworth's assistant (Charles Grodin). Joe agrees to using Farnsworth's body on the condition that it is a temporary situation, and he emerges as Farnsworth, alive and well, to the shock of his wife and assistant.

Heaven Can Wait poster

Betty Logan (Julie Christie) arrives at the mansion to confront Farnsworth on his company's plans to uproot her entire village in England. He is sympathetic to her plight, but she is convinced he's just patronizing her.

As Leo Farnsworth, Joe attends a meeting of his company's board of directors, where Betty, as well as many reporters wait outside. He invites them all in to the meeting, over the objections of the other board members, and announces that the company will find another place for their expansion, instead of Betty's village. He gives the board a pep talk filled with football analogies, arguing that their company should be the "good guy" and do what's right for the environment and society. Betty is fascinated with "Leo's" character and integrity.

But Joe's real love is still football and he wants to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl, even as Leo Farnsworth. He buys the team for an amount well beyond its book value and announces to the owners that he wants to try out for quarterback. Incredulous, they allow the tryout, and Leo/Joe wins the team over with his skills. Joe is also able to convince his buddy, Max, the team's trainer, that he is the reincarnated Joe by revealing information that only he could possibly have.

Joe and Betty are falling in love and he tells her that he and his wife are separated.

But Farnsworth's wife and lover haven't given up on their plans to kill him and take over his fortunes. As Betty and Leo converse at a team party on the grounds of his mansion, Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin) shoots Leo with a high powered rifle from an upstairs room.

As a bumbling police detective (Vincent Gardenia) conducts an interrogation of the mansion staff and everyone else, Joe, Mr. Jordan, and the Escort attend, unseen by all the others. The Super Bowl plays on the television in the room, and, in a close game, the Ram's quarterback, Tom Jarrett, is badly hurt on a vicious hit. In fact, Joe realizes that the quarterback's injury is actually fatal and he understands his destiny. He is transported to the stadium where he revives in the body of Jarrett, and proceeds to lead the team to a sudden death overtime victory.

In the locker room celebration, Mr. Jordan tells Joe that his transformation to Tom Jarrett is final and that he will now forget everything that has happened to him. Max arrives later to find Joe/Leo/Tom alone in the dressing room, but when he addresses him as "Joe", the new Tom Jarrett has no idea what he's talking about.

As Jarrett prepares to leave the stadium, he meets Betty in the hallway. who is looking for Max. There is a curious hint of recognition between them, and he asks Betty to join him for coffee. They depart together across the deserted stadium field.

Show Spoilers

Heaven Can Wait was a remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan, where the Joe Pendleton character was a saxophone playing prize fighter. In this version, Beatty's character also plays (poorly) a soprano saxophone. Harry Segall wrote the play, "Heaven Can Wait" that was the basis of both film versions as well as a 1947 musical version, Down to Earth. (Heaven Can Wait has no relationship to the 1943 Ernst Lubitsch-directed film, Heaven Can Wait). Segall also wrote the story and script for Angel On My Shoulder. In 2001, Chris Rock starred in a remake of Heaven Can Wait, but (confusingly) used the title, Down to Earth.