Heaven Can Wait (1978 film)

Heaven Can Wait is a 1978 American sports fantasy comedy-drama film directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry about a young man (played by Beatty) being mistakenly taken to heaven by his guardian angel, and the resulting complications of how this mistake can be undone, given that his earthly body has been cremated. It was the second film adaptation of Harry Segall's play of the same name, the first being Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941).

Heaven Can Wait
Theatrical release poster by Birney Lettick
Directed by
Screenplay by
Based onHeaven Can Wait
by Harry Segall
Produced byWarren Beatty
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited by
Music byDave Grusin
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 28, 1978 (1978-06-28)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[2]
Box office$98.8 million[3]

The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, with Beatty becoming the second person (after Orson Welles for Citizen Kane) to be nominated for producing (Best Picture), directing (Best Director with Henry), writing (Best Adapted Screenplay with May) and acting (Best Actor) for the same film, and the film won for Best Art Direction. The cast includes Beatty, Julie Christie, and Jack Warden, all of whom had appeared in Shampoo (1975).

In 2001, a third film adaptation of the play was done, titled Down to Earth, sharing its name with the sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941).

Plot edit

Joe Pendleton, a backup quarterback for the National Football League's Los Angeles Rams, is looking forward to leading his team to the Super Bowl. While he is riding his bicycle through a tunnel, an overzealous guardian angel on his first assignment, known only as The Escort, sees a large truck heading into the other end of the tunnel towards Joe. The Escort plucks Joe out of his body early in the mistaken belief that Joe was about to be killed in order to save him from any suffering.

Once in the afterlife, Joe refuses to believe that his time is up, and upon investigation, Mr. Jordan (the Escort's supervisor) discovers that Joe was going to just narrowly miss the truck and he was not destined to die until March 20, 2025, at 10:17 AM. Unfortunately, his body has already been cremated, so a new body must be found for him. After rejecting several possible men who are about to die, Joe is persuaded to accept the body of a multi-millionaire industrialist. Leo Farnsworth has just been drugged and drowned in his bathtub by his cheating gold digger wife Julia Farnsworth and her lover Tony Abbott, Farnsworth's personal secretary.

Julia and Tony are amazed when Leo reappears alive and well, and Farnsworth's domestic staff is confused by the changes in some of his habits and tastes. Still obsessed with his football destiny, Farnsworth/Joe buys the Rams and plans to lead them to the Super Bowl as their quarterback. To succeed, he must first convince and then secure the help of his longtime friend and Rams trainer Max Corkle to get his new body in shape. At the same time, he falls in love with Betty Logan, an environmental activist, whom he met when she came to his doorstep to protest the original Farnsworth's corporate policies.

With the Rams about to play in the Super Bowl, all the characters face a crisis. Mr. Jordan informs Joe that he must give up Farnsworth's body as well. Joe resists but hints to Betty that she might someday meet someone else, possibly another quarterback, and should think of him. Julia and Abbott continue their murderous plans, and Abbott finally shoots Farnsworth/Joe dead. The Rams are forced to start Tom Jarrett, another quarterback, in the climactic game. A detective, Lieutenant Krim, interrogates the suspects while they watch the game on television. With the help of Corkle, he gets Julia and Abbott to incriminate each other.

After a brutal hit on the field, Jarrett is killed. With Mr. Jordan's help, Joe occupies Jarrett's body and leads the Rams to victory. During the team's postgame celebration, Corkle finds Joe, and when he realizes that it is him, they share an emotional embrace. As Joe is being interviewed on television, Mr. Jordan tells him that, to live as Tom Jarrett, he will have to lose the memories of his life as Joe Pendleton. As Mr. Jordan disappears, Tom/Joe becomes disoriented. Corkle goes to find Joe later and is crestfallen to realize that Joe has "left" Tom.

Tom bumps into Betty while leaving the stadium. They strike up a conversation, and each appears to recognize the other, but they do not know how. The lights go out one by one in the stadium as they exit the venue, and Tom says something that reminds Betty of Farnsworth/Joe. Looking into his eyes, Betty remembers what he said to her before and whispers "You're the quarterback." Tom asks her to go with him for coffee, and she accepts.

Cast edit

Several former Los Angeles Rams players have cameo roles in the film, including Deacon Jones, Les Josephson, Jack T. Snow, Jim Boeke, and Charley Cowan.[4] Some well-known sportscasters also appear, playing familiar roles. Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis can be heard doing the Super Bowl play-by-play commentary. Dick Enberg conducts an abortive postgame interview of Joe Pendleton/Tom Jarrett. Beatty lobbied hard for Cary Grant to accept the role of Mr. Jordan, going so far as to have Grant's ex-wife, Dyan Cannon, who stars as Julia Farnsworth, urge him to take the role. Although Grant was tempted, he ultimately decided not to end his retirement from film-making.

Production edit

Beatty initially wanted Muhammad Ali to play the central character, but because of Ali's continued commitment to boxing, Beatty changed the character from a boxer to an American football player, and played the character himself.[5] The type of instrument he played was also changed; in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Pendleton assays "The Last Rose of Summer" on the alto saxophone, and in the 1978 film, he plays "Ciribiribin" on a soprano sax. The music during the comic training scene with Joe and the servants at the Farnsworth mansion, as well as the later training session with the Rams is Handel's Sonata No. 3 in F Major, performed by Paul Brodie (sopranino saxophone) and Antonin Kubalek (piano). The main theme is the song "Heaven Can Wait" performed by Dave Grusin and the London Symphony Orchestra. Neil Diamond composed a song titled "Heaven Can Wait" specifically for the film that he thought would be a good theme song, but Beatty declined to use it. The Paul McCartney and Wings song "Did We Meet Somewhere Before?" was considered as a theme song for the film, but was ruled out. It later appeared in the film Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979).

The Super Bowl game (Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Rams) was filmed during halftime of the San Diego Chargers vs. Los Angeles Rams preseason game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 1, 1977. (About a year and a half after the film's release, in January 1980, the Rams and Steelers met in real life in Super Bowl XIV.)

The estate used as Farnsworth mansion was filmed at Filoli, located in Woodside, California, south of San Francisco. Another filming location, albeit brief, was at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles on the grounds beside the Gothic stone chapel in the scene where Joe discovers his body was cremated and scattered on the cemetery grounds.

Reception edit

Critical response edit

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads "A throwback to the high-gloss screwball comedies of the 1940s, Heaven Can Wait beguiles with seamless production values and great comic relief from Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon."[6] Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 72 out of 100 based on 10 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four and called it "the kind of upbeat screwball comedy Hollywood used to do smoothly and well".[8] Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half out of four and declared it "a delightful film that is both surprisingly fresh and old-fashioned".[9] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film "hasn't much personality of its own. Instead, it has a kind of earnest cheerfulness that is sometimes most winning. Mr. Beatty and Miss Christie are performers who bring to their roles the easy sort of gravity that establishes characters of import, no matter how simply they are drawn in the script."[10] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Beatty and his accomplices have brought it off, with only minor patches of turbulence. The script has been expertly contemporized."[11] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote "Heaven Can Wait is easily the most appealing new American movie on the market. It manages to preserve much of the charm and romantic fantasy that worked for its predecessor, the 1941 crowd-pleaser Here Comes Mr. Jordan, while freshening up some of the settings and details and tailoring the roles to a different cast."[12] Penelope Gilliatt of The New Yorker praised the script as "sometimes both loopy and brainy", but asked "good grief, what is all this braininess and talent doing in a remake of a Harry Segall play that has no relation to the real world we come out into from the cinema? One can see why there were films about transmigration and reincarnation during the war, but not now."[13]

Awards and nominations edit

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[14][15] Best Picture Warren Beatty Nominated
Best Director Warren Beatty and Buck Henry Nominated
Best Actor Warren Beatty Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Warden Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Dyan Cannon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Elaine May and Warren Beatty Nominated
Best Art Direction Paul Sylbert, Edwin O'Donovan and George Gaines Won
Best Cinematography William A. Fraker Nominated
Best Original Score Dave Grusin Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards[16] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Warren Beatty and Buck Henry Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[17] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Warren Beatty Won
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Dyan Cannon Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actor Warren Beatty Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Fantasy Film Won
Best Actor Warren Beatty Won
Best Supporting Actor James Mason Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Dyan Cannon Won
Best Director Warren Beatty and Buck Henry Nominated
Best Writing Elaine May and Warren Beatty Won
Best Costumes Theadora Van Runkle and Richard Bruno Nominated
Best Music Dave Grusin Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[18] Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium Elaine May and Warren Beatty Won

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Heaven Can Wait (A)". British Board of Film Classification. July 11, 1978. Retrieved November 22, 2016.
  2. ^ "AFI|Catalog".
  3. ^ "Heaven Can Wait, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  4. ^ "Charley Cowan NFL & AFL Football Statistics". Pro-Football-Reference.com. 1938-06-19. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  5. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on July 12, 2015. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  6. ^ "Heaven Can Wait (1978)". Rotten Tomatoes. 28 June 1978. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  7. ^ "Heaven Can Wait reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Heaven Can Wait". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 15, 2018.
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (June 30, 1978). "'Heaven Can Wait' recalls joy of yesterday's films". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 28, 1978). "A Film by Beatty". The New York Times. C17.
  11. ^ Champlin, Charles (June 27, 1978). "Here Comes Mr. Beatty". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  12. ^ Arnold, Gary (June 28, 1978). "Here Comes a Spirited Fantasy". The Washington Post. E1.
  13. ^ Gilliatt, Penelope (July 10, 1978). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 84–85.
  14. ^ "The 51st Academy Awards (1979) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on October 17, 2014. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  15. ^ "Heaven Can Wait". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-02-04. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
  16. ^ "31st DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  17. ^ "Heaven Can Wait – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  18. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.

External links edit