TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of my War Years Challenge
I had already seen and mildly enjoyed 1978's "Heaven Can Wait" with Warren Beatty, and I figured this was just a precursor. I was not ready for how laugh-out-loud funny the original would be, and it's all due to Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendleton, the prizefighter who comes back to life in a millionaire's body.
The story was based on the 1938 stage play "Heaven Can Wait" by Harry Segall and was directed by Alexander Hall. The writing was so good, it won Seagall an Oscar for Best Original Story and also got one for Best Screenplay for Sidney Buchman and Seton I. Miller. Five other Academy Award nominations were earned, too: Best Picture, Best Director for Hall, Best Leading Actor for Montgomery, Best Supporting Actor for James Gleason as boxing manager Max "Pop" Corkle, and Best B&W Cinematography for Joseph Walker.
"We can't get away with this. I haven't changed." ~ Joe Pendleton
Pendleton wasn't supposed to die in a plane crash, but an over-zealous new celestial messenger called 7013 (Edward Everett Horton) swoops Joe's soul up to heaven before impact and the body is cremated before the mix-up can be sorted out. Heavenly supervisor Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains) arranges for Joe to go back to Earth in the body of a crooked banker named Bruce Farnsworth, who is about to be murdered by his wife Julia (Rita Johnson) and personal secretary Tony Abbott (John Emery).
Things get complicated as Joe yearns to be back in the ring, fighting for the world championship, but he becomes smitten with a woman named Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), who's the daughter of an investor that Farnsworth swindled. Mr. Jordan invisibly pops in now and then to see how Joe is doing, which gives rise to some hilarious "talking to air" scenes. As New York Times critic Theodore Strauss wrote upon the film's release, it is "a delightful and totally disarming joke at heaven's expense."
In fact, this is the granddaddy of a whole class of films about guardian angels, from "I Married an Angel" (1942), "Angel on My Shoulder" (1946) and Angels in the Outfield (1951) to India's Jhuk Gaya Aasman or "The Skies Have Bowed" (1968). It also spawned a sequel, "Down to Earth" (1947), which was remade in 2001 with Chris Rock. Too much fun!
Listed among Films Nominated for Best Picture