DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Monday, 20 June 2016

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Alexander Hall’s thoroughly delightful ‘heavenly’ comedy, a Capra-esque tale of a deceased boxer who’s given a second chance at life by his angel/mentor Mr. Jordan by being able to inhabit the bodies of other recently deceased persons, is perhaps most famous for its notable remake as Warren Beatty’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’. But as produced under the studio system (Columbia), Mr. Jordan represents that unmistakable pre-war Hollywood magical combination of swift screwball comedy, dry black humour and high concept fantasy.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) dir. Alexander Hall
Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, Rita Johnson

By Alan Bacchus

Robert Montgomery is perhaps the most unlikely actor to play a boxing contender, and yet this is how he’s established in the opening moments of the film. In fact, he’s not only a boxer, but an amateur pilot and saxophone player who carries his sax around everywhere he goes. This strange eccentricity is what attracts us to Joe Pendleton, a likeable hero who tragically dies in a plane accident. When his spirit is resurrected by an angel, he’s given a second chance to go back to the physical world instead of the heavenly one. But Joe’s body has been cremated by his manager Pop Corkle. Thus, here comes Mr. Jordan (Rains), a heavenly fixer of sorts who steps in to offer Joe the option of inhabiting the body of deceased business man Bruce Farnsworth, recently murdered in his home by his wife and business colleague.

Strange it is to title a film based on a minor character who is not the lead, but it’s testament to Claude Rains’ marvelous turn as the amiable angel. Rains’ soothing indistinctly accented bourgeois demeanor elevates his performance and his character to level of Montgomery’s. Rains had even yet to play his most famous role (in Casablanca), but perhaps Mr. Jordan is the finest demonstration of his unique character-acting skills.

As written by the original playwright and it’s screen adapters (Sidney Buchman and Seton Miller), the plotting of Pendleton’s new lot in life is as eccentric as the main character. They take care to make clear to the audience the rules of their interaction. Joe looks like Farnsworth to the other characters, but to the audience it’s Joe/Montgomery. Joe can talk to Mr. Jordan, but no one else can see him. Mr. Jordan can move Joe to another body when he likes, but it’s has to be recently deceased (and of course, there must be a body).

The screwball plotting is centred around Joe’s confused manager Corkle, who becomes privy to Pendleton and Jordan’s ploys. Corkle just can’t wrap his head around the body switching and he spends most of the film is a state of heightened delirium.

The underlying at the heart of this picture is fate and the romance of the soul even when one leaves the body. Farnsworth’s story of redemption, thanks to Pendleton’s engineering, from nefarious investor to righteous man of the people, is the stuff of the Capra’s social-conscious pictures (You Can’t Take it With You, Meet John Doe, It’s a Wonderful Life). This arc nicely dovetails from the romantic story of Joe’s attraction to Miss Logan (Keyes) one of Farnsworth’s financial victims. Even though Joe’s interactions of Logan would be short-lived, they would prove not to be fleeting, when the fate of the attraction transcends the physical body of Farnsworth and the pair meet in the future within Joe’s newly selected body.

The production value of the picture, as expected, meets the level of quality of a major studio picture. We can even pick out some inventive deep focus photography from cinematographer Joseph Walker. The design of the Farnsworth house where much of the action takes place is designed with a polished grandeur which befits the heavenly story. There’s even a terrific boxing sequence, which may have even influenced the look of some of Scorsese’s Raging Bull’s fight sequences.

'Here Comes Mr. Jordan' is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Naked Island

Two lowly Japanese farmers repetitively climbing an intense incline slope from the seaside shore to the top of a mountain to water their measly crops is the signature image of Kaneto Shindô’s social realist experimental film. Shindô observes his characters' backbreaking work with the same kind of salt of the earth honour as in the Soviet propaganda films if the 1920’s. Shindô’s cinematic eye triumphs over his self-imposed dialogue-free obstruction to achieve a woefully tragic slice of Japanese peasant life.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In a Lonely Place

As a Hollywood screenwriter burdened with a hair trigger temper and seemingly psychopathic predilection to violence, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his great late-career performances. 'In a Lonely Place' marries the mysterious tension of the unknown in Hitchcock’s 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of Doubt' with director Nicholas Ray’s interest in brooding and damaged enigmatic characters.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Strike up the Band

Mickey Rooney is an electrifying dynamo in this foot-tapping, often astonishing musical which helps cement for me why the pre-war period was the absolute creative peak of Hollywood. This Rooney/Garland vehicle, the second of many musical pairings charts the journey of the young teenage pair to make something of their fledgling big band. The magic of the Busby Berkeley choreography matched with Rooney’s electrifying performance, as singer/dancer/actor /musician and Judy Garland’s youthful energy gives this film a pulse rarely seen in movies today.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Only Angels Have Wings

The exotic lands of South America provide the location for one of the big adventure films of Hollywood’s most famous year (1939). Cary Grant as an adventure-seeking enigmatic airline pilot running mail into dangerous regions of an unnamed town in the Andes established his Hollywood star status as a true leading man, game for comedy, romance and adventure. Howard Hawks’ recurring themes of male comraderie and his knack for wordy rhythmic dialogue elevate this straight-ahead actioner into something memorable and resonant.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Over the Edge

A sublime time capsule of the era, Over the Edge, exists as a rarely-seen cult classic, plugging nihilistic punk-like anger into the conventions of a teen rebel movie. Based on an actual incident in which the teenagers of a dreary Midwestern town unite and use anarchic violence to take over their school, director Jonathan Kaplan and his team create an angst-fueled ride of adolescent rebellion. The soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Van Halen and the Cars, exemplifies the pitch perfect American suburban flavor of this film.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sorcerer

What a strange and wonderful picture, a thrilling remake of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, made with the documentary-like realism which embodied most of Friedkin’s films. At a cost of nearly $22m of 1977 dollars, Sorcerer exemplifies the hubris of those celebrated 70’s mavricks who at the beginning of the decade shook up the studio system with the New Hollywood movement then through a series of expensive flops saw the end of the progressive scene at the onset of the 1980’s. Sorcerer survives magnificently over time as one of Friedkin’s best films, now revered by cineastes around.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Southern Comfort

Walter Hill’s Cajun siege picture, for a long time barely registering on the cultural radar, for cinephiles now sits nicely in the highly influential late 70’s-early 80’s period of Hill’s filmography. At once a retelling of the wolfpack themed pictures Hill nearly perfected around this time ('Alien', 'The Warriors', 'The Long Riders'), but also sharp allegory to American foreign policy, 'Southern Comfort', like all of Hill’s films resonates on multiple levels – historical and social commentary, cinematic legacy and a good old fashioned movie thrills.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sweetie


Sweetie, the title character of Jane Campion’s idiosyncratic and typically Aussie -quirky first feature, is the house guest from hell, the firebrand bi-polar sister of Kay who shows up unwanted at Kay and her boyfriend's door thus disrupting her attempt at a regular life of independence from her thoroughly messed up family.  Strange but inspired, Sweetie admirably showed the signs of a director with a unique voice and laid the thematic sign posts for Campion's future works.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Blackhat


It’s impossible not to watch a Michael Mann film these days without the context of his previous work in mind. Because virtually each and every one of Mann’s films connect so intimately with one another in theme, character and tone. Blackhat is no exception, a crackerjack procedure crime picture about a different kind of thief, tracking a different kind of criminal essentially retelling the cat and mouse chase antics of obsessive cops and robbers on ultra-grey sides of good and evil as in Mann’s previous films.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Gold Rush



The second of Chaplin’s feature films (after 1921’s 'The Kid') loses nothing over time, easily gliding past all technical innovations (sound, colour, widescreen, 3D). And with Chaplin’s natural gifts as a filmmaker and performer, he crafts a hilarious adventure epic with heartbreaking emotional sentimentality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Hunger

Overwhelmingly beautiful but cold, Tony Scott’s The Hunger, once dismissed back in the day, now resounds as a seminal film of the vampire genre. Consciously aloof, Scott seemed to be striving for what Ridley Scott strove for in his early days, expressive, moody and supremely visual tone pieces. For better or worse Scott would never make a film this again, quickly moving into the Bruckheimer brand of cinema.

Friday, 29 January 2016

52 Pick Up


This underseen Elmore Leonard-penned project about a prominent LA industrialist blackmailed for his infidelity cruises through the seedy LA crime underworld in the same way Chinatown and other LA-based noir films before it. But as a time capsule of the decade, for better or worse, it’s also burdened with the vulgarities of 1980’s cinema.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Revenant

Perhaps more admirable and commendable than moving or masterful, the large scale frontier adventure tale visualized with eye-popping wide angle realism doesn't quite to add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the power of that indescribable piece of storytelling/cinematic magic which when missing can make even the boldest, visionary works of art feel strangely inert.