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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Hut! Hut!

Heaven Can Wait (1978) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Heaven Can Wait” (1978) opens with L.A. Rams backup quarter­back Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) working out. He's running with a foot­ball along an escarpment. Birds tweet happily in the back­ground. We see scrimmage shots where there's concern for starting QB Jarrett (“How's the knee, Jerry?”). Joe's friend and trainer Max Corkle (Jack Warden) delivers Joe's birth­day cake to his house (“I hope you have a lot more, kid”)—he's the only one who remembered it. Joe demon­strates his only magic trick of pulling a quarter from Max's ear. Max announces: “They don't want to go with Jarrett. They want to go with you.”

Back to training Joe bikes into a narrow tunnel, and a large vehicle in a hurry attempts to pass another vehicle entering from the other side. Joe's escort angel (Buck Henry) pulls his soul from his body in the nick of time so he passes on to his heavenly processing with­out any pain. How­ever, Joe feels, “I'm not supposed to be here” as, “He's an athlete with terrific reflexes” and could have avoided the collision had his novice angel allowed the scene to play itself out. Heaven's Mr. Jordan (James Mason) settles this “sudden death play­off” by checking the books to find out that Joe has another 50 years coming to him. To make it right they need to insert Joe into a recently deceased corpse before it's discovered, an athletic one so Joe can take it to the Superbowl.

After some rejected selections, they look at a polo player who is in fact an eccentric millionaire Mr. Farns­worth who only dresses the part (alternating with others.) Before they move on, how­ever, Joe decides to go with this one so he can help a damsel in distress, a small town teacher Betty Logan (Julie Christie) come to petition the industrialist about a new plant. Angry Betty thinks "Farns­worth" is toying with her when he says he'll help. Farns­worth's wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and his confi­dential secretary Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin)—who are secret lovers—suspect a conspiracy when the man's murder they effected didn't take. Max is the only one to recognize the new Joe. The staff just figure it's more of the old goat's eccentricities when he drafts them for training (“playing foot­ball with a bunch of butlers!”) Mean­while the (invisible) angels have their own loose ends to tie up. The result is one swell comedy.


Betty Logan had come from Pagglesham, England with a petition from its sixteen-hundred-some residents to stop construction of Exo-Grey Industries' plastic bottle manu­fac­turing plant, because it would release poisonous acry­loni­trile into the environ­ment making their town unliv­able. Farns­worth had ignored all her letters. The issue is a no-brainer. (Deut. 30:11) “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.” How did they get their building permits? Some­body was bribed. It should be rectified.

You don't really need Joe to go to heaven and back to figure this out. (Deut. 30:12) “It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?”

You didn't really need Miss Logan to personally come all the way from England with her petition. (Deut. 30:13) “Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?”

With zero experience managing a company, the new Farnsworth knew what had to be said and done at the board meeting. (Deut. 30:14) “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”

The board meeting is being picketed by environmentalists with other issues, and the press is there, too. Joe handles it per his athletic training: (1Cor. 9:24-25) “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a cor­rup­tible crown; but we an in­cor­rup­tible.” Temperance means moderation in thought, feelings, and actions. Joe was moderate in how he lived and ate. This moderation should apply to the business sphere, as well as to the athletic.

For moderation of thought, Joe persuaded the directors to check out their nuclear power plants sited in earth­quake zones to see how they could be rendered safe rather than just thinking happy thoughts about their safety.

Moderation in feelings touched on racial issues when in scrimmage black number 75 was intent on sacking the old white guy "Farns­worth" for his past racial statements. If one looks at a foot­ball field as segregated, with offense on one side and defense on the other, then when the ball is snapped, the field becomes suddenly integrated, each side wanting to cross the line of scrimmage. In 1978 when this movie was made, racial conflicts would still be remembered. One camp had espoused gradualism whereby the races were becoming inte­grated bit by bit, and one should be content with that. Civil rights leader MLK, how­ever, had declaimed “the fierce urgency of NOW!” When you're a black defensive line­man itching to integrate your­self into that White quarter­back as he's going through his signals, feelings of “the fierce urgency of NOW!” can tend to make you go offsides.

Moderate action was proposed to resolve one of the complaints that their tuna-fishing nets some­times snare porpoises. Unscrupulous tuna boat crews set "long lines" of a mile or so in length with baited hooks every few yards. They catch every­thing in their path, not just tuna and porpoises but sea turtles as well. The non-fish, of course, drown. "Farns­worth" pointed out to the directors that since their business was doing so well, they could afford to be the good guys—and people would appreciate it with their pocket books—by moderating their lines.

Production Values

Heaven Can Wait” (1978) is a remake of the 1941 movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”. The sport was changed from boxing to foot­ball, because star Beatty had played foot­ball in high school. It's the second film adaptation of Harry Segall's stage-play Heaven Can Wait. It was directed by Warren Beatty & Buck Henry. Screen­play was by Beatty, Elaine May, Robert Towne & Buck Henry. It stars Warren Beatty, James Mason, and Julie Christie. Warren Beatty is at his best playing leading man. The wicked duo of Charles Grodin the quietly murderous secretary, and his accomplice Dyan Cannon on the verge of losing it, is pretty funny. James Mason as heavenly over­seer Mr. Jordan was precious. The supporting cast is quite good and contribute to the film's success.

The film is rated PG. The music by Dave Grusin was adequate for a romantic comedy, Beatty contributing some inane Ciribiribin on his clarinet as well. Many of the scenes featured res­plen­dent gardens and beaches of the Filoli estate in Wood­side, on the San Francisco peninsula. The cinema­tog­raphy was elegant and the editing perfect. Art design won an Oscar.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I was amused all the way through this picture but for different reasons. Heaven's way station was supposedly an amalga­mation of human expec­tations, okay. Angelic misadven­ture, locker room humor, romantic miscues, high brow eccentricities, low brow dark humor, and cynicism of big business all contributed to our chuckles. There is some message material in it, but it's not preachy. The romance, too, seemed to take a back seat to the comedy. I thought this one was well done, and I highly recommend it.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with suitable guidance. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.