Friday, October 5, 2018

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

The James Mason Blogathon is an event celebrating the life and career of the actor, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the link at the host site.

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
YouTube viewing

Warren Beatty's Heaven Can Wait has nothing to do with the Don Ameche film of the same name; rather, it's a remake of the Robert Montgomery film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which must have been a little confusing when it came out in 1978, but whatever. (In 2001, Chris Rock starred in a third version, Down to Earth.)

I wasn't fond of Jordan, not necessarily because of its premise — afterlife bureaucracy condemns a man to death before his time — but because of its poor plotting. Heaven attempts to improve on the original, and in a number of ways, it does, but I was still uncomfortable with the whole theme of fate, and things being "written," not to mention the lack of accountability for the mistakes made by the afterlife bureaucracy.

That said, Heaven was entertaining, in a 70s kind of way. Beatty not only starred and co-directed, he co-wrote the screenplay, with Elaine May.

Beatty was a "New Hollywood" icon. After the tremendous success of Bonnie and Clyde, he positioned himself as a multitasker, writing, producing and directing the films he wanted to make at a time when young filmmakers had an unprecedented level of power in Hollywood.

In the Peter Biskind book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the pages on Heaven depict Beatty as a "finicky, obsessive" nitpicker. He butted heads with Warner Brothers management over the film's budget before taking it to Paramount, where he fussed over the potential female leads for not being his ex-flame Julie Christie. In the end, he talked Christie herself into the film.

Beatty's perfectionism paid off: Heaven was nominated for nine Oscars, including Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay.

I didn't think it was nine Oscars worth of great, but I liked the humor, and the way the editing accentuated the pacing, making you really aware of the funny lines when they land. Dyan Cannon was great; she got a Supporting Actress nod — and so was Jack Warden, playing the same character as James Gleason in the original, and like him, getting a Supporting Actor nod.

We, however, are here today to talk about James Mason, taking over for Claude Rains in the role of Mr. Jordan and not doing much other than being stately and dignified.

Mason had a very long career, working steadily from the 30s to the 80s, mostly in high profile films on the big and small screens, including North by Northwest, A Star is Born, Lolita, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and many more.

His story was not unusual for Golden Age actors: started in British theater, then transitioned to the big screen during World War 2; came over to America and found greater fame. With his first wife, he co-wrote a book about cats, and illustrated it, too. Here's The Paris Review on his book, including some of his pen and ink drawings. They're pretty good.

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Other films with James Mason:
Forever Darling

12 comments:

  1. I never really sat down and watched Heaven Can Wait. Scenes I have seen with Canon and Warden look really good, but Beatty is one of those guys I have never been able to warm to so I generally avoid him like the proverbial plague. James Mason, of course, sounds like perfect casting when Claude Rains isn't available.

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  2. One thing I didn't mention was how Beatty had his actors deliver their dialogue rapid-fire in places, especially Christie, Cannon and Charles Grodin, almost as if he were trying to capture the vibe of an old screwball comedy.

    The film is basically a showcase for Beatty, though Cannon, Grodin and Warden have their moments. I can understand if Beatty turns you off, though.

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  3. I've never seen this film, though I have watched Here Comes Mr Jordan. Claude Rains' original role seems like a good fit for Mason. Very interesting read. --Palewriter (Gabriela).

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  4. I'd say the role fit Mason like a glove.

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  5. I took to the remake better than I did the original. Probably because I saw the remake first.

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  6. I enjoyed the original more, but the remake's supporting cast is much better. Cannon, in particular, is an improvement.

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  7. Big improvement! She and Grodin were funny together.

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  8. I've avoided this film because I do not like one of the actors, but I might have to make an exception if James Mason is in this film – which I didn't realize, can you believe that?

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  9. James Mason delivers a subtle performance in this, but he manages to steal every scene he is in. I like the original film more, but I do think this one is a lot of fun. Thanks for joining me to celebrate James.

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  10. I read that Mason sometimes had a problem saying no to some roles, but I was okay with him in this.

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