Heaven Can Wait (1978)

PG | 101 mins | Comedy | 28 June 1978

Producer:

Warren Beatty

Cinematographer:

William Fraker

Production Designer:

Paul Sylbert

Production Company:

Dogwood Productions
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HISTORY

End credits contain the following acknowledgement: “Filmed in part at Filoli, a property given by Mrs. William P. Roth to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Administered by Filoli Center.”
       The 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (see entry), adapted from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall, was remade in 1947 as Down to Earth (see entry). According to a 11 Dec 1974 Var brief and a 13 Nov 1975 HR article, Richard Shepherd, production head of Warner Bros. Pictures, was planning a 1970s remake starring Bill Cosby and Carl Reiner, who would also write the screenplay. After the release of Shampoo (see entry) in 1975, Warren Beatty decided to produce the project and write the screenplay with Elaine May. At the time, Beatty was preparing two ambitious biographical films about Howard Hughes and John Reed, but the simpler narrative of Heaven Can Wait appealed to him, as explained in a 3 Jul 1978 Time cover story. Initially, Beatty wanted his friend Muhammad Ali for the role of “Joe Pendleton,” since the character was a boxer in the 1941 version. When Ali’s schedule was too busy, Beatty chose to play the role himself and as a result changed Pendleton’s sport to football, which Beatty had played in his youth. Prior to casting James Mason as “Mr. Jordan,” Beatty considered Cary Grant and Senator Eugene McCarthy. A 27 May 1977 DV news item mentioned that Beatty tried to convince Peter Bogdanovich to direct, and the Time article noted that he ... More Less

End credits contain the following acknowledgement: “Filmed in part at Filoli, a property given by Mrs. William P. Roth to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Administered by Filoli Center.”
       The 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (see entry), adapted from the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall, was remade in 1947 as Down to Earth (see entry). According to a 11 Dec 1974 Var brief and a 13 Nov 1975 HR article, Richard Shepherd, production head of Warner Bros. Pictures, was planning a 1970s remake starring Bill Cosby and Carl Reiner, who would also write the screenplay. After the release of Shampoo (see entry) in 1975, Warren Beatty decided to produce the project and write the screenplay with Elaine May. At the time, Beatty was preparing two ambitious biographical films about Howard Hughes and John Reed, but the simpler narrative of Heaven Can Wait appealed to him, as explained in a 3 Jul 1978 Time cover story. Initially, Beatty wanted his friend Muhammad Ali for the role of “Joe Pendleton,” since the character was a boxer in the 1941 version. When Ali’s schedule was too busy, Beatty chose to play the role himself and as a result changed Pendleton’s sport to football, which Beatty had played in his youth. Prior to casting James Mason as “Mr. Jordan,” Beatty considered Cary Grant and Senator Eugene McCarthy. A 27 May 1977 DV news item mentioned that Beatty tried to convince Peter Bogdanovich to direct, and the Time article noted that he also approached Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn. Beatty was ready to direct the film alone, but elected to work with a co-director “to keep the movie from becoming ponderous.” Buck Henry was chosen, and Henry described the experience as full of non-violent disagreements. Beatty was “maniacal” in his preparation according to Henry, which challenged one to have a reasoned argument ready if you differed with him.
       A 19 Mar 1977 Var article noted that Beatty moved the project to Paramount Pictures Corp. after Warner Bros. rejected the $6 million budget. Production commenced in early Jul 1977, as mentioned in a 6 Jul 1977 HR brief. A 17 Sep 1977 LAT article stated that filming took place for six weeks at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, followed by soundstage work at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where shooting was expected to be completed by 10 Oct 1977. The actual wrap date was not confirmed in contemporary sources. The article commented that there was limited information about the project due to Beatty’s custom of keeping the press away from the set and not releasing news about the film until close to completion. Program notes compiled for an AMPAS screening in 2007 stated that the Super Bowl sequence was shot during halftime at a Los Angeles Rams game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
       A 9 Mar 1979 DV article reported that Paul McCartney wrote an original song for Heaven Can Wait, titled “Did We Meet Somewhere Before?” Although commissioned by Beatty, it was not used in the final film. A year later, it was included in the film Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979, see entry).
       According to a 1978 Cleveland Plain Dealer article, as a way to spark curiosity months before the release, Paramount publicity simply placed the poster for the film, an image of Beatty dressed in sweats and angel wings, in newspapers across the country, without any description. Gordon Weaver, Paramount’s Vice-President of Worldwide Marketing, said that to convey the story in words for radio or television was too complicated. The image proved to be an effective teaser. In small print below Beatty’s picture, there was a giveaway offer for a color reproduction of the poster. After appearing in the Sunday New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Paramount received about 60,000 letters. Curiosity translated to an immediate box office hit, and the film grossed over $12 million in the first 12 days of release across 560 theatres. By Sep 1978, the film had surpassed King Kong (1976, see entry) to rank sixth on Paramount’s list of box-office hits in terms of domestic rentals, as noted in a 20 Sep 1978 Var article.
       A 31 May 1978 Var article reported that Paramount postponed the release of Heaven Can Wait for two weeks until 30 Jun 1978 to avoid opening at the same time as its highly anticipated summer film, Grease (1978, see entry), although the studio’s official reason was that the ad campaign was not ready and that Beatty needed more time to refine the film. The 3 Jul 1978 Time article pointed out that Beatty was in fact tinkering with last minute details before the premiere, and Beatty explained that being attentive to the final stage of projection was essential since “a light bulb” could ruin years of creative effort.
       In 2001, Paramount released Down to Earth (see entry), also based on the Segall play and with the same title as the previous 1947 Columbia remake, starring Chris Rock as Pendleton and Chazz Palminteri as Mr. Jordan.
       Heaven Can Wait was nominated for nine Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role for Beatty, Actor in a Supporting Actor for Jack Warden, Actress in a Supporting Role for Dyan Cannon, Art Direction, Cinematography, Directing, Music (Original Score) and Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium). The film received the Oscar for Art Direction.
       Heaven Can Wait marked the feature film directing debuts for both Beatty and Henry. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Mar 1977.
---
Box Office
3 Jul 1978.
---
Cleveland Plain Dealer
1978.
---
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1974.
---
Daily Variety
4 Mar 1977.
---
Daily Variety
27 May 1977.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1977.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jul 1977.
---
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1979.
---
Family Circle
24 Sep 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Mar 1978
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1978
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 1978
p. 1, 17.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1979.
---
LAHExam
26 Mar 1977
Section A, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
17 Sep 1977
Section II, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
27 Jun 1978
p. 1.
New York Times
10 Dec 1972.
---
New York Times
28 Jun 1978
p. 17.
People
18 Nov 1996.
---
Time
3 Jul 1978.
---
Variety
11 Dec 1974.
---
Variety
19 Mar 1977.
---
Variety
15 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
31 May 1978.
---
Variety
28 Jun 1978
p. 20.
Variety
20 Sep 1978.
---
Village Voice
10 Jul 1978.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Paramount Pictures Presents
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam op
Still photog
Gaffer
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des for Julie Christie and Dyan Cannon by
Cost des
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus by
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eff ed
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Administrative assoc
Asst to Mr. Beatty
Tech consultant
Tech consultant
Scr supv
Prod accountant
Casting
Transportation
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segall (production date undetermined).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Sonata No. 3," by G. F. Handel, performed by Paul Brodie and Antonin Kubalek, courtesy of Golden Crest Records
"The Rams Marching Song," by John T. Boudreau
"Entry of the Gladiators," by Julius Fucik
+
MUSIC
"Sonata No. 3," by G. F. Handel, performed by Paul Brodie and Antonin Kubalek, courtesy of Golden Crest Records
"The Rams Marching Song," by John T. Boudreau
"Entry of the Gladiators," by Julius Fucik
"Ciribiribin," by Albert Pestalozza.
+
SONGS
"Happy Birthday to You," by Mildred J. Hill and Patty S. Hill.
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 June 1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 28 June 1978
Production Date:
began early July 1977
Copyright Claimant:
Shelburne Associates
Copyright Date:
15 September 1978
Copyright Number:
PA13108
Physical Properties:
Color
Color by Movielab
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25105
SYNOPSIS

Following a knee injury, Joe Pendleton, a Los Angeles Rams second-string quarterback, practices with the team as the managers and coach comment repeatedly on his good form. Away from the football field, he focuses on fitness and relaxes by playing the saxophone. On Joe’s birthday, Max Corkle, a Rams trainer and Joe’s good friend, drops by his home with a cake and informs him that the coach wants Joe to start the game against the Dallas Cowboys instead of Tom Jarrett. Joe steps up his training, but while bicycling through a tunnel he is hit by a van. With saxophone in hand, Joe arrives at a way station to Heaven accompanied by The Escort, a celestial assistant who instructs Joe to board an aircraft for his final destination. Joe refuses, believing it is only a dream. Delicately, the man in charge, Mr. Jordan, explains that this place represents the afterlife, but Joe is convinced that his death is a mistake. After verifying Joe’s status, a clerk announces that Joe isn’t due to arrive until the year 2025, and The Escort, a rookie, admits that he pulled him away before the outcome of the collision. Since Joe’s body has already been cremated, Mr. Jordan says that in order for him to return to life, Joe must occupy the body of another man, as long as that man’s death has not yet been discovered. Mr. Jordan and Joe proceed to scout for possible candidates. At the estate of Leo Farnsworth, a millionaire industrialist, they observe the scheming of his wife Julia Farnsworth and Tony Abbott, Farnsworth’s assistant. ... +


Following a knee injury, Joe Pendleton, a Los Angeles Rams second-string quarterback, practices with the team as the managers and coach comment repeatedly on his good form. Away from the football field, he focuses on fitness and relaxes by playing the saxophone. On Joe’s birthday, Max Corkle, a Rams trainer and Joe’s good friend, drops by his home with a cake and informs him that the coach wants Joe to start the game against the Dallas Cowboys instead of Tom Jarrett. Joe steps up his training, but while bicycling through a tunnel he is hit by a van. With saxophone in hand, Joe arrives at a way station to Heaven accompanied by The Escort, a celestial assistant who instructs Joe to board an aircraft for his final destination. Joe refuses, believing it is only a dream. Delicately, the man in charge, Mr. Jordan, explains that this place represents the afterlife, but Joe is convinced that his death is a mistake. After verifying Joe’s status, a clerk announces that Joe isn’t due to arrive until the year 2025, and The Escort, a rookie, admits that he pulled him away before the outcome of the collision. Since Joe’s body has already been cremated, Mr. Jordan says that in order for him to return to life, Joe must occupy the body of another man, as long as that man’s death has not yet been discovered. Mr. Jordan and Joe proceed to scout for possible candidates. At the estate of Leo Farnsworth, a millionaire industrialist, they observe the scheming of his wife Julia Farnsworth and Tony Abbott, Farnsworth’s assistant. Julia and Abbott are having an affair, and they have left Farnsworth to drown in the bathtub after drugging him. Meanwhile, Betty Logan, a schoolteacher, arrives at the mansion to insist on meeting with Farnsworth about his refinery that will force the eviction of families in her hometown of Pagglesham, England. Joe is immediately smitten with Betty and wants to help her. Until they find a more athletic candidate, Mr. Jordan agrees to let Joe inhabit the body of Farnsworth temporarily. In the upstairs bathroom, Joe assumes his new identity, but only sees himself in the mirror. Mr. Jordan assures him that even though Joe can only see the internal person of Joe Pendleton, others will see and hear him as Leo Farnsworth. Dressed in polo attire, Joe listens while Betty objects to the plans of Farnsworth’s Exo-Grey Industries. Upon seeing her husband alive, Julia screams hysterically, and Abbott quickly drags her away. Betty is confused by Joe’s lack of concern for his wife’s outburst, and is also annoyed when Joe claims that he is not really Leo Farnsworth. Believing that he is taunting her, Betty angrily walks away, but warns him that she will be at the next company board meeting. While Joe studies Farnsworth’s business, Julia and Abbott wait nervously, unsure if he is plotting revenge for the murder. On the way to the board meeting, Joe invites reporters and Betty to join him. Everyone in the room is dumbfounded when Joe passionately compares Exo-Grey’s winning position to that of a football team that must protect its lead and do the right thing by not exploiting others. That evening, after Betty visits Farnsworth to compliment him on his courage in front of the board, Joe takes her out to dinner at a drive–in restaurant. Inside the limousine, Joe confides that he cannot stop staring at her, and Betty admits that she sees something special in his eyes. As they are saying goodbye, Joe declares his plan to divorce Julia. With a new motivation, Joe tells The Escort that he wants to remain in Farnsworth’s body and get it into shape for football. That evening, despite rigging a heavy fixture above his bed, Julia and Abbott once again fail to murder Farnsworth. The following day, Max arrives at the estate and listens with skepticism while Joe explains that he wants to try out for the Rams quarterback and pay Max to be his trainer. Max is reluctant to jeopardize his reputation with the Rams by entertaining the whims of a millionaire. After initially seeming like at lunatic, Joe is finally able to persuade Max that he is really Joe Pendleton by playing the saxophone badly, as only Joe could. The estate immediately becomes a football training camp. After working out with the butlers of the mansion, Joe takes the next step by purchasing the Los Angeles Rams. During a locker room meeting, the players grumble when told that the new owner Farnsworth will be the quarterback in a scrimmage game and instructed to not hold back with him. At first, Joe receives no help from his offensive line and is repeatedly sacked. But, after requesting one chance to complete a play, he makes a successful pass and continues to display his skills for the rest of the practice, earning the respect of the players and defying the doubters on the sideline. Sometime later at the estate, Joe and Betty attend a gathering of The Ecology Club on the garden lawn. Watching from her bedroom window with Abbott, Julia still thinks that Farnsworth is plotting against them, and contemplates another murder. After strolling together on the property, Joe asks Betty to marry him. Just as Betty responds with excitement, The Escort interrupts Joe with the news that he must abandon Farnsworth’s body. Unsure what will happen to him, Joe asks Betty to remember what she saw in his eyes. Before she leaves, he embraces her and says, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Mr. Jordan visits to reiterate that he cannot change what is meant to be and that Joe must leave Farnsworth’s body, but Joe refuses, intent on playing in the Super Bowl and being with Betty. At that moment, Abbott shoots Joe from the bedroom window, and Joe tumbles into a well. No longer in Farnsworth’s body, Joe emerges from the well with his saxophone and has no choice but to follow Mr. Jordan back to Heaven. Farnsworth’s disappearance becomes front-page news, and Krim, the police detective in charge, gathers together the staff along with Max, Betty, Julia, and Abbott for questioning at the estate. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl between the Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers is underway at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Max is anxious to be there, so Krim lets him watch the game on television during the proceedings. Concerned for Betty, Joe is present in the room alongside Mr. Jordan. When the Rams quarterback, Tom Jarrett, is seriously hurt and taken off the field on a stretcher, Mr. Jordan transports Joe to the game. Mr. Jordan explains that it is Tom’s destiny to die at this time. Joe moves toward Tom’s body and occupies it, springing off the stretcher and onto the field. Watching this sudden recovery on television, Max realizes that it must be Joe. At the same time, the gardener runs into the room with Farnsworth’s jacket that he found in the well, which prompts Julia to scream that Abbott is the murderer, and he in turn points the finger at her. In overtime, Joe leads the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. During the celebration in the locker room, Mr. Jordan declares that Joe now has a permanent body in Tom Jarrett and will no longer remember Joe Pendleton, or any of the events that happened. Later that evening, Joe doesn’t recognize the saxophone, and thinks Max has drunk too much champagne when he calls him “Joe.” As he exits through a stadium hallway, Betty enters looking for Max. After giving her directions, Joe wonders if they have met before. Betty says she doesn’t know him, but she has a connection to football through her close friend, Leo Farnsworth. When the lights of the hallway are switched off, Joe assures Betty that “there’s nothing to be afraid of” and guides her out the door. Betty is touched by what he said, recalling her last conversation with Farnsworth. Joe asks her out for coffee, and when Betty realizes that he is the quarterback, she says yes at once. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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