5. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Dir: Alexander Hall, 1941)
This beguiling romantic comedy features an Oscar-nominated Robert Montgomery as Joe Pendeleton, a prize-fighter and pilot, prematurely whisked away to Heaven by an inexperienced messenger (Edward Horton). By the time the mistake is realised,
Pendleton’s body has been cremated; Mr. Jordon (Claude Raines) must take charge, escorting Pendleton back to earth to inhabit the body of playboy Farnsworth, murdered by his wife and his business secretary. Pendelton has his work cut out trying to convince Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes) that he’s a decent man after Farnsworth’s shady business deals landed her father in jail. And will Farnsworth’s murderers be brought to justice?
Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a sharply written comedy, which won Oscars for Harry Segall, upon whose play, Heaven Can Wait, the film is based, and screenwriters Sydney Buchman and Seton I. Miller.
The snarky repartee between a resentful Pendleton and the befuddled celestial messenger is wonderful and Raines is the epitome of British class and dignity as the austere Mr. Jordan. Pendelton’s fight manager, Max Corkel (Oscar nominated James Gleason) is a delight and plays an integral part in Pendelton sorting out his complicated corporeal situation, as does the ever present Mr. Jordan, of course.
Here Comes Mr Jordon maintains its romantic belief in love, with a clear message that it’s not what a person looks like that matters, but the content of their soul.
4. Heaven Can Wait (Dir: Ernst Lubitsch, 1943)
The quality of a man’s character is at the heart of this delightfully droll comedy, which begins with Henry Van Cleeve’s (Don Ameche) arrival at the entrance to hell. A tall, black haired and goateed man, His Excellency, presides over Van Cleeve’s case to be admitted on the basis of a morally poor life. Recounting his life story, doubts begin to emerge over whether Van Cleeve actually deserves to be admitted into the fires of Hades.
In flashback, we begin his life, born into a wealthy New York Family, influenced by an older, worldly French Governess as a teenager and then transforming into a charming young man. At the age of twenty five, a significant event would change him forever, as he meets and falls instantly in love with Martha Van Strabel (a luminous Gene Tierney).
Despite her betrothal to his idiotic cousin, Martha and Henry’s love holds the key to saving his soul in eternity. However, it’s a long road to redemption for the incorrigible Henry, whose commitment to his marriage is at times tested.
Director Ernst Lubitsch directs this classic with a lightness of touch, aided by a superb cast and witty dialogue, drawn from Lazlo Bus-Fekete’s stage play, and adapted for the screen by Samson Raphelson. Farcical, romantic and sweet, Heaven Can Wait is a classic that proves love can give hope to even the most hopeless of men, so that love and blissful romance always prevails in the afterlife.
3. The Rapture (Dir: Michael Tolkin, 1991)
In Catholicism, The Rapture in the Book of Revelations refers to God’s rein of Judgement upon humanity; sending forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and destroying all of humanity, except those who repent their sins; they will ascend to Heaven. The Biblical Rapture is central to this intriguing but harrowing drama.
Mimi Rodgers gives a superb performance as Sharon, who is forever changed by God’s cry to repent. In the beginning, bored of her dead-end job in a call centre, Sharon regularly leads a hedonistic life in her down-time, enjoying sins of the flesh by indulging in a swinger’s lifestyle with her partner, Vic (Patrick Bauchau).
After having sex with her latest lover, Randy (David Duchovny), Sharon resumes her staid work-life, but her curiosity (and ours) is piqued when she hears her co-workers talking about strange dreams of a pearl and a young prophet of the Lord.
A sense of Sharon’s inner emptiness and pain has already begun to simmer and she rekindles her relationship with Randy. But God’s cry becomes too loud, and she is immediately convinced of the impending Rapture and Judgement Day. Randy and Sharon marry and have a daughter, Mary, but her obsession with the End of Days leads her and her daughter on a journey into the unknown.
The Rapture is a controversial fundamentalist vision of the afterlife, which is powerful because of its sincerity; Tolkin’s screenplay takes its protagonist and her plight seriously. Sharon’s journey takes her down a dark, twisted path, where she examines her relationship with God and despairs when He asks her to commit an unthinkable act to prove her absolute love and commitment.
Purgatory is depicted in a tone that’s both visually surreal and nihilistic, and Sharon sees visions of the Horsemen and the Archangel Gabriel’s blaring trumpet; a call to prepare for Ascension. The Rapture is a powerful, gut-wrenching experience, potent especially for believers, who will be challenged by this uncompromising view of the Apocalypse and the afterlife.
2. A Matter of Life and Death (Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1946)
Released on Christmas Day, 1946, Powell and Pressburger’s whimsical romantic drama is a memorable take on the afterlife. The Heavenly realm, shot in black and white, is contrasted against the colour of Earthly reality as the film commences with Peter Carter (David Niven), a British airman in WW2, shot down in a raid in 1945. His last communication over the radio is with American, June, with whom he falls in love in his final moments before jumping to his certain death.
Except his death is far from certain, when he awakens on a beach, with no concept of how he could survive. In a further chance of fate, he meets June, and their romance blossoms.
Meanwhile, among the heavens, the Gods are concerned that Peter’s escape from fate – lost in his deathly descent through the thick clouds – disrupts the flow of Heaven. An intermediary is sent down to earth to find Peter and issue a Court summons. Given 20 hours on Earth to establish his legal case, which will be put before the Heavenly Court, Peter is urged by his Heavenly intermediary, a French Dandy, to focus on selecting his defence counsel.
The Frenchman’s impish presence causes time to freeze; only Peter is awake, June is locked in stasis. She becomes concerned for his health when he tries to tell her about his otherworldly visitor and his grave date with destiny.
Remarkable special effects create a magical impression of the afterlife: flying stars, Peter and the imp walking through doors and, particularly, the revolutionary process of partly developing colour — portraying a washed pink hue described as “Colour and Dye-Monochrome Processed in Technicolor”.
A Matter of Life and Death beautifully evinces magical realism to explore the one element that transcends and defies all empirical, scientific and pragmatic law – love. “In the whole universe, nothing is stronger than the law…but on earth, nothing is stronger than love.”
1. The Seventh Seal (Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
The Seventh Seal is Ingmar Bergman’s sombre, thoughtful meditation on Christianity and the afterlife in Sweden in the 14th Century. From the ubiquitous iconography to the themes of fatalism and religious questioning, Bergman was sincerely influenced by Christian ideology.
Several of the film’s most famous sequences are lifted directly from churches’ interpretation of dying, especially the famous “Danse Macabre”; similarly, as Bergman states, “Death sawing down the tree of life, a terrified wretch wringing his hands on top of it”; art (Picasso’s 1905 painting “Les Saltimbanques” and Durer’s etching, “Knight, Death and Devil”); and choral music (Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” influences the scenes in which medieval songs are performed by itinerant musicians).
Max Von Sydow plays a knight, Polonius Block, returning from the Crusades with his squire. Plagued by his disillusionment, he encounters Death and, despite his body being willing to die, his spirit still yearns for meaning. Polonius engages in a game of chess with Death and is given a short reprieve to discover the meaning of his existence.
Filled with arresting imagery – mourners being flogged in a recreation of Christ’s carrying of his crucifixion cross; Bergman’s poetic dissolves over the crashing waves as Polonius returns to shore from his Holy Mission; from the waters life rises up, reborn from death – The Seventh Seal established Bergman’s reputation as the greatest Swedish filmmaker, influencing countless directors internationally.
The Seventh Seal’s hypnotic tone enhances its otherworldly themes; reflecting the now steadfastly non-religious Sweden was once mired in the darkness of Europe’s Black Plague and the bloody wars in the name of God and Christianity, which clearly gave rise to Bergman’s plaintive search for God, faith, and the essence of the human soul.
Author Bio: John Catania is a professional freelance film reviewer, who has written for a variety of street press, online and print publications. Currently, John contributes to Empire Magazine Australasia. He is the founder of “reviews from the chair” – film reviews and movie news – on Facebook.