28 December 2003 | 16mmRay
Excellent performances all around in MR. JORDAN turned around
To begin, it's tough as nails to see a decent print of this public domain film. TCM has a very good 35mm print in their library, so I recommend seeing it there (unless you're fortunate to see it on the screen).
ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER was written by Harry Segall, who also penned HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. The film is a delicious turnabout of its wonderful predecessor and Claude Rains turns in his angels wings for devils hoofs and, frankly, is much more deliciously at home. Anne Baxter is superbly understated as Barbara Foster and Onslow Stevens has a larger-than-usual role as her friend and Judge Parker's doctor/psychiatrist. Judge Parker and Eddie Kagle are both played by the great Paul Muni. Muni is a joy to watch in this picture. He rises to both comedic and extraordinarily sensitive moments in the film. And he does a few "Scarface" pantomime moments, brief elegant gestures, that show what a truly great screen presence he could be.
The crucial scene in ANGEL ON MY SHOULDER is where Eddie, brought back from Hades by the Devil and now inhabiting the body of Judge Parker, is having a picnic lunch with his secretary/fiancé. Here he discovers all the truly important and wonderful things that life has to offer - all of which he lost out on because of his life of crime and immorality. Eddie is torn and tortured and Muni plays the inner torment with amazing sincerity. Helping a great deal is one of Dimitri Tiomkin's best, though least-known, musical scores. It is a far cry from his usual bombast and has many passages of great tenderness.
Rains, of course, is marvelous and there are quite a few genuinely threatening moments in his performance. Fine support is given by James Flavin (who, in addition to his role as politico Bellamy is also heard off-screen as a district attorney, a very curious happenstance), George Cleveland (as the Judge's valet), Erskine Sanford as a minister, Hardie Albright as Smiley Williams and Fritz Leiber, Noble Johnson and Kurt Katch as residents of Hades.
This is not a great film. But it's a very, very good film with some very fine sequences and performances. It deserves far better treatment than it has received since its copyright lapsed.