Eddie Kagle (Muni) is a gangster who has just gotten released from a four-year stretch in prison. He is picked up by his #2, Smiley Williams...who promptly murders him.
Eddie finds himself in Hell. His rather uncooperative behavior in the place of eternal torment draws the attention of Satan, aka "Nick" (Rains). It just so happens that Eddie is a dead ringer for a crusading do-gooder judge and gubernatorial candidate, Frederick Parker (also played by Muni, but really only as a body double for himself). Nick hatches an idea to send Eddie back to the land of the living and inhabit the body of Parker, so he can ruin Parker's reputation and remove him as a force for good. Eddie does so, but complications ensue, including the utter confusion of his fiancée Barbara (Baxter).
If any of this business of talking with the Devil or returning from the afterlife sounds vaguely familiar, it should, as screenwriter Harry Segall also wrote Here Comes Mr. Jordan as well as the original play that was adapted into Heaven Can Wait (1978).
- The Big Board: Nick has a map of the world on the wall of his study, with a lot of lights that blink on and off. The film never actually says what it's for, but it's probably not for anything good.
- Bittersweet Ending: Obviously Eddie can't stick around in the judge's body, so he has to say goodbye to Barbara and go back to Hell. But he gets Nick to make him a trusty.
- But Now I Must Go: Eddie has to leave, rather than continue to inhabit the judge's body where he doesn't belong.
- Buxom Is Better: When first meeting Barbara, Eddie does a thorough Male Gaze inspection, even turning her around. After he's done looking over the very snug business dress the costume designers squeezed Anne Baxter into, he says "You got a lot of curves...in all the right places."
- Contrived Coincidence: Mrs. Bentley, on trial in Judge Parker's court for the attempted murder of her father-in-law, turns out to be Eddie's old moll, Rosie Morgan.
- Devil's Job Offer: Nick's wacky scheme in which Eddie will ruin Judge Parker's reputation.
- Face Framed in Shadow: Nick is framed this way in his opening scene and in many scenes afterward, including every scene where he is up to active devilry. It does make him more creepy.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Things keep going wrong that spoil Nick's plans to ruin Parker. He sets Eddie give up to deliver an angry speech that will ruin him as a politician—until some hecklers show up and start Produce Pelting; Eddie becomes a hero when he fights them. Nick sets Eddie up to accept a huge bribe to let some trial defendants get off; the stunt is ruined when Eddie sees that one is his old girlfriend, and angrily refuses the bribe, in the presence of a bailiff. Eddie goes off to murder Smiley, but he's stopped by some quick thinking from Barbara. Nick finally gets Eddie and Smiley together with the intention of Eddie murdering Smiley, but Love Redeems and Eddie won't do it (Smiley falls out a window by accident).
- Faustian Rebellion: Eventually Eddie rebels, refusing to do Nick's evil bidding. He has to go back to hell, but not before he makes sure that the judge and Barbara will be back together.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: A fairly standard one, with smoke, bubbling lava, and the stink of sulfur. Eddie gets assigned to the furnaces.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: It's implied that bonking Barbara before marriage is part of Nick's campaign to destroy the reputation of Fred Parker as an upright and moral man. More than once when Barbara and Eddie are canoodling, Nick urges him to go for it, saying "she's all yours."
- Have a Gay Old Time: "The cop pulled a boner, the girlie had nothin' to do with it."
- Hellevator: How people get in and out of Hell. Eddie complains about how long it takes. Amusingly, it ends as a freight elevator opening up on a Chicago street.
- Identical Stranger: Nick tells Eddie that everyone has a double and Judge Parker is his. This doesn't make a lot of sense, actually, as Eddie doesn't physically impersonate Judge Parker; instead Nick puts Eddie's soul in Parker's body. It seems like the movie just needed an excuse for Nick to pick Eddie as his agent.
- Love Redeems: Barbara's love turns Eddie the villainous gangster into a good person.
- Produce Pelting: Nick's plan to have Eddie give an angry rant at what is supposed to be the Judge's campaign speech goes awry, when anti-Judge hoodlums start pelting Eddie with fruit. He wades into them and starts punching, and instead of giving an embarrassing speech, he comes off as a hero.
- Satan: He goes by "Nick".
- The Starscream: Smiley, who has been running Eddie's operation for the last four years and doesn't feel like stepping aside.
- Title Drop: When the priest who's about to marry Eddie and Barbara quotes a Bible verse about how a righteous man has "an angel on his shoulder" and Eddie asks, "What if you ain't got no angel on your shoulder?"
- Verbal Irony: Eddie asks for his gun, saying "let me have it". Smiley says "OK", pulls the gun out from his jacket, and shoots Eddie to death.
- Widow's Weeds: Mrs. Bentley's use of widow's weeds is doubly bogus: 1) the victim didn't actually die, and 2) she was the one that tried to kill him.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: While a bit vague on how long Eddie was in Hell before Satan started the plan, he doesn't change appearance at all. When he returns to the land of the living, his old cohorts have gone into the Insurance business, and are much older. When Eddie asks Nick why insurance, Nick replies, "Wasn't that one of your scams, protection (money)?"