Joe Pendleton (Montgomery) is a boxer and amateur pilot. While flying to his next bout, his plane suffers a mechanical failure and goes into a dive. His soul is snatched from his body by an overzealous reaper, Messenger 7013 (Edward Everett Horton), but when #7013 takes him to the afterlife it turns out that Joe isn't due to die for another 50 years—if #7013 had left him alone, he would have pulled the plane out of the dive.
Messenger 7013 takes Joe's soul back to Earth, but it turns out they are too late; his body has been cremated. At this point his supervisor, another angel named Mr. Jordan (Rains) takes over. They eventually find him a replacement body in the form of wealthy businesmann Bruce Farnsworth—who has just been murdered by his faithless wife and her lover.
Here Comes Mr. Jordan received seven Academy Award nominations and won two. It had a Stealth Sequel called Down to Earth made in 1947, with Horton and James Gleason (Joe's trainer Max Corkle) reprising their roles and Roland Culver taking over for Rains as Mr. Jordan. That film is now best known as the film that Xanadu was Inspired by....
Here Come the Tropes:
- Afterlife Antechamber: When Joe Pendleton dies he ends up in a place that looks like a Fluffy Cloud Heaven but isn't: it's an intermediate stop on the way to Heaven. He eventually gets sent back because it wasn't his time to die.
- Body Surf: Joe's soul inhabits three different bodies over the course of the movie.
- Casualty in the Ring: An atypical example, as the body of "K.O." Murdoch becomes available for Joe when Murdoch, who refused to throw the fight, is shot in the ring. After Joe inhabits Murdoch's body, he wins the fight.
- Divine Misfile: Because #7013 grabbed Joe's soul prematurely, and his body was cremated before the mistake could be rectified, he gets a new (used) body.
- Fainting: Julia Farnsworth's reaction upon seeing her husband alive. Also the reaction of Joe's manager, Corkle, after Joe manages to convince him that he really is Joe, inhabiting the body of Bruce Farnsworth.
- The Grim Reaper: Here it's a bureaucratic operation with "messengers" who fetch souls.
- Idiot Ball / Police Are Useless: After Julia and Tony murder Bruce for the second time, thus making his body unusable for Joe, they stuff the body in the basement freezer. It is there for weeks, with the police never doing a search of the house, until Mr. Jordan tells Joe, who tells Corkle, who tells the cops.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Bruce Farnsworth's wife Julia and her lover, Bruce's secretary Tony Abbott, have done this to get rid of Bruce. They are pretty shocked when Bruce revives after Joe Pendleton's soul inhabits his body.
- Our Angels Are Different: They're bureaucrats, shuffling people off to Heaven with as little fuss as possible.
- Spinning Paper: Played straight, as spinning papers tell how Bruce/Joe bailed out Bette Logan's father and got him out of jail (in the backstory, the real Bruce Farnsworth used Logan as the fall guy in a scheme to sell worthless securities).
- Training Montage: Done when Joe, now inhabiting the body of Farnsworth, starts whipping himself into shape to be a boxer again.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Joe to Corkle for burning his original body before his number had been sorted out upstairs.Joe Pendleton: This is Farnsworth's body, because you burned mine, you big stiff!
- You Are Number 6: Mr. Jordan has a name, but if Messenger 7013 does, it's never mentioned.