Joe Pendleton is a football quarterback preparing to lead his team to the Superbowl when he is almost killed in an accident. An overanxious angel plucks him to heaven only to discover that he was not ready to die, and that his body has been cremated.
Another body must be found without his death being discovered, and that of a recently murdered millionaire is chosen. His wife and accountant, the murderers, are confused by this development, as he buys the Los Angeles Rams in order to once again quarterback them into the Superbowl. At the same time, he falls in love with an English environmental activist who disapproves of his policies and actions.
Heaven Can Wait is a 1978 American comedy film co-directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry. It was the second film adaptation of Harry Segall’s stageplay of the same name, being preceded by Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941).
The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards. The cast reunites Beatty and Julie Christie, who also starred together in the 1971 McCabe & Mrs. Miller and the 1975 Shampoo. A third film adaption of the stageplay was done in 2001, titled Down to Earth.
About the Story
Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty), a backup quarterback for the American football team Los Angeles Rams, is looking forward to leading his team to the Super Bowl. While riding his bicycle through the older west side of tunnel one on Kanan-Dume road in Malibu, he collides with a truck. An over-anxious guardian angel (Buck Henry) on his first assignment plucks Joe out of his body early, in the mistaken belief that his death is imminent, and Pendleton arrives in the afterlife.
Once there, he refuses to believe that his time was up and, upon investigation, the mysterious Mr. Jordan (James Mason) discovers that he is right: he was not destined to die until much later (10:17 am on March 20, 2025, to be exact). Unfortunately, his body has already been cremated, so a new body must be found. After rejecting several possibilities of men who are about to die, Joe is finally persuaded to accept the body of a millionaire industrialist. Leo Farnsworth has just been drugged and drowned in his bathtub by his cheating gold digger wife Julia Farnsworth (Dyan Cannon) and her lover, Farnsworth’s personal secretary, Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin).
Julia and Tony are naturally confused when Leo reappears, alive and well. Leo buys the Los Angeles Rams to lead them to the Super Bowl as their quarterback. To succeed, he must first convince, and then secure the aid of, long-time friend and trainer Max Corkle (Jack Warden) to get his new body in shape. At the same time, he falls in love with an environmental activist, Betty Logan (Julie Christie), who disapproves of Farnsworth’s policies and actions.
With the Rams about to play in the Super Bowl, the characters all face a crisis. Mr. Jordan informs Farnsworth that he must give up this body as well. Farnsworth resists, but hints to Betty that she might someday meet someone else and should think of him. Julia and Abbott continue their murderous plans, and Abbott shoots Farnsworth dead. The Rams are forced to start another quarterback, Tom Jarrett, in the climactic game. A detective, Lt. Krim (Vincent Gardenia), interrogates the suspects while they watch the game on TV. With the help of Corkle, he gets Julia and Abbott to incriminate one another.
Heaven Can Wait (1973)
Directed by: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry
Starring: Warren Beatty, James Mason, Julie Christie, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon, Charles Grodin, Vincent Gardenia, Stephanie Faracy
Screenplay by: Elaine May, Warren Beatty
Production Design by: Paul Sylbert
Cinematography by: William A. Fraker
Film Editing by: Robert C. Jones, Don Zimmerman
Costume Design by: Richard Bruno
Set Decoration by: George Gaines
Art Direction by: Edwin O’Donovan
Music by: Dave Grusin
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: June 28, 1978