Boxer Joe Pendleton is transported to heaven before his time following a plane crash. So, celestial soul checker Mr Jordan assigns him the body of a murdered millionaire and he promptly falls in love with Bette Logan, one of the many people his alter ego had mistreated.
Columbia chief Harry Cohn had grave doubts about this adaptation of Harry Segall's minor stage play. Always under pressure from his Wall Street backers to run a tight ship, he preferred to reserve his more lavish budgets for the studio's only genuine star, Rita Hayworth. However, he was persuaded to splash out on some costly celestial sets and to hire Robert Montgomery from MGM by co-scenarist Sidney Buchman, who convinced Cohn that he had a surer appreciation of public taste than a bunch of bankers.
Ultimately, Cohn was rewarded for his courage, as the picture scooped seven Oscar nominations - with Segall winning for Best Original Story and Buchman and Seton I. Miller for Adapted Screenplay.
With Pendleton inhabiting three different bodies in the course of 93 minutes, this was quite an intricate storyline for a Hollywood comedy. But Alexander Hall (an unsung journeyman whose credits included Shirley Temple's Little Miss Marker) kept the action briskly accessible, even where Death was involved. However, he couldn't prevent the romantic subplot from becoming saccharine and contrived and occasionally allowed Montgomery to lay on the durable geniality a little too thickly. But he coaxed exceptional performances from a splendid supporting cast, with Edward Everett Horton bumbling to amusing effect as Messenger No.7013 and Rita Farnsworth and John Emery oozing malevolence as the millionaire's scheming wife and his smooth-operating secretary. There's even a touch of quiet menace about Claude Rains's celestial civil servant, who clearly resents having his meticulous system disrupted by angelic incompetence and human emotion. But the most likeable performance comes from James Gleason, as boxing coach Max Corkle, and, six years later, he turned in an equally affable variation on the role opposite Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife. Never one to waste a hit, Cohn recycled some of the movie's ideas for the 1947 Rita Hayworth vehicle, Down to Earth, in which Gleason and Everett Horton reprised their roles, while Roland Culver stepped in as Mr Jordan. However, the picture would eventually be remade as Heaven Can Wait by Warren Beatty in 1978.