Heaven Can Wait (1978)

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Released 8-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romantic Comedy Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 96:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Warren Beatty
Buck Henry

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Warren Beatty
Julie Christie
James Mason
Jack Warden
Charles Grodin
Dyan Cannon
Buck Henry
Vincent Gardenia
Joseph Maher
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music Dave Grusin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Greek
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Heaven Can Wait is Warren Beatty's first foray into filmmaking as opposed to just acting. Not only does the film has himself playing the lead role, he also co-produced, co-wrote and co-directed it. It is essentially a remake of a 1940s film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, but confusingly has nothing whatsoever in common with Ernst Lubitsch's 1943 film of the same name.

    Anyway, the plot is convoluted enough without getting confused over film titles. Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a football player for the Los Angeles Rams. Recovering from a knee injury, his performance on field during training has so impressed the coach that he has been selected to lead the team in the Superbowl. However, he gets involved in an accident and is taken by an escorting angel (Buck Henry) to Heaven.

    Joe refuses to believe he has died and the supervising angel, Mr. Jordan (James Mason) is called in. It turns out that it was all a mistake - Joe wasn't supposed to die in that accident at all and the over-zealous escort (new to his job) has plucked Joe from earthly life a little too soon, about 50 years too soon in fact.

    However, they can't return Joe to his body because it has been cremated. Whilst the angels frantically look for another body (it has to be one that has recently died but where the death has not yet been discovered), Joe is temporarily put into the body of millionaire industrialist (this was back in those days when it was a big thing to be a millionaire) Leo Farnsworth. Leo has just recently been murdered by his wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and her secret lover, Mr. Farnsworth's personal secretary Tony Abbott (Charles Grodin).

    In comes Betty Logan (Julie Christie) trying to protest to Mr. Farnsworth about his plans to build an oil refinery which will destroy the small English village she lives in. Joe/Leo's efforts to help her soon causes a consternation and in the meantime he discovers that he's fallen in love with her. So, he doesn't want to leave Mr. Farnsworth's body even though a suitable replacement has been found. In the meantime, Tony and Julia are still plotting to kill Mr. Farnsworth ...

    I actually watched this film when it came out in the theatres in the late seventies and remembered enjoying it. Watching it again after more than twenty years (with older, wiser, more jaded eyes) I don't like it as much. For one thing, the plot is full of holes if you start thinking about it. Either your life is destined and your time of death is predetermined or it's not. The film tries to have it both ways - the angels know that Joe Pendleton's time is not yet up for another fifty years and yet angels can make mistakes and the only way to find out is to wait for the outcome of an event. In fact, the angels seem to be able to predict when people will die (for example Mr. Farnsworth) so the whole issue about plucking Joe too early seems like a charade.

    The ending frankly disturbs me. Without actually revealing what it is, it raises all sorts of philosophical questions about what is the nature of the soul and what makes us individuals. Are we the sum of our memories or does the soul transcend memories and personalities?

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This is a widescreen 16x9 enhanced transfer presented in a 1.75:1 aspect ratio. Incidentally, IMDb lists the intended aspect ratio as 2.35:1 but Widescreen Review says the film is in "Academy Standard Flat" which means 1.85:1.

    The years have obviously not been very kind to the film print from which the telecine transfer has been taken. It badly needs restoration work, as it suffers from colour fading, colour bleeding, softness and a number of other issues that will be familiar to anyone who has looked at an old colour photograph. There is also persistent low level grain. What is really annoying is that every now and then the picture is clear and bright which gives me a hint at how good the film could have looked if it had received some TLC (Tender Loving Care, before you start asking).

    Further complicating the issue is a video transfer marred by persistent pixelization. Quite frankly, I have seen Video CDs that are less pixelated than this and I suspect the 16x9 enhancement may have been electronically derived from a letterboxed telecine transfer. Then again, they have tried to squeeze a 96:59 minute film onto a single sided single layered disc, so a fair amount of compression must have been used. At one or two places, such as around 70:51-70:54, the transfer is so soft I suspect the camera must have been defocused.

    There are a number of subtitle tracks on this disc. I turned on the English subtitles briefly just to verify their presence.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are a number of audio tracks (English, French, Italian, Spanish) on this disc, all in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224 Kb/s). I listened to only the English audio track.

    Considering that this is a mono soundtrack, it's not too bad and sounded well-balanced and natural. Dialogue in particular is never hard to understand. As is to be expected, the extreme frequencies (low and high) have been rolled off, and due to the age of the print, the mono optical sound track bleeds across the left and right channels creating a pseudo-stereo effect.

    Occasionally, loud passages in the soundtrack crackle into distortion, but overall the track was pleasant to listen to.

    The original music score by Dave Grusin surprisingly sounds pseudo-baroque (matching the faux English mansion look of the Farnsworth residence) rather than jazzy.

    There were no audio synchronization issues, and needless to say there is no surround or subwoofer activity.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    This is a pretty minimalist disc. Then again, they probably couldn't have fitted much more onto the DVD5 disc (my DVD-ROM reports that 4.25MB is used up by this transfer).


    The menus are static but 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer (2:50)

    The trailer is presented in approximately 1.85:1 and is letterboxed (no 16x9 enhancement). The Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono) audio track sounds terrible (very hissy and boomy).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Neither release stands out.


    Heaven Can Wait is relatively easy to watch (especially if you are, or were, a teenage girl who can't get enough of Warren Beatty in his prime) but don't dig too deep and start questioning aspects of the plot. The video transfer is pretty atrocious (but then the film isn't exactly in prime condition) and the mono audio track is listenable but again has seen better days. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, November 29, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
Grave ontological implications for sweet Joe Pendleton - Bruce Sager