Gangster Eddie Kagel is killed by a trusted lieutenant and finds himself in Harry Redmond Jr's special-effects Hell, where Nick/The Devil sees that he is an-exact double for a judge who Nick doesn't approve of. Eddie is agreeable to having his soul transferred to the judge's body, as it will give him a chance to avenge himself on his killer. But every action taken by Eddie (as the judge) results in good rather than evil and, to Nick's dismay, the reputation and influence of the judge is enhanced, rather than impaired by Eddie. And Eddie also falls in love with the judge's fiancée, Barbara. Even Eddie's planned revenge fails and Nick is forced to concede defeat. He returns to Hell, taking Eddie with him, after Eddie has extracted his promise that Nick will not molest the judge or Barbara in the future. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
This film is a nice mixture of two great movies: the crime film SCARFACE (1932) and the fantasy HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. And it also is the only time that two of the best actors of the golden age of sound films worked in a film side by side in the same scenes of a movie.* I am referring to Mr. Paul Muni, who played Tony Carmonte in SCARFACE and Mr. Claude Rains, who played that beacon of heavenly fairness and decency Mr. Jordan in HERE COMES MR. JORDAN.
(*The two actors actually appeared in a film before this: JUAREZ in 1939. But Paul Muni played Benito Juarez, and shared no scene with Rains as Napoleon III of France - the two leaders never met.)
Muni's Eddie Kagle is a reprise of his Tony Carmonte, complete with Carmonte's deadly looking slit-like stare. But at the start of the film he is murdered by "Smiley" Williams (Hardie Albright - who is always smiling), and finds himself in the netherworld's lower regions. In some ways Eddie's discovery of Hell is among the best part of the film, as he sees the other inhabitants are all in a state of continuous agony and realization of their own sins. Eddie does not have sufficient time to suffer to become as zombie-like. A stranger comes to him, offering him an opportunity to get out of that place. Eddie is willing to hear the deal.
The stranger is Rains, naturally playing the Devil (and thus joining the ranks of Walter Huston, Adolphe Menjou, Ray Milland, Laird Cregar, Ray Walston, and Edward Arnold). Rains is a businesslike Devil, who complains to his henchman that the place is too cold (the henchman increases the heat). He has nothing currently going on, when he has noticed Muni. Muni's Eddie Kagle resembles a Judge Parker, an honest, upright man who is running for governor of his state. Rains realizes that if Kagle can replace Parker, then he can ruin the Judge's campaign for cleaning up the corruption in his state.
So Rains makes his offer to the eager Muni: if Kagle agrees to this switch, playing the role of Parker while the latter is in an enforced coma, and undoing Parker's campaign, Kagle will get a chance to even the score with good old "Smiler". Muni is definitely interested, but he wants a guarantee of no double-crossing. He knows his Devil as well as any other human, and he does not want old "Smiler" to get away.
This is the main problem that perplexes Rains in the movie. He is the author of all the mischief in the universe, but he is also unable to fully control how that mischief is working (an interesting variation on the Devil - compare Rains here with Milland as "Nick Beal" or Walter Huston (for the most part) as "Mr. Scratch"). The best moment illustrating this problem: Rains gets Muni worked up to deliver a violent tirade that would send Judge Parker's campaign into the toilet. But a bunch of gangsters, opposed to Parker, arrange for the "Judge" to be met with a barrage of garbage thrown at him on stage when he's about to speak, knocking him out. Rains is flabbergasted by this, and he can't prevent it: the gangsters are doing his work too. Kagel/Parker is not condemned in the papers but praised for his bravery against the gangsters.
Also, as the film progresses, Muni meets the Judge's girlfriend Barbara Foster (Anne Baxter). He falls for her, and she slowly "corrupts" him - he starts wondering if the Judge and Barbara don't have the better view of the world.
The film is a good fantasy, that resolves well - a kind of a twist, in fact, on the conclusion of CASABLANCA, with Muni and Rains walking off together, tied by the knot of their agreement. But who will win - we are never certain until the end.
The title of the film, by the way, is based on a line of dialog from a sermon that a minister (Erskine Sanford) is preparing and reads out loud.
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