Heaven Can Wait (1978) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A Los Angeles Rams quarterback, accidentally taken away from his body by an overanxious angel before he was meant to die, returns to life in the body of a recently murdered millionaire.

  • 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.

  • With the help of Max Corkle, his best friend and one of the team trainers, Joe Pendleton, the backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams behind Tom Jarrett, does whatever he can to stay in top shape physically and mentally to do his part to help the Rams win the Super Bowl. One of his mental relaxation techniques is to play the soprano saxophone, albeit very badly. Despite the media trying to paint a rivalry between him and Jarrett, Joe truly believes that Jarrett is not his competition, but rather the opposing team is. Regardless, his hard work pays off and he is named the starter for the upcoming game. However, as he is riding his bicycle through a tunnel before the game, Joe is killed in a collision with a truck,... or so it would seem. In actuality, a novice "escort" - the spirit accompanying the dead into heaven - took Joe out of the situation before the collision, not wanting to see Joe actually get "hurt", but Joe would have missed the truck as the official record shows he isn't scheduled to be in heaven for close to fifty years. So Mr. Jordan, the escort's boss, personally has to take over the case, needing to find another undiscovered dead body in which to place Joe, as his own body has already been cremated. Who Mr. Jordan finds as a temporary until a more suitable body can be found is that belonging to ruthless industrialist Leo Farnsworth, who was murdered by his wife, Julia Farnsworth, and his aide, Tony Abbott, the two who are having an affair. Joe not only has to pretend to be Farnsworth not knowing anything about business or his personal dealings, but stay ahead of Julia and Tony who would not be averse to trying to kill him again. But Joe has a change of heart about his temporary second chance at life, which he now wants to make permanent, when he sees an opportunity to get Farnsworth into "Joe Pendleton" shape to regain his old life as a Rams QB, which will entail convincing Max that he truly is Joe Pendleton. That change in heart is also bolstered upon meeting and falling in love with Betty Logan, an activist who is trying to stop the environmental bad practices of one of Farnsworth's factories in her hometown of Paglesham, England.

  • Joe Pendleton is a football quarterback, who has not been playing a great deal because of injuries. But now it appears he has fully recovered and the coach wants to make him the starting quarterback. But he goes out one day and an accident occurs and the next thing he knows he is on his way to heaven. But he convinces the man in charge, Mr. Jordan, that he isn't suppose to be here and upon checking Mr. Jordan discovers that he is right and tries to get him back into his body but his body has been cremated. Mr. Jordan tells him that they can put him in another man's body provided that the man's death has not been discovered. Mr. Jordan now shows him the body of Leo Farnsworth, who has just been killed by his wife and secretary. Joe does not want to take Farnsworth's body until a woman, Betty Logan, who has a problem with what Farnsworth's business is doing to her home, insists on meeting him. Joe is now taken with her and would like to help her but can only do it if he assumes Farnsworth's identity. And he does but unfortunately still acts like himself which perplexes everyone who knows Farnsworth especially his wife and secretary who are sure that they killed him and are on the edge of their seats wondering what he's going to do.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Following a knee injury, Joe Pendleton, a Los Angeles Rams second-string quarterback, practices with the team as the managers and coach comment repeatedly on his good form. Away from the football field, he focuses on fitness and relaxes by playing the saxophone.

    On Joes birthday, Max Corkle, a Rams trainer and Joes good friend, drops by his home with a cake and informs him that the coach wants Joe to start the game against the Dallas Cowboys instead of Tom Jarrett. Joe steps up his training, but while bicycling through a tunnel he is hit by a van.

    With saxophone in hand, Joe arrives at a way station to Heaven accompanied by The Escort, a celestial assistant who instructs Joe to board an aircraft for his final destination. Joe refuses, believing it is only a dream. Delicately, the archangel man in charge, Mr. Jordan, explains that this place represents the afterlife, but Joe is convinced that his death is a mistake. After verifying Joes status, a clerk announces that Joe isnt due to arrive until the year 2025, and The Escort, a rookie, admits that he pulled him away before the outcome of the collision.

    Since Joes body has already been cremated, Mr. Jordan says that in order for him to return to life, Joe must occupy the body of another man, as long as that mans death has not yet been discovered. Mr. Jordan and Joe proceed to scout for possible candidates. At the estate of Leo Farnsworth, a millionaire industrialist, they observe the scheming of his wife Julia Farnsworth and Tony Abbott, Farnsworths assistant. Julia and Abbott are having an affair, and they have left Farnsworth to drown in the bathtub after drugging him.

    Meanwhile, Betty Logan, a schoolteacher, arrives at the mansion to insist on meeting with Farnsworth about his refinery that will force the eviction of families in her hometown of Pagglesham, England. Joe is immediately smitten with Betty and wants to help her. Until they find a more athletic candidate, Mr. Jordan agrees to let Joe inhabit the body of Farnsworth temporarily.

    In the upstairs bathroom, Joe assumes his new identity, but only sees himself in the mirror. Mr. Jordan assures him that even though Joe can only see himself as the internal person of Joe Pendleton, others will see and hear him as Leo Farnsworth. Dressed in polo attire, Joe listens while Betty objects to the plans of Farnsworths Exo-Grey Industries. Upon seeing her husband alive, Julia screams hysterically, and Abbott quickly drags her away. Betty is confused by Joes lack of concern for his wifes outburst, and is also annoyed when Joe claims that he is not really Leo Farnsworth. Believing that he is taunting her, Betty angrily walks away, but warns him that she will be at the next company board meeting.

    While Joe studies Farnsworths business, Julia and Abbott wait nervously, unsure if he is plotting revenge for the murder. On the way to the board meeting, Joe invites reporters and Betty to join him. Everyone in the room is dumbfounded when Joe passionately compares Exo-Greys winning position to that of a football team that must protect its lead and do the right thing by not exploiting others.

    That evening, after Betty visits Farnsworth to compliment him on his courage in front of the board, Joe takes her out to dinner at a drivein restaurant. Inside the limousine, Joe confides that he cannot stop staring at her, and Betty admits that she sees something special in his eyes. As they are saying goodbye, Joe declares his plan to divorce Julia. With a new motivation, Joe tells The Escort that he wants to remain in Farnsworths body and get it into shape for football.

    That evening, despite rigging a heavy fixture above his bed, Julia and Abbott once again fail to murder Farnsworth. The following day, Max arrives at the estate and listens with skepticism while Joe explains that he wants to try out for the Rams quarterback and pay Max to be his trainer. Max is reluctant to jeopardize his reputation with the Rams by entertaining the whims of a millionaire. After initially seeming like at lunatic, Joe is finally able to persuade Max that he is really Joe Pendleton by playing the saxophone badly, as only Joe could. The estate immediately becomes a football training camp. After working out with the butlers of the mansion, Joe takes the next step by purchasing the Los Angeles Rams.

    During a locker room meeting, the players grumble when told that the new owner Farnsworth will be the quarterback in a scrimmage game and instructed to not hold back with him. At first, Joe receives no help from his offensive line and is repeatedly sacked. But, after requesting one chance to complete a play, he makes a successful pass and continues to display his skills for the rest of the practice, earning the respect of the players and defying the doubters on the sideline.

    Sometime later at the estate, Joe and Betty attend a gathering of The Ecology Club on the garden lawn. Watching from her bedroom window with Abbott, Julia still thinks that Farnsworth is plotting against them, and contemplates another murder. After strolling together on the property, Joe asks Betty to marry him. Just as Betty responds with excitement, The Escort interrupts Joe with the news that he must abandon Farnsworths body. Unsure what will happen to him, Joe asks Betty to remember what she saw in his eyes. Before she leaves, he embraces her and says, Theres nothing to be afraid of.

    Mr. Jordan visits to reiterate that he cannot change what is meant to be and that Joe must leave Farnsworths body, but Joe refuses, intent on playing in the Super Bowl and being with Betty. At that moment, Abbott shoots Joe from the bedroom window, and Joe tumbles into a well. No longer in Farnsworths body, Joe emerges from the well with his saxophone and has no choice but to follow Mr. Jordan back to Heaven.

    Farnsworths disappearance becomes front-page news, and Krim, the police detective in charge, gathers together the staff along with Max, Betty, Julia, and Abbott for questioning at the estate. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl between the Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers is underway at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Max is anxious to be there, so Krim lets him watch the game on television during the proceedings. Concerned for Betty, Joe is present in the room alongside Mr. Jordan.

    When the Rams quarterback, Tom Jarrett, is seriously hurt and taken off the field on a stretcher, Mr. Jordan transports Joe to the game. Mr. Jordan explains that it is Toms destiny to die at this time. Joe moves toward Toms body and occupies it, springing off the stretcher and onto the field. Watching this sudden recovery on television, Max realizes that it must be Joe. At the same time, the gardener runs into the room with Farnsworths jacket that he found in the well, which prompts Julia to scream that Abbott is the murderer, and he in turn points the finger at her.

    In overtime, Joe leads the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. During the celebration in the locker room, Mr. Jordan appears before Joe declares that Joe now has a permanent body in Tom Jarrett and he will no longer remember Joe Pendleton, or any of the events that happened, but he will now live out the rest of his life as Tom Jarrett with all of Tom's memories, while Joe's memories of his past life and all about Mr. Jordan and Heaven will be forgotten forever.

    Later that evening, Joe doesnt recognize the saxophone, and thinks Max has drunk too much champagne when he calls him Joe. Max finally realizes that Joe as he knows him no longer exists. As Joe/Tom exits through a stadium hallway, Betty enters looking for Max. After giving her directions, Joe/Tom wonders if they have met before. Betty says she doesnt know him, but she has a connection to football through her close friend, Leo Farnsworth. When the lights of the hallway are switched off, Joe/Tom assures Betty that theres nothing to be afraid of and guides her out the door. Betty is touched by what he said, recalling her last conversation with Farnsworth. Joe/Tom asks her out for coffee, and when Betty realizes that he is the quarterback, she says yes at once.

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