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This week fortune is ready to smile on Beatty yet another time. Heaven Can Wait, his new film, opens at 625 theaters nationwide and is almost sure to be the most popular entertainment of the summer. A remake of a classic Hollywood comedy called Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Heaven Can Wait is a light, screwball fantasy about a Los Angeles Rams quarterback (Beatty) who dies and comes back to life as an eccentric millionaire. The movie has everything going for it: big laughs, populist politics, billowy sequences set in heaven, a murder plot, a climactic Super Bowl game, a supporting cast of choice comic actors (Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Jack Warden) and, best of all, a touching (but P.G.) romance between the hero and Co-Star Julie Christie, who communicate largely through passionate eye contact, the heat of which has not been felt since Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh met in Gone With the Wind. From beginning to end, for kids and adults, Heaven Can Wait is nonstop —and blissfully uncomplicated—pleasure.
Beatty is not only the star of Heaven Can Wait but the co-writer (with Elaine May), co-director (with Buck Henry) and producer. Having already produced two smash hits in his only previous tries, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Shampoo (1975), Beatty must now be regarded as a major film maker as well as a star. "He is really a perfect producer," says Arthur Penn, who directed Bonnie and Clyde. "He makes everyone demand the best of themselves. Warren stays with a picture through editing, mixing and scoring; he plain works harder than anyone else I have ever seen."
The job of producing Heaven Can Wait began over a year ago. Beatty was gearing up for two massive pet projects, film biographies of Billionaire Howard Hughes and John Reed, the messianic leftist author (Ten Days That Shook the World). Then Beatty decided to make a simpler movie first. "I thought I better do a nice yarn with a strong narrative," he says, "and Heaven Can Wait is all plot." Since the hero of Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a boxer, Beatty considered the film a good vehicle for Muhammad Ali, a friend whom he regards as a potential movie star. But Ali had a couple of fights on his schedule, and Beatty cast himself as the hero instead. "I couldn't see myself as a boxer," he says, "but I had been a football player as a kid. So I changed it."