Thursday, November 1, 2018


The town of Glacier, Montana is in the midst of a violent feud between warring gambling house owners who were former partners in the mine which was the economic engine of the town. The mine has been closed while the feud rages.

The combatants are Bill Goodwin (Tea for Two) as Bill Plumber and Brian Donlevy (The Great McGinty) as Duke Byron. A stranger arrives in town to settle matters in his own way. Originally used by Plummer, this man called Mike played by Robert Cummings (It Started with Eve) intends to be of service to Duke Byron. Nothing will be the same in Glacier after the stranger's arrival.

So far, Heaven Only Knows sounds like a sturdy and typical western, and you will note in the credits that the treatment is by western writer Ernest Haycox of Stage to Lordsburg fame. The original story of this movie is by Aubrey Wisberg, a writer of mysteries, family dramas, adventures and science fiction, also the fantasy-comedy The Horn Blows at Midnight about a couple of errant angels.

Heaven Only Knows is an after-life fantasy with the unique twist of being set in the old west. "Mike" is Michael, an angel from the Heavenly Hall of Records come to Earth to set things straight. Duke Byron was inadvertently omitted from the Book of Life. Michael had long been expecting something like this to happen. There are so many souls to keep track of, and unfortunately, the clerical oversight has left Duke with no soul.

Duke's life has been one of greed, corruption and violence. On the other hand, the Book of Destiny had recorded that Duke would be an exemplary human with a legacy of decency and compassion. He was to have raised a lovely family with his wife Drusilla Wainwright, the minister's daughter played by Jorja Curtright (Whistle Stop). As things stand now she despises the man who has brought such misery to Glacier. Michael must set things aright without using any miracles, not even a small one. You see, humans don't believe in miracles.

The town of Glacier is brought to life by a host of familiar character actors. Peter Miles (The Red Pony) plays a sickly lad who worships Duke, and his mother is played by Lurene Tuttle (Psycho). Edgar Kennedy (Duck Soup) is the town's inebriate. John Litel (Dodge City) is the well-meaning minister. Stuart Erwin (Make Me a Star) is the pragmatic and controversial sheriff. Marjorie Reynolds (Holiday Inn) is the queen of Duke's saloon whose heart is softened by the arrival of Mike.

Duke's right hand (or would that be left?) is a man called Treason played by Gerald Mohr (Detective Story). It is not expressed outright, but Treason is obviously Mike's opposite number from Hades. Treason gets the feel of a cold wind when Mike hits town, and the two share an exchange quite cryptic in nature.

Heaven doesn't forget poor Mike tasked with a seemingly impossible mission and no miracles in his pocket. His mentor Gabriel played by William Farnum (The Spoilers) will be on hand when needed.

Michael's task cannot be trivialized as the fate of a man's soul and indeed the souls of an entire population are at stake. The personalities in the cast and the quirky humour in the script make this little picture a winner. Heaven Only Knows is sincere where it could have been cloying and I find it a real charmer.  

Albert S. Rogell, a veteran of comedies, westerns and mysteries directed and Karl "Sunrise" Struss was the cinematographer. Heaven Only Knows was made by Nero Films producer Seymour Nebenzal, the son of the company's founder in Germany in the 1920s, Heinrich Nebenzal. It is a testament to the studio's independent spirit.

TCM is screening Heaven Only Knows on Saturday, November 17th at 10:00 pm. It follows Here Comes Mr. Jordan for a double bill of angelic blunders. If the after-life fantasy is your thing then you must check it out. If the after-life fantasy isn't your thing, why not step out of your comfort zone on a chilly autumn evening?


  1. This movie is unknown to me. Sounds nice. As for angelic blunders, I just watched A Matter of Life and Death, one of the most wonderful movies ever made. With the two others it would make a good triple bill.

    1. What a triple bill! A Matter of Life and Death is the crowning glory of movies in this line, but this independent feature won a place in my heart.

  2. I'm with Margot, I've never heard of the movie. But with "Romance" "Comedy" "Adventure" and some great character actors -its on my calendar!

    1. It was new to me until this year, but I found it an excellent watch and quite endearing. The cast is a winner.

  3. He's got no soul? Does that mean his momma don't dance and his daddy don't rock and roll? :-p

    Is it me, or was Hollywood obsessed with supernatural films involving angels and devils during this time? Between HEAVEN CAN WAIT, CABIN IN THE SKY, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and this, they were tapping into something in the zeitgeist back then. Maybe WW2 made everyone anxious?

    1. Ha!

      I think it is due to the great loss of so many during the war that these films became popular. Certainly understandable, I wonder if it truly was comforting in some small way.

  4. Paddy Lee, I enjoyed your write-up of HEAVEN ONLY KNOWS(1947). I have never seen this movie. This is the kind of movie that I like, so that means because of your writing, I will seek it out.

    Ernest Haycox writing the treatment for this movie. Usually it was another writer adapting a story or novel that Haycox wrote. This is interesting.

    1. The Haycox credit is interesting, isn't it? It immediately caught my attention. I think his solid storytelling skills adds to the strength of the combination of fantasy grounded in reality. I'm sure you'll enjoy this film. Thanks so much.

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