Cast & Crew
Albert S. Rogell
Mike, a bookkeeper in heaven, discovers that Adam "Duke" Byron, who was born in 1858, was not entered into the Book of Life, and thus is living without a soul. Duke is now residing in Glacier, Montana, running a house of prostitution and gambling saloon called the Copper Queen. Mike is sent to Earth to reform Duke without the use of miracles, and to unite him with schoolteacher and parson's daughter Drusilla Wainwright, so that he can fulfill his destiny to be a leading citizen of Montana. At first, Duke mistakes Mike for "The Kansas City Kid," a killer hired by Duke's rival, Plummer, who owns the Pair-a-Dice saloon. After Duke's henchman shoots at Mike and nearly hits a little girl, Drusilla threatens to drive both Duke and Plummer out of town. Duke and Plummer are fighting for control of a copper mine that employs many of the townsmen, and is now closed due to the feud. Meanwhile, Mike is befriended by Ginger, "the copper queen," who works for Duke. When the real Kansas City Kid shoots at Duke, Mike saves him and earns his loyalty. Plummer starts a fire in the Copper Queen to smoke out Duke, but he escapes with Mike to Drusilla's schoolhouse. Suddenly overwhelmed by his love for Drusilla, Duke kisses her, and she is strangely drawn to him. Duke's henchman, Treason, then retaliates for Plummer's arson by burning the Pair-a-Dice, trapping Speck O'Donnell, a sickly boy who is devoted to Duke, inside. Duke races in to save Speck, just as dynamite planted by Treason in the saloon's cellar explodes. Mike breaks the rules of his assignment by causing a miracle, and Duke and Speck emerge unscathed. Later, the town's heretofore ineffectual sheriff, Matt Bodine, arranges a duel between Duke and Plummer to settle the mine dispute. Before the duel, Mike lures Duke to church by promising to show him a "superior gunpowder" and lectures him on the use of spiritual power. During the shootout, Speck runs out to save Duke, and Judd, an old drunken townsman, is fatally wounded while trying to save Speck. Duke kills Plummer and wins the deed to the mine, then takes refuge in the church as Judd dies. The town vigilantes meet to hang Duke, and Drusilla helps him escape. As they hide, Duke and Drusilla swear their love, but, realizing that his need for power is too great, she leaves him. Meanwhile, the lynch mob decides to hang Mike. A sermon by Drusilla's father stalls the hanging until Duke arrives and frees Mike. Later Duke decides to build up the state of Montana with Drusilla as his wife. Ginger, who has fallen in love with Mike, asks to go with the angel, but he assures her that she will marry a good man. Speck leaves with Mike, and as they ride out of town and into heaven, Speck realizes that he is no longer tired.
Albert S. Rogell
A. Roland Fields
Heaven Only Knows
In dealing with angels, Hollywood quickly learned that a light touch was best, and such roles have proven particularly successful for character comedians like Henry Travers as Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and comic leads like Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife (1947). Like Grant, Cummings deftly played against his image as a suave womanizer, though Cummings' film played more with sexual innuendo by forcing him to deal not with a group of staid Episcopalian wives but rather feisty dance-hall girls, some in search of love, others looking for the next customer.
The innocence of Cummings' character was partly a result of the Production Code Administration. Particularly sensitive to religious issues, they quarreled with the original screenplay's depiction of his character as the Archangel Michael, fearing that some audiences would find the comic role offensive. Instead, they suggested creating a lower rank of angels, inspiring the writers to turn their Michael into the celestial bookkeeper who discovers that Donlevy has accidentally been born without his soul. The PCA also objected to a scene in which Michael emerges from a burning saloon laden with women's underwear he has rescued, much to the delight of the dance-hall girls. They had no trouble, however, with his rescuing Donlevy's pants from another fire, leading to a New York Times article speculating about the censors' double standard.
Although born in the U.S. the film's producer, Seymour Nebenzal, was best known for his work in Germany, where he produced such classics as Pandora's Box (1929), The Threepenny Opera and M (both 1931). His U.S. films never quite reached those heights, though he came closest with Douglas Sirk's atmospheric romantic tragedy Summer Storm (1944), which helped make Linda Darnell a star. He had to fight Universal for the rights to the title Heaven Only Knows, though on later release prints he changed it to Montana Mike.
Nebenzal filled the cast with reliable character actors like Stuart Erwin, Edgar Kennedy and John Litel. Cast as the villainous westerner who should have become a local hero was Donlevy, an actor whose off-screen interest in writing poetry contradicted his usual casting as tough guys. He also had an off-screen addiction to flying, giving him a lot in common with Cummings, a World War II veteran who had received the nation's first flight-instructor's license.
Originally Helen Walker, a specialist in icy femmes fatales in films like Nightmare Alley (1947), was cast as Ginger, the saloon hostess who falls for Mike. When a car accident put her out of commission, Marjorie Reynolds won a release from her contract with Paramount, where she had been languishing in lightweight roles, in hopes of showing she had more potential for serious drama. Heaven Only Knows didn't exactly spark a career resurgence, but she would achieve a new level of fame a few years later when she signed on to play William Bendix's patient wife in the hit series The Life of Riley.
As the only person in town to realize Donlevy's potential for good, child actor Gerald Perreau also seemed destined for bigger things. Before the film's release, Lewis Milestone cast him as Tom Tiflin in the much anticipated film version of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. When Milestone decided to change the boy's name to Peter Miles, possibly to avoid confusion with his acting sister Gigi, Nebenzal held up his own film's release so the title cards could be changed. Unfortunately, The Red Pony did not make Miles a major child star, nor did his career survive into adulthood (though he later did well as a novelist).
On its release, Heaven Only Knows suffered from the inevitable comparisons to Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Bishop's Wife. Although Reynolds got some respectable reviews, the film was generally dismissed, as the New York Times put it, as "mildly amusing...tolerable entertainment, with such good moral intentions that one may overlook its self-conscious awkwardness in that regard."
Producer: Seymour Nebenzal
Director: Albert S. Rogell
Screenplay: Art Arthur, Ernest Haycox, Rowland Leigh
Based on a story by Aubrey Wisberg
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Art Direction: Martin Obzina
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Robert Cummings (Mike), Brian Donlevy (Duke), Marjorie Reynolds (Ginger), Jorja Cutright (Drusilla), Bill Goodwin (Plumber), Stuart Erwin (Sheriff), John Litel (Reverend), Peter Miles (Speck O'Donnell), Edgar Kennedy (Jud), Gerald Mohr (Treason), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs. O'Donnell). BW-98m.
by Frank Miller
Heaven Only Knows
Set designer A. Roland Fields's name was misspelled in the opening credits as "Field." A November 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that producer Seymour Nebenzal won the right to use the title Heaven Only Knows after a dispute with Universal. According to a modern source, however, the film's title was changed to Montana Mike during its initial release. The film's MPAA/PCA file at the AMPAS Library lists the picture under that title, although there is no mention of the title Montana Mike in the file itself. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Marjorie Reynolds replaced Helen Walker in the cast. Reynolds was released from her contract at Paramount for this film. Hollywood Reporter news items add William Farnum, Glenn Strange and Jimmy Ames to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter also announced that radio actor Elliot Lewis was to provide commentary for the film's trailer.
According to Hollywood Reporter, release of the film's prints was held up after child actor Gerald Perreau requested that he be listed as Peter Miles, the screen name director Lewis Milestone gave him for The Red Pony . According to an article in New York Times, the film's original script called for "Mike" to emerge from the gambling house inferno "gallantly carrying corsets, brassiers and other intimate bits of apparel, to receive the vociferous thanks of their lovely owners." A letter from the Breen office, contained in the PCA file, instructed the studio to change the scene, noting that "it will be necessary to delete all scenes of sexual embarrassment on his [Mike's] part." For the final film, "Mike" was to exit the fire carrying the pants of "Duke," which prompted a New York Times production item to comment that the "double standard prevails even among the administrators of the Production Code." The PCA also objected to the script's description of "Mike" as the Archangel Michael because religious viewers might take offense at a comic characterization of the Biblical figure. Instead, the PCA suggested that the filmmakers characterize "angels of [a] lesser degree" and rename the protagonist. Although the angel's name remained "Mike," he was depicted as an angel low in the ranks of heaven.