The Dave Grusin Archive
Music for the Screen
Heaven Can Wait

Stars:  Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry,

Directors:  Warren Beatty & Buck Henry
Producer:  Warren Beatty
Released:  Paramount 1978

Story:  A 'mistake'  causes Los Angeles Rams quarterback to die 'accidentally,' so he is made to come back to life in the body of a recently-murdered millionaire.

Efficiency and economy are the key words for the music in “Heaven Can Wait.”  One all-purpose theme comprised of a tender and romantic opening element  segueing into a jaunty section.  Love theme plus something to accompany more lively scenes all in one.

Moreover, music is used extremely sparingly in the film.  There is none under the main titles, and on many occasions where one might expect something to heighten the dramatic effect, music is absent.

So, one single theme used minimally , a little Handel and some marches over football sequences, and for this, ironically,  Dave Grusin received his very first Academy Award nomination after a decade of turning out complex and lengthy scores.  The composer describes it as "a crazy, off-the-wall kind of score," and says that he quite enjoyed doing it.

In itself, the dual-purpose theme is a clever invention, and truly does represent one of Dave Grusin's most attractive film compositions.  A further imaginative approach is the use of the soprano saxophone (which main character, Joe, plays in the film) used as the leading instrument.

The thrifty employment of music, especially when it includes an absence of theme over main titles, may be laid at the doorstep of the film maker rather than the scorer, so any comment of its use in “Heaven Can Wait” cannot automatically be directed at the composer.  It was Warren Beatty's directorial debut (chores shared with writer Buck Henry), and this may account for the unusual approach.

One might have expected some dramatic music to warn of the crash in the tunnel or something supernatural in quality to indicate the other worldly location of the `way station.'

In psychological moments too, when music would have given an indication of what is not shown on screen (as in the above situations) there appears to be a definite effort to avoid musical clichés. These include the instant when Joe realizes he may really be dead, as well as the early meetings between Betty and `Farnsworth,' where music could have indicated an undercurrent of affection in the outwardly hostile and neutral situations.

Two other instances when romantic or sentimental underscoring could have enhanced the drama are their conversation in the garden and that at the stadium, and particularly leading up to that encounter.  Also, the locker room scene, one of the most touching in the film would seem to have begged music leading into it and playing it out.

Supposedly, a love theme for the film was originally written by Paul McCartney.  “Did We Meet Somewhere Before” - which also uses soprano saxophone prominently - was replaced by Dave Grusin's theme.  Perhaps like “Reds,” this may be another case of his intervening in/rescuing a Warren Beatty film someone else had begun.  Possibly a second reason for the limited amount of music in the final cut.

The theme from “Heaven Can Wait” has been released as sheet
music, and can be heard on the album “Cinemagic.”

Music Editor:  Milton Lustig

Soundtrack Album:  none
Running Time:  143  minutes

Music Time:  (approx) 17 minutes

Dave Grusin
Feature Films


(times approximate)

Cue Starts
Cue Ends

Source Music - a few notes of soprano saxophone off key.

First music in film  Marching band music as Joe first runs, then cycles after learning that he will be starting quarterback in next game.  Music fades out as car is about to enter tunnel.

A second after light appears at the end of the tunnel just after crash, main theme begins sentimentally, starts to open up and ends suddenly with lightning bolt bringing scene to way station.

Notes of soprano saxophone

Organ plays during cemetery sequence denoting  reverence.  Stops as they return to way station

Circus music to accompany tightrope walker segues into main theme for discussion at way station.  Ends abruptly as scene changes to race track

Theme starts at way station and builds expectantly, as scene moves to Farnsworth front door and then living room.

Love theme is established when Betty appears, but  doesn't start until we realize Joe is aware of her.  He is confused.  Music stops as action begins again.

Love theme as Joe considers whether to become Farnsworth.  Music indicates that Betty is influencing his decision to do this.  Theme builds as camera focuses on Betty.  His decision made, music stops.  He is now Farnsworth.

Source music - As wife and Abbot converse, saxophone can be heard playing nearby, indicating 'presence
of 'Farnsworth.'

Source Music - Joe plays saxophone in bed

Farnsworth departs for board meeting, and saxophone begins jaunty main theme up to arrival

Stunning boardroom speech punctuated by return of jaunty theme as helicopter departs - ending with explosion of cannon

They go out to eat, and jivey source music plays on and off to indicate bustling take away - counterbalanced by no music in scenes inside their car ...
segueing into next cue

Betty realizes 'Joe's' true identity in his eyes, and Joe's realization that he is in love is indicated by love theme beginning delicately with piano, then strings. Full orchestra opens up theme as he takes her home, emphasizing their mutual understanding.

As he turns to go, love theme starts again hopefully.  She looks at him, but romantic theme ends on perplexed note as he returns home.

Source music - Joe plays saxophone to convince Max of his identity.

Cannon sets off Hadyn as Joe trains in garden. Music stops suddenly several times for comments from coach

Haydn plays as Joe completes successful passes

As Betty and Joe chat separately with others in garden, romantic theme plays, cut by a stinger of danger as house is  shown, indicating presence of murderers.  Music becomes more lively as garden is seen from aerial view  - showing them meeting.  Wide shots as they walk together accompanied by music at a less lively tempo as their voices are barely heard here and there.  Strings build to a more romantic mood, then stop somewhat abruptly as they are picked up in conversation.
As Betty and Joe say goodbye, love theme plays gently at first, then becomes stronger with piano and strings. It ends abruptly as she leaves and  Jordan appears

Joe emerges in tracksuit from well to shimmering strings to denote his 'heavenly' state. Main theme then played with a metronomic tempo at way station.  Music takes on a hopeful note.  It returns to the ominous and tense metronomic interpretation of main theme as they search for Farnsworth.  Cue ends suddenly on upbeat note as Betty is at the phone.

Marching band source music from stadium as coach  fires up team with pre-game speech.

Marching band music resumes as clothing is discovered at the house, and wife screams.  Scene cuts to sky as music volume increases and Joe assumes Tom's body in the stadium.  Cue ends back at house as Max realizes quarterback on screen is Joe.
Marching band music as game ends

Main theme plays mystically over Jordan's farewell to Joe .
Coach asks Tom to look at him and saxophone plays main theme very slowly as Max realizes Tom is no longer Joe, while Tom shows sympathy
(End Titles)

Love theme plays as Betty realizes quarterback is 'Farnsworth.' Music moves into jaunty theme as they walk into the stadium together while closing titles begin to run.  As lights go out in the stadium, romantic theme with strings takes over a minute, then returns to jaunty theme again.  Theme continues to play after screen has gone black

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