Favorite Quote: Ah, I am at my most serious when I’m joking.
And here we have my final holiday movie review of the season. I wasn’t even planning on watching this one, but I started feeling under the weather Christmas evening and a cozy black and white movie seemed like the perfect medicine.
I can’t believe this is the first Cary Grant film I’m reviewing here as he is hands-down my favorite actor of all time. This film isn’t even a particular favorite of mine and yet I just melt every time he appears on screen.
The three main characters of this film are a bishop Henry (David Niven), his wife Julia (Loretta Young) and Dudley, an angel who has come to answer their prayers. Henry is struggling to raise the funds for a grand, new cathedral and, as such, is overworked, frustrated, and sorely neglecting his little family. Dudley arrives on the scene and offers to help. Of course, the help Dudley has in mind isn’t quite the help Henry believes he wants or needs. Another little complication occurs when it becomes clear to everyone that Dudley is falling in love with Julia. It all works out in the end, but I’ll leave it to you to discover on your own.
It’s a sweet, if not super groundbreaking story. It lacks the nuance and stronger storytelling of a somewhat similar, but much better film – It’s a Wonderful Life – which I reviewed in effusive detail just a few days ago. Still, The Bishop’s Wife has some great moments and a a stellar cast.
David Niven and Cary Grant were actually originally slated to play each other’s roles. Grant showed up and demanded that he play the part of Dudley and the rest is history.
I read that Niven was a little miffed at the change, but really they’re both perfect in their roles. Sadly, David Niven had just experience a great personal tragedy prior to filming and I think this must have bled into his performance because he’s utterly convincing as a deeply troubled man.
And let’s be real, no one could play a devastatingly debonair angel like Cary Grant – not even Denzel! I love fiction that allows heavenly creatures to have the same passions and flaws that we humans possess.
Loretta Young plays Julia and she’s pretty angelic herself. Young plays the wistful and lonely wife perfectly here. Although she’s not a golden age era actress that I think of often, she really was a strikingly beautiful woman. If you’re into old Hollywood scandal and gossip, you GOTS to read this.
There are also some fun appearances by a few recognizable actors in supporting roles.
Elsa Lanchester, probably best known for playing the eponymous Bride of Frankenstein, but also memorable as the cranky Katie Nanna who quits at the start of Mary Poppins and MANY other roles, plays the Bishop’s housemaid.
The little girl who famously played the adorable Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life has a larger role here as the bishop’s young daughter, Debbie.
And finally, the adorable boy who played young George Bailey (also in It’s a Wonderful Life) has a brief appearance as a serious snowball warrior.
A few more random thoughts…
I love the fashion of old movies, and mostly it’s in fairly short supply in this film. The bishop and his wife, understandably, dress pretty soberly, BUT I was completely fascinated by Julia’s little winter/snow boots. They were these totally adorable, dainty little ankle boots that she could slip off once inside to reveal her real shoes underneath. There’s even a rather shockingly intimate moment when Dudley helps her remove them.
I did a little research and to the best of knowledge they are called overshoes or, sometimes, granny galoshes. You can see a nice blog post with a good visual representation here. I’ll be honest, I kind of feel like I need a pair now. I don’t think they’d look quite so dainty on my size nines though….
Also, a stylish little hat plays a fairly prominent role in the movie. I truly pine for the tradition of women and men regularly wearing hats. I’m a plain dresser (like Julia), but I do love a smart, well-placed accessory (like Julia). The first time Dudley sees Julia, she’s silently coveting a saucy little hat in a shop window. We all want to know why this woman resist this little temptation so wistfully? Likely she believes it’s not appropriate for a Bishop’s wife. Several scenes later, Julia sees the shopkeeper taking the hat from the window, ostensibly to show to a prospective buyer. Dudley simply won’t have this and marches Julia right inside the shop and thus unfolds one of the cutest and funniest moments of the film.
All in all, this is a a fun film for the holidays or anytime really. It’s a bit religious, although less so than the title and plot might lead one to expect, but it still has a nice message that how we behave and treat our fellow humans matters far more than appearances.
Title: The Bishop’s Wife – 1947 (also sometimes called ‘Cary and the Bishop’s Wife’ in an attempt to make the film seem less religious and more appealing to a mass audience)
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars