Each week for Wicked Wednesdays, I like to share something that I love, virtues as well as vices. Today, given that we are well in the midst of the holiday season, I’d like to talk about my favorite Christmas film: Samuel Goldwyn’s 1947 classic, The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. There are many wonderful Christmas movies from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood (Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn), but I think this is one of the unsung classics from the period.
The film tells the story of Henry Brougham, a cold-hearted bishop (Niven) too blinded by ambition to pay attention to his wife (Young), their daughter, or the people who have supported him. His goal — to build a glorious cathedral — consumes all of his passion and energy, and distracts him from his faith in god and everyone around him. In a form of “divine intervention,” an angel (Grant) is sent to restore the bishop’s faith, and set him back on the right path.
If the storyline sounds somewhat familiar, that may be because it was remade in 1996 as The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. In my opinion, the remake was only so-so (although Denzel is mighty fine to look at). As with so many movies, there is nothing like the original.
There’s so much to love about The Bishop’s Wife. For starters, the cast is phenomenal — the leading actors bring quite a bit of star power with them, and the supporting cast, including Monty Wooley, Elsa Lanchester, and Gladys Cooper, add to the magic. Cooper is particularly memorable as the icy, materialistic Mrs. Hamilton, the wealthy widow who is helping the bishop to finance the cathedral, but who insists on using her financial contribution to micro-manage the project and control the bishop. Even better is the script, which manages to be funny and heart-warming all at once, without slipping into overly-saccharine sappiness.
Of course, it is Cary Grant who steals my heart, and given the strength of the cast, that’s saying a lot. As Dudley, Grant is his usual suave, debonair self, inserting himself into the bishop’s household with easy grace and a twinkling smile. In many ways, Dudley reminds me of a male Mary Poppins, emerging out of nowhere to brighten the lives of everyone around him. In the opening scenes alone, he rescues a baby in a runaway stroller and helps a blind man cross the street, and the good deeds continue throughout the film.
A bit of eyecandy, because I cannot resist:
As an angel, Dudley also helps to restore the faith of those around him. One wonderful example comes about half-way through the movie, with his story about divine inspiration and Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
For those of you who enjoy classic Hollywood, I highly recommend watching this film. It is filled with many more gems, including the most charming ice-skating scene I’ve ever seen in my life. I could say so much more, but I’d rather not give away too many spoilers. However, I will leave you with this clip, which is probably my favorite moment in the entire movie: the performance by the real-life Mitchell’s Boys Choir, singing “O Sing To God” by French composer Charles Gounod.
What are your favorite films to watch during the holiday season?