The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Dir: Henry Koster
Stars: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven and Monty Woolley
This title will be the third of four titles I’ll cover this holiday season in the spirit of Christmas: and a great title it is! I was lucky enough to catch this on TCM: Robert Osbourne introduced the film and explained what immense detail the legendary producer Samuel Goldwyn injected into this project. The Bishop’s house apparently didn’t look “Bishop-y” enough for Sam: so, he shut down production so he could have another one built right! Three weeks into production, the film just didn’t have the pizzazz Goldwyn wanted: so, he sacked the director, hired Koster and went to work again! No matter the cost, Goldwyn wanted this picture done properly – and the results reflect this attention to detail.
For those who haven’t seen it, let me briefly review the storyline. The Bishop, played with splendid “straight man” minimalism by David Niven, is in trouble. He’s been appointed Bishop by political powers that be in the community. The promotion means several things all at once: it means much less time with his lovely wife Julia (Loretta Young), no time for old friends like Professor Wutheridge (the incredibly gifted in voice, Monty Woolley) and by the way, he has to get construction on a new Cathedral underway just as soon as possible! It’s a tough task, particularly with everyone’s pocketbooks strained as they are. So, Bishop Henry Brougham (pronounced BROHM) does the right thing: he prays about it! And here comes the fly in the soup, the stone in the shoe, the glitter on your hands from a Christmas card – Henry’s prayer is actually answered! In the form of an angel – Cary Grant.
Halfway through the movie, you can kind of tell what ol’ Henry’s thinking: “Really, Lord? I pray for help with a cathedral and you send Cary Grant to woo my wife while I slave away trying to get this monstrosity built!!?? What kind of answer to a prayer is that??” But how relatable is this predicament that we find Henry in, hmm? How many times have we wished and hoped for something that just didn’t come true? Or we got what we hoped and wished for… but not in the WAY we were hoping to receive it? I think this is part of why Bishop’s Wife works so well. Cary Grant’s angel, aptly named Dudley, tells Henry, “You didn’t pray for the Cathedral to be built, you prayed for guidance.” This line really rang true with me this year: what am I REALLY asking for? What do I really NEED as oppose to WANT… Well gee whiz, I don’t NEED anything, do I? I was speaking for Henry, of course, not myself (or was I?)…
In short, this little movie leaves you with some pretty interesting questions to reflect upon: even the Professor in the film, who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, feels this time of year is particularly fit for introspection (is that a word?). From the supporting characters like the Professor, Sylvester the cabbie and Mrs. Hamilton (the proverbial Scrooge of the film) to the mesmerizing performance from Cary Grant as Dudley the Angel, this holiday film is most entertaining in its presentation of these philosophical questions. I hope you’re able to make time for this one during this holiday season.