"The Bishop's Wife" **** (out of ****)
"The Bishop's Wife" (1947) is a Christmas time romantic comedy with a religious undertone. Watching it again, in preparation for this review, I remembered the movie differently. I thought it was much more religious. It is the only Christmas movie I can think of that actually mentions what Christmas really is - the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Growing up "The Bishop's Wife" was one of four Christmas movies we watched every year. Part of my family's own holiday tradition. The others were Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" (1947, which I have reviewed), the 1938 version of "A Christmas Carol" with Reginald Owen and "Christmas in Connecticut" (1945 which I have reviewed).
The story involves a Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) who is trying to get a new Cathedral built. But in order to do so must beg for money from wealthy families, which have ulterior motives. His work also keeps him from spending more time with his wife, Julia (Loretta Young). They argue a lot as Henry is frustrated dealing with selfish people. So, in a moment of despair Henry prays and ask God for guidance. Should he move forward with the Cathedral? Will it ever be built? His prayer is answered. An angel descends from Heaven (Cary Grant) to help Henry.
At first Henry, ironically, doesn't believe the man is an angel. But slowly, Dudley (Grant) as he is eventually called, begins to convince him. Along the way though Dudley ends up falling in love with Julia.
And that's really what "The Bishop's Wife" wants to be. A romantic comedy. A jealous husband suspects his wife is having an affair with an angel, unknown to her of course. In theory it is a funny concept but the movie throw in some religious discussions and it in told during the Christmas holiday.
One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Dudley tells Henry's daughter the story of David, from Psalm 23 which goes "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want", hopefully you know the rest. I love the scene so much because it is a "feel good" moment. The child is so interested in the story and soon Henry and Julia are too. It is a beautiful story and the movie finds ways to insert humor as Dudley ever so gently tries to tell Henry what his intentions are.
But there are some truly funny comedic situations which are set-up. They involve an old friend of Henry and Julia, Prof. Wutheridge (Monty Woolley). Dudley tries to convince him they have met before. In another scene Dudley uses his power to constantly refill the professor's glass of port. And in other scenes Dudley keeps Henry out of the picture so he and Julia can spend more time together.
In some ways if I think about this story long enough the set-up seems a little awkward. It doesn't seem right to have an angel fall in love with a married woman.
The movie was directed by Henry Koster who also directed the Danny Kaye comedy "The Inspector General: (1949), a pair of Betty Grable musicals; "Wabash Avenue" (1950) and "My Blue Heaven" (1950), though he might be best known for the movies he directed Jimmy Stewart in; "Harvey" (1950) and "Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation" (1962).
"The Bishop's Wife" was nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) and won one for Best Sound. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to "A Gentleman's Agreement" (1947). Another Christmas themed movie was nominated that year in the Best Picture race as well, "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947).
"The Bishop's Wife" has a fine cast, sweet message and very good acting. How do you go wrong with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven? Plus it has some very funny moments.