Sunday, June 26, 2016

TODAY'S COZY: The Bishop Misbehaves (1935)

Frederick Jackson's play The Bishop Misbehaves was a Broadway hit in 1935 starring Walter Connolly (It Happened One Night) as the Bishop and Jane Wyatt (Lost Horizon) and Alan Marshall (After the Thin Man) as the young leads.  It was the tenth of twelve plays Mr. Jackson had on Broadway dating back to 1915.  The mix of entertainments include comedies, musicals, dramas and whodunnits.  The Bishop Misbehaves premiered in London in 1934 and was not considered a hit.  It wasn't until the move to New York that the play found its audience ready for some light-hearted fun.

MGM filmed the property also in 1935 with the screenplay adapted by Leon Gordon (A Yank at Oxford).  Frederick Jackson has 49 films to his credit, some adaptions of his own plays and novels, from 1916 to 1946.  Stormy Weather, Wells Fargo and The Hole in the Wall are some of his credits.  The movie was directed by German silent film director E.A. Dupont whose career faltered in the sound era and found him working in Hollywood on second tier pictures.

Lucile Watson, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edmund Gwenn

Edmund Gwenn is as twinkly as all get out as The Bishop of Broadminster, 40 years in the service of the Church and beyond that solely and entirely addicted to mystery stories.  In all his life he has thirsted for adventure and never encountered one.  Not one!  Neither has his sister Lady Emily played by Lucile Watson.  I have seen Lucile Watson as a font of practical wisdom in The Women, and imperious as a dictator in My Reputation.  It is for that imperious mien that she is most well remembered.  Though I have never doubted her range, I also have never before seen her play whimsical.  Yet there she is in The Bishop Misbehaves almost out-twinkling Edmund Gwenn!  She is as excited about the evening's adventure as her brother.  Only Etienne Girardot (The Whole Town's Talking) as their manservant Brooke is dubious about involvement in the case, and his worrying and clucking steals the movie.  That was his way.

But just what is this mystery/adventure you ask?  It is a convoluted piece of business involving the rich Guy Waller played by Reginald Owen (Mary Poppins) who swindled a poor inventor Mr. Grantham played by Ivan Simpson (The Male Animal) out of his rightful earnings.  The inventor's devoted daughter Hester played by Maureen O'Sullivan (Pride and Prejudice) comes up with a plan to right this horrible wrong.  Her plan involves robbery and the assistance of some rather shady characters played by Dudley Digges (The Maltese Falcon), Robert Greig (The Lady Eve), Melville Cooper (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Charles McNaughton (Treasure Island).

Norman Foster, Maureen O'Sullivan

Miss Grantham decides to hedge her bets when she meets an American on holiday Donald Meadows played by Norman Foster (Skyscraper Souls).  When he mentions he is from Chicago her eyes light up.  Of course, he must be connected to gangsters and will be just the sort needed for the big job.  Donald's eyes are lighting up as well, but it is the light of love.  Hester is the sort of girl one runs into in Wodehouse novels, slightly manic, but very pretty and not averse to quick engagements.  In no time at all (let's not waste time on it after all), the two are a couple and their plan to trap Mr. Waller is well underway.  The unexpected appearance of the meddling Bishop of Broadminster and Lady Emily on the scene changes events considerably and we are off to the races.

Said races involve double-crosses, locked rooms, cut wires and black eyes.  They also involve a trip to the Limehouse District with everything thrown in from docks, opium dens and Missions.  The movie lags in some spots, but thanks to the uniformly excellent cast, overall I found it frightfully amusing and, as a mystery fan, the Bishop's obsession hit close to home.  Also, as a mystery fan, the final scene is filled with melancholy, although I understand the play ends on a more cheering note.


1951 British TV - Denys Blakelock and Mary Jerrold, Rona Anderson and Ronald Howard
1951 American TV - Walter Hampden and Dorothy Gish
1952 American TV - Gene Lockhart and Alice Pearce
1954 American TV - Bramwell Fletcher and Nydia Westman

1952 radio, Theatre Guild on the Air - Charles Laughton and Josephine Hull


  1. With a title like that, I expected something a bit... naughtier. :-p

    1. Didn't we all!

      The poor old Bishop felt bad enough for a multitude of sins beyond meddling.

  2. I've never seen this one, which indeed sounds "frightfully amusing." Hey, I did just watch Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O'Sullivan as father-daughter in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.

    1. As perfect as Gwenn is as Mr. Bennett, he is equally perfect as the Bishop. He's one of those guys who always seems so suited to whatever role he is playing.


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