Friday, December 13, 2019

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Bishop's Wife, 1947


Robert Nathan's (Portrait of Jennie) 1928 story The Bishop's Wife became the movie project of independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, and a costly one. Originally cast with Teresa Wright, Cary Grant as the Bishop and David Niven as the Angel, and directed by William Seiter (If You Could Only Cook), Goldwyn decided to make changes when he was less than pleased with the first few weeks of shooting. Henry Koster (Harvey) became the director, Loretta Young was borrowed from RKO to replace a pregnant Teresa Wright, and Cary became the Angel and David, the Bishop.

The exemplary leading players are supported by the talented Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Monty Woolley, Sara Haden, James Gleason, Regis Toomey, and Isabel Jewell.


Nathan's novel was of a darker tinge than the film, urging the reader to consider matters of theology and spirituality in the midst of the weight of a post-industrial era and a rapidly changing civilization. The Robert E. Sherwood screenplay, uncredited rewrites by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, handles these issues in a mostly lighter manner with the hint of strangely comforting melancholy.

David Niven

Episcopalian Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) has risen quickly in his career thanks to the backing of the wealthy Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) who desires the building of a cathedral dedicated to the memory of her late husband. The work of raising funds for the project adds to Henry's worries and takes time away from his wife and daughter. He prays for guidance and assistance.

Loretta Young

Julia Brougham (Loretta Young) is a supportive wife but feels the pang of the fun and friendships that have gone out of their lives since leaving their old and poorer parish. She is lonely for the old times and friends and worn out from the endless round of boring committees. She prays for guidance and assistance.

Cary Grant

Dudley (Cary Grant) is the Heavenly answer to their prayers. "I'm not one of the more important angels. I just happen to be assigned to this district temporarily. You see, we're everywhere, helping people who deserve to be helped."

Dudley, the immortal trouble-shooter must divine the difference between what these people in his care think they want and what they truly need. "I didn't come down here to do silly tricks" is Dudley's response to Henry's request for a miracle, for example, make a desk fly around the room.

Henry must find a balance between his professional and personal obligations, as well as get himself out from the debt of political favour owed Mrs. Hamilton. Julia must not despair in her efforts to maintain a happy family.

Dudley has a fun-loving side that is evident when he and Julia visit the Brougham's friend, Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley). There is no other way to describe the "miracle" of the constantly refilling bottle of wine. The Professor will be comforted by Dudley's promise that he will have time to complete his history of Rome. Yes, it is at the close of the year that while we rejoice in the comforts of the holiday, our minds also go to questions of mortality.


A meeting between Henry and Mrs. Hamilton is filled with subtle slapstick. You may not think those words go together appropriately, yet there is no other way to describe the delights of David Niven stuck in a chair and Gladys Cooper's attempts to help. This amusing scene is followed by the Mitchell Boychoir and their glorious singing of Charles Gounod's Noel. We are expertly led from amusement to the lump-in-the-throat thrill of music.

Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young

Dudley performs his minor (if minor they be) miracles of tree decorating and index file organizing, and snowball throwing. However, his main business is reminding these people, Mrs. Hamilton included, of the truly important things in their lives; their relationships. What they do with these reminders, such as Henry's jealousy of Julia and Dudley's closeness, is entirely up to them.

Dudley: "I know it isn't easy but you've got to take me on faith."
Henry: "Yes, but for how long?"
Dudley: "For just long enough. Until you can utter another prayer and say that you have no further need of me. Then I'll be gone and forgotten."

Yes, Dudley will be forgotten as life continues for those for whom he has given an immeasurable Christmas gift.

The Bishop's Wife as traditional holiday viewing has become dearer to me with the passing years. May you enjoy it by the lights of your tree, with a loved one, with your memories, and an ever-refilling bottle of wine.


Classic Christmas movie connection:



It's a Wonderful Life, 1946 cast members featured in The Bishop's Wife, 1947 include Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey/Debby Brougham), Robert J. Anderson (young George Bailey/Captain of the Opposition Snowballers), and Sarah Edwards (Mrs. Hatch, Mary's mother/Mrs. Duffy, the organist).












29 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite movies, too! It's delightful to watch any time of years, but around Christmas is best, of course. It might be OK with the original casting choices, but it's the perfect with the final results. Loretta Young is radiant as David Niven's wife. Cary gives one of his best performances. It's easy to overlook David Niven since he's absent from the central portion of the film. But his role is probably the most difficult and he pulls it off wonderfully.

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    1. I agree. This year, I paid more attention to follow David Niven and I would like to give him a huge pat on the back for his work here.

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  2. Wilder and Brackett worked on this screenplay? I wonder what they contributed. Wilder doesn’t mention it in his book with Cameron Crowe, so I’m thinking maybe very little made the theatrical cut.

    It’s a pleasant movie, definitely one of the better Christmas movies. Maybe I’ll watch it again.

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    1. So many movies, just by their presence, bring that nostalgic feeling of Christmas. The Bishop's Wife is able to do that for me with little effort. It's like an old friend; you know what they are going to say and vice versa.

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  3. DAVID NIVEN-he worked with two of my favorite actresses. GINGER ROGERS in BACHELOR MOTHER and DORIS DAY in PLEASE DONT EAT THE DAISIES. Did you see the DISNEY movie NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN? Besides David, it had DON KNOTTS, DARREN MCGAVIN, BARBARA FELDON, KIM RICHARDS and BRAD SAVAGE.

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    1. I don't recall No Deposit, No Return and that surprises me as I would enjoy that cast.

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  4. GLADYS COOPER also worked with GINGER ROGERS. She played her wealthy mother-in-law in KITTY FOYLE. Ginger won the ACADEMY AWARD for that movie. The movie also had DENNIS MORGAN as the husband to Ginger and the son to Gladys.

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    1. Gladys Cooper was a legendary beauty in her day and her career is fascinating. One of my favourite of her movie roles is as Greer Garson's daughter in Mrs. Parkington.

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  5. I confess, The Bishop's Wife is one movie I've never been able to warm up to. I think because it gets too cutesy for my tastes, especially with Cary Grant's performance as the Angel. I don't know how it would have worked with the original casting, with Grant as the Bishop and David Niven as the Angel; I wonder if the original director, Seiter, was closer to the darker tone of the story and that's why he was replaced. But the section with the boys' choir is lovely, and Monty Woolley's crustiness is always welcome.

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    1. I hear you. It wasn't something I was particularly fond of at one time, but the years have done something to the both of us.

      It is amazing to me how many favourites were directed by Seiter, from Sons of the Desert to Roberta to If Only You Could Cook.

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  6. What are your favorite DAVID NIVEN and CARY GRANT movies?

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    1. Niven faves include: A Matter of Life and Death, The Prisoner of Zenda, Separate Tables, Death on the Nile, The Guns of Navarone, Enchantment, Bachelor Mother, and Dawn Patrol.

      Grant faves include: His Girl Friday, Father Goose, North by Northwest, Suspicion, Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business, Penny Serenade, and Holiday.

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  7. KATHY KERSH is 77 today. She guest-starred on 4 episodes of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES in 1964. She played MARIAN BILLINGTON, a caterer. At first the hillbillies thought HER name was BEVERLY CATERER. She was married to VINCE EDWARDS in 1965 and BURT WARD from 1967 to 1969. She had guest-starred on BEN CASEY(starring Vince) and two eps of BATMAN(that had Burt as ROBIN/DICK GRAYSON). The Batman eps had CAESAR ROMERO as the JOKER.

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    1. Interesting. I have a vague memory of the Hillbillies episodes.

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  8. Wait a minute. Wilder and Brackett worked on this screenplay? No way! You've inspired me to read the novel, and I'll be searching for it at the library.

    I loved your observation: "strangely comforting melancholy". So true.

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    1. Our libraries can surprise is with the stuff they have hidden away.

      Somehow, I felt you would appreciate that observation.

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  9. Speaking of BATMAN earlier JOAN STALEY, who guest-starred on that show as OKIE ANNIE, died on Nov. 24 at the age of 79. She was in two eps with CLIFF ROBERTSON who was the guest villain SHAME. Miss Staley is probably best known for her role as ALMA in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN which starred DON KNOTTS. Earlier she had a small part in ROUSTABOUT with ELVIS PRESLEY. She played a waitress in the beginning of the movie. She worked at an establishment run by the character played by JACK ALBERTSON. CHARLIE(Elvis) worked there until he was fired because of a run-in with a customer. Joan also played a waitress in a scene with BOB MITCHUM in CAPE FEAR. These all came out in the 60s.

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    1. My first association with Joan Staley is all of those WB television series and, naturally, Perry Mason.

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  10. According to imdb REGIS TOOMEY played a detective on BURKES LAW and he guest-starred as a detective on an ep of THE DAVID NIVEN SHOW(1959). One thing that I saw him in was CHANGE OF HABIT which was the last movie that Elvis did. Mr. Toomey played FATHER GIBBONS. MARY TYLER MOORE was the leading lady. She played a nun named MICHELLE. P.S. Speaking of Mary I want to mention that Joan Staley did an ep of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW where Laura(Mary) was jealous of a movie star VALERIE BLAKE played by Joan. Do you still watch The Dick Van Dyke Show? By the way, Dick turned 94 Fri. Dec. 13!

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    1. Regis Toomey is a favourite of mine and was a friend of Dick Powell, the founder of Four Star which produced Burke's Law.

      When we have time, we try to fit in The Dick Van Dyke Show. It is a family favourite.

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  11. What are your favorite movies and shows that REGIS TOOMEY was in?

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    1. Regis Toomey seemed to be on TV all the time while I was growing up.

      A few fave movies: Guys and Dolls, The Tall Target, Cry Danger, Station West, The Big Sleep, Union Pacific (his name was Paddy), and 1930s stuff like Under Eighteen.

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  12. Some of the HENRY KOSTER-directed movies that I know are MR. BELVEDERE RINGS THE BELL(I remember that your daughter likes that one) and ELOPEMENT. They both star CLIFTON WEBB. Mr. Koster directed JIMMY STEWART in at least three movies including MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION which also had MAUREEN OHARA, MARIE WILSON and JOHN SAXON.

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    1. Henry Koster favourites include Harvey, No Highway in the Sky, Three Smart Girls, The Unfinished Dance, Good Morning Miss Dove, It Started With Eve, Two Girls from Boston, Flower Drum Song and Come to the Stable. He had a lovely and entertaining way with a movie.

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  13. The Bishop's Wife has been one of my all time favourite Christmas movies ever since I first saw it in the Nineties. It has a simply incredible cast even beyond the leads, including Monty Wooley and Elsa Lanchester!

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    1. You realized what a gem it is at the beginning. It took me years to truly warm up to it and now it is a part of my Christmas.

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  14. Earlier I was going to mention COME TO THE STABLE. I haven't seen it but CELESTE HOLM is in it. Im a big fan of Celeste. She did the voice of ADDIE in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES. Some other things I know her from are THE TENDER TRAP(she was really good in that movie), GENTLEMANS AGREEMENT and the show PROMISED LAND(1996-99) where she played the mother to GERALD MCRANEY. She was in a few episodes of ARCHIE BUNKERS PLACE with CARROLL OCONNOR. She played the grandmother of STEPHANIE(DANIELLE BRISEBOIS). In the episode where she tries to get custody of the girl she and ARCHIE go to court and the judge is played by LLOYD NOLAN. Did you watch ARCHIE BUNKERS PLACE? It had MARTIN BALSAM and ANNE MEARA who I became fans of too.

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    1. I meant I became A FAN OF BOTH Balsam and Meara.

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    2. I can't say I ever watched Archie Bunker's Place. I had given up on All in the Family when "Edith" died.

      However, I have seen many films with Celeste Holm and have her on the Original Broadway Cast album of Oklahoma!

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