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  Bishop's Wife, The An Ideal HusbandBuy this film here.
Year: 1947
Director: Henry Koster
Stars: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Haden, Karolyn Grimes, Tito Vuolo, Regis Toomey, Sarah Edwards, Margaret McWade, Anne O'Neal, Ben Erway, Erville Anderson, Robert J. Anderson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Dudley (Cary Grant) is walking the streets of New York City as Christmas approaches, soaking up the atmosphere as snow falls, choirs sing and people buy presents for their loved ones. Every so often he will help someone out, be they a blind man who wished to cross the street, or a young mother who when distracted doesn't notice her baby's pram has rolled away - Dudley catches it just in time. Then someone else grabs his attention, Julia (Loretta Young), who is having a conversation with a good friend of her family, Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley); he can tell she is troubled by some issue or other, partly because of her harrassed demeanour, and partly because Dudley is an angel...

One of many Hollywood movies of the nineteen-forties which took a supernatural plot device and endeavoured to make a sentimental entertainment out of it, understandable considering what a grim decade it had been and the enormous loss of life that entailed, The Bishop's Wife sought to craft a Christmas classic out of the concept. Whether that actually happened is a matter for debate, as it's always going to be some way behind It's a Wonderful Life in the lineup of movies attempting precisely what the Frank Capra work succeeded in so admirably, but there are those who have a soft spot for watching Cary Grant as a twinkly and benevolent messenger from the Almighty.

He couldn't have been better cast as his famed confidence onscreen translated perfectly to a character who was pretty much, well, perfect, so much so that everyone else in the story was second best. Dudley is there to solve a problem, and that is the troubles of Julia's family, more specifically her husband the Bishop, Henry Brougham (a stuffy David Niven) who has been weighed down with his own church's dwindling congregation which he can only see one way to remedy, and that is to accept the charity of a rich widow, Mrs Hamilton (Gladys Cooper), who is a lot less generous and a lot more self-serving than she would like to come across. She wants the cathedral she is planning as a replacement to the church to be dedicated to her late husband, as if it is their fortune the faithful are worshipping instead.

Henry is all too aware of this dilemma, but Mrs Hamilton will not listen to reason, thus he has painted himself into a corner that he knows he will regret for the rest of his life if he allows this deal to go through. Enter the angel, who shows up in his study and tells him he can solve the Bishop's problems; naturally Henry is sceptical at first, but Dudley has a habit of performing minor miracles which look suspiciously like cheap conjuring tricks - ah, the magic of cinema! - which convince the man of the cloth that he truly is the recipient of divine intervention. Only as far as everyone else is concerned, Dudley is the new assistant and very much mortal: his secret is safe with Henry although it's not one he's entirely happy about, willfully believing (but not really) that he can solve his own problems.

All this has Julia and her daughter neglected by the man of the house, but not to fear as they both now have Cary Grant to hang around with, especially Julia who essentially gets the husband she should have had during the time the angel is in her life. He gets the little girl friends, arranges the choirboys to trill better than they ever have, brightens up the Professor's life by inspiring his book writing and giving him a bottle of sherry which never runs out (suggesting if the book doesn't work out, the old gent can hit the booze for the rest of his life), and then most memorably takes Julia ice skating where in an amusingly absurd bit of business Dudley proves himself a champion skater, or Grant's stunt double did at any rate. Meanwhile Henry frets, mopes, snaps and gets his arse stuck to a chair, always the fall guy to the divine being's perfection. Only at the end does Dudley display a moment of weakness, suggesting he would be dynamite as a lover for Julia too, which is interesting but a little late in the day to be effective. As a Protestant bit of mythmaking, it was light, mild and passable. Music by Hugo Friedhofer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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