Cary Grant evolved into a classic cinema star, often collaborating with director Alfred Hitchcock. Grant’s 1947 film “The Bishop’s Wife” saw a more mellow role, and offered the charismatic actor an opportunity to shine. A touching story, the well-acted Christmas classic is every bit as charming today as its release.
Struggling Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) prays for spiritual assistance while working to gain financial backing for a new cathedral. Lo and behold, his prayers are answered when courteous angel Dudley (Cary Grant) appears moments later. He introduces himself himself to Henry, and proceeds about his mission. Dudley’s goal is not, however, funding the church but rather helping the Bishop better connect with those around him. Constructing the new cathedral has overshadowed Henry’s connection with his wife Julia (Loretta Young), and his daughters.
Unfortunately, Henry does not appreciate Dudley’s presence nearly as much as those around him, notably Julia. The couple’s secular friend Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley) takes a liking to the amicable angel. Dudley fails to endear himself to the distraught Bishop when he convinces parishioners to donate money for the less fortunate, rather than the cathedral. Additionally, Dudley grows close to Julia, a source of contention with Henry.
“The Bishop’s Wife” depicts an angel coming to earth, and it’s an unconventional portrayal. This particular angel has no wings, robe, or harp, but instead appears as a suave gentleman. Further breaking the mold, Dudley the angel doesn’t fulfill the good Bishop’s prayer, at least directly. On the surface, he seems to undermine Henry’s wishes, but ultimately he guides the Bishop to the understanding of his true desires.
The 1947 holiday movie benefits from strong acting, led by David Niven, Cary Grant, and Loretta Young. Grant and Young share wonderful chemistry, and it’s abundantly clear that Dudley develops romantic feelings for Julia, even without acknowledging it directly. Niven plays the downtrodden clergyman impeccably, lending physical emotion to paint the picture. One of the most enjoyable roles comes from Professor Wutheridge, brought to life by the brilliant Monty Woolley. He’s an affable fellow, and there’s a hilarious running gag with a bottle of liquor that refills itself thanks to the power of Dudley.
A touching, comedic, and engaging flick, “The Bishop’s Wife” is worth watching just to see Cary Grant in a different role than usual. However, it’s also one of the few holiday films that doesn’t feature dancing snowmen, reindeer, or elves, a rarity among seasonal movies. 1996 saw a remake with Denzel Washington, an equally delightful depiction of the narrative. Interestingly, Washington is similarly known more for his action-oriented roles rather than angelic portrayals. Whichever version you choose, there’s no wrong pick, and there are enough differences to warrant a viewing of each.