Oscar Vault Monday – The Bishop’s Wife, 1947 (dir. Henry Koster)
A lot of quality classic films that revolve around Christmas unfairly get overlooked as simply a seasonal film, worth pulling out in December only. This is something I hate to see, because a lot of these classic films are such wonderful, timeless films that deserve much more attention than they often receive. Case in point: The Bishop’s Wife. At the time of its release it was nominated for multiple Oscars and widely revered, now it’s mostly only talked about at Christmastime. I suppose by writing about it in December, I’m doing exactly the same thing. Oh well. I love this film. For the longest time it was my favorite Cary Grant film (it’s still in my Top 5) and is endlessly watchable. Like I said earlier, it was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one: Best Sound (won), Best Score, Best Film Editing and Best Picture. It was up against Crossfire, Great Expectations, Miracle on 34th Street (another Christmas-themed film) and winner Gentleman’s Agreement.
Apparently, David Niven was originally cast as Dudley the angel , with Dana Andrews as the bishop and Teresa Wright as the titular wife. When Wright became pregnant she left the production. Andrews was then lent to RKO in exchange for Loretta Young. When Cary Grant was brought in he decided he wanted to play the angel and the role of the bishop then went to Niven. Did you follow that? I can kind of see Teresa Wright as the wife, but I do not think Niven would have worked as the Dudley. Regardless of how the cast came to be, I’m glad it did. The three main stars have such great chemistry with each other and each play their roles to perfection.
Cary Grant is at his absolutely most charming as Dudley, an angel who at first comes to aid Bishop Brougham (Niven), but eventually finds himself attracted to his wife Julia (Young). Essentially, Grant plays the romantic lead, but with a bit of a twist. He is the definition of suave in this role. I feel like if all angels were as dashing and charming as Grant, a lot more good could get done. Grant, who at the time had been twice nominated by the Academy (for 1941’s Penny Serenade and 1944’s None But the Lonely Heart) was not nominated for this performance. In fact, only one of the Best Actor nominations that year came from one of the five Best Picture nominees – Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement; the winner wound up being Ronald Colman in A Double Life.
Loretta Young practically glows as devoted, yet neglected, wife Julia. She is equal parts shyness and strength. Although she clearly enjoys the attention she receives from Dudley, the love she has for her husband never wavers and Young makes that clear throughout the film. Although she was not nominated for this role, Young was nominated for Best Actress that year – and won the award – for her performance in The Farmer’s Daughter.
David Niven is wonderful as workaholic Bishop Brougham, whose concern for the building of a new cathedral as all but taken over is life. When Dudley arrives, Brougham is the only one who knows he’s an angel and when Dudley begins to become attracted to his wife he becomes jealous, and rightly so. Niven is so good at playing up the “stiff upper lip” stereotype, I can’t imagine him in any role but this one in this film. Like his fellow co-stars, Niven was not nominated for this performance, and in fact had to wait a good ten years for his one (and only) Oscar nomination – for 1958’s Separate Table; he won the award.
I couldn’t not include at least one picture of the beautifully decorated Christmas tree featured in this film. Just look at that tinsel! Although I’d like this film to get more recognition as a timeless classic that is fun to watch any time of the year, at the very least I’d hope I convinced someone to give it a watch this Christmas season. You won’t regret it, I promise.
If you’re interested in purchasing this film, you can do so here.