Cinema Dilettante and Now Voyaging have teamed up to do a blogathon in honor of Academy Award-winning actress Loretta Young. Admittedly I'm not well-versed with her work (apart from the one I'll be covering, I've only seen one of her films), but I still felt like chipping in my two cents. So which of her films will I be writing about?
|(1947, dir. Henry Koster)|
The Bishop's Wife focuses on the strained relationship between Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) and his wife Julia (Young). He's trying valiantly to raise money to build a cathedral which has hampered his family life considerably. Desperate for help, he prays for guidance. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), a guardian angel.
The Bishop's Wife would've had a completely different cast, and who knows if it would be known as an essential Christmas classic? Its original director was William A. Seiter (now known for films like You Were Never Lovelier and One Touch of Venus) and the lead roles included the likes of Niven as Dudley, Teresa Wright as Julia, and Dana Andrews as Henry. Producer Samuel Goldwyn didn't like what Seiter had shot, so he hired Koster to shoot a new film. (Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were also brought in for uncredited rewrites.) Wright left the film due to her pregnancy, Andrews was lent to RKO Pictures so Goldwyn could obtain Young, and Niven swapped roles with Grant.
And who else but Grant could play a suave angel? (Though it would've been interesting to see Niven's take on the role.) Honestly, when it comes to charisma, there's no better actor for the part than Grant. (Seriously, watch his Hitchcock films to see how true that is. Okay, maybe not Suspicion.)
It must've been interesting to have the devoutly Catholic Young involved in this. (Though not otherwise stated, the characters in The Bishop's Wife are members of the Episcopal Church.) Religious aspects aside, Young proves there's more to her than that little rendezvous she had with Clark Gable. (Certainly doesn't hurt that within the same year, she did The Farmer's Daughter which earned her that aforementioned Academy Award.)
And this isn't the first time Niven has encountered angels. (The other film was A Matter of Life and Death from the year before.) Anyone familiar with Niven's work knows he had a dry wit that could rival George Sanders. (Come to think of it, that seems to be a common trait amongst various British character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age.) And boy, he delivers the wit in copious amounts here.
Long story short, The Bishop's Wife deserves the same amount of praise that other similar films like It's a Wonderful Life (released the year before) and Miracle on 34th Street (released the same year). It isn't just about regaining the holiday spirit. It's about regaining one's respect for the common man and considering the dark times we're living in, it definitely seems like the kind of film one needs to lift their spirits up.