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The Bishop's Wife

Episcopalian Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) is planning to build a new cathedral in Manhattan, but religious devotion is one thing — raising money is quite another. Henry has been appealing to wealthy widow Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) for funds, but the spinster sees the new cathedral as a personal monument to her late husband, not God. Henry's current church is suffering from disrepair and neglect as well. And during it all, Henry has grown distant from his loving, loyal wife Julia (Loretta Young), who wants her driven husband to find a balance between his ministerial duties and his family's needs at home. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), a charming fellow who also happens to be an Angel, arriving after Henry offers up a prayer for guidance. But Dudley's guidance, which is both enigmatic and unconventional, doesn't seem to be what Henry was looking for at all. As Hollywood legend has it, David Niven was originally cast in 1947's The Bishop's Wife as the impish Dudley, while Grant was to play Henry, but the two actors arranged to trade roles. It's fun to wonder how the film would have turned out with the original casting — Grant's Bishop Henry could've had delivered apoplectic fits similar to his harried turn in Arsenic and Old Lace. But in any event the opportunity for screwball antics was downplayed, and The Bishop's Wife trades outright comedy for subtle, sustained charm (with uncredited script-doctoring from Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett). Grant, Niven, and Young play each part to perfection, as Dudley works his magic, Henry grows more and more exasperated by his new "assistant," and Julia can only wonder who the mysterious stranger really is. A small charmer from Hollywood's golden era, and always worth a spin at Christmas. Remade as The Preacher's Wife in 1996. Good transfer in the original full-frame (1.33:1) from a black-and-white print that has only minimal damage but at times too much contrast. Dolby 2.0 (mono). Trailer, keep-case.

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