Most romantic film #56: The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This is the last week in October, and the end of the Cary Grant romantic film festival, so to speak. This week, I’m setting you up with a favorite Christmas fim, The Bishop’s Wife, starring Grant with Loretta Young and David Niven (hmm, a sort of menage film… how did that happen, she says innocently!).

In this romantic film, Niven is the bishop of the title, a preacher stuck in a struggling parish and married to Young. Our bishop is obsessed with all the wrong things, like building a new cathedral and catering to the whims of the rich widow who says she’ll donate $$ for the building. For the glory of God.

But God sends an angel — Dudley, played by Grant (of course!) — to show Henry (Niven) the right path. And not only about the cathedral. Henry neglects his beautiful young wife and little girl as well as his parishoners.

In steps Dudley.

The charm here is the triangle between Niven, Young and Grant. First, Niven is a witty, sharp actor himself, a match for Grant in many ways. His portrayal of the clueless bishop, who suddenly notices his wife once Grant makes her perk up, is smack on target and funny. In most of his films, Niven plays the sophisticated lover: the switch here shows his versatility and reminds the viewer about this less familiar actor.

He also wrote one of the great memoirs of Hollywood’s Golden Era, The Moon is a Balloon (1972) — equally as witty, outrageous and charming as its author. And as racy as Hollywood.

Young, too, is good here, as the neglected, loving wife suddenly surprised by the attentions of another man — an angel as gorgeous, charming and insightful as Grant.

In fact, Grant’s role as the charismatic angel is a bit of a turn for Grant, too: he doesn’t get the girl, of course, because he is an angel… but he is enough of a human to yearn for what Henry is neglecting. A perfect angel envying a flawed man.

If this sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve seen the remake, titled The Preacher’s Wife (1996), starring Denzel Washington as the angel (also named Dudley), Whitney Houston in Young’s role of the neglected wife Julia, and Courtney B. Vance as the preacher Henry. Again, this triangle is well-cast and the story is an interesting combination of Christmas message and sexy threesome.

Oh, yeah, Denzel.

BTW, Houston won a Best Actress Oscar for this role.

The shout out from a previous favorite this week is Charade, #7, the sharply witty thriller from Stanley Donen starring Grant and Audrey Hepburn. And yes, it’s set in Paris, which I love. Grant plays a sophisticated charmer, this one a bit shady and dangerous (yet again) but hey, he’s so funny and romantic and fabulous wtih Hepburn we’re not sure we care if he is a cold-blooded killler…. maybe.


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