The 1947 film "The Bishop's Wife" was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, along with Best Director for Harry Koster and the film's original score and film editing...the film captured the Oscar for Best Sound. How this film managed to not receive nominations for its performances is beyond me...
I thought...No, I knew that I was simply enchanted by the film "The Preacher's Wife." That was until I finally sat down to watch this version, filmed over 50 years earlier called "The Bishop's Wife."
The storyline is similar. A Bishop is caught up in trying to raise funds for a cathedral...in doing so, he compromises his values, his marriage and his family. One evening he prays for the answers...in walks an "angel" who guides him through the journey of finding the answer.
I don't believe that faith, per se, is required to fully appreciate this film. Though, I can't help but believe that one's faith would be greatly enhanced by the film. The film's message is one of principle...one of love...one of family. The film is such a wondrous reminder that miracles do exist, and that we are called to be that miracle to each other.
Cary Grant, in a magnificent performance, plays the Angel...named Dudley. Grant, in the role played by Courtney Vance in the later film, adds so much to the role that Vance never could. Grant gives it a dignity, a gentleness, a kindness that escaped the later version of the film. Even Grant's facial expressions...in each and every moment...well, they just sparkle.
In the role of the Bishop, David Niven gives the role also a dignity that was lacking in Denzel Washington's performance. Of course, in Washington's defense...he added a warmth and humanness that is lacking a bit from Niven. There were times I began to wonder why this wife, played by Loretta Young, would have fallen for such a distant, dignified man when she was so full of life and love and joy. I wished that Niven had toned it down just a touch and shown a bit more warmth at some point. There is a scene towards the end of the film that just displays brilliant lighting...Niven is walking up the sidewalk towards the Professor's apartment...the screen is darker...as he moves towards the apartment step by step the screen begins to lighten. It's as if he's moving into the light...discovering his answer...ending his journey. It's subtle and yet so masterful.
Young, as "The Bishop's Wife", grows the most throughout the film and watching her transition is a joy. Her scenes with her husband, her young daughter and with Dudley are as beautiful as they are different.
In supporting roles, James Gleason brings light to Sylvester, a cab driver who befriends Young. Monty Woolley as The Professor, Matilda played by Elsa Lanchester and Gladys Cooper's Mrs. Hamilton are all wonderfully portrayed. Even the role of the young daughter is carried off nicely by Karolyn Grimes.
"The Bishop's Wife" is a joyous film...it is far above "The Preacher's Wife" because we are allowed to focus on the characters, instead of the distractions of special effects. In this film, "little" miracles are done onscreen...yet, they are interwoven into the fabric of the film instead of dominating the film. The music complements the film instead of overpowers it. "The Bishop's Wife" is a beautiful film.