Bishop’s Wife, The (1947): Henry Koster’s Oscar-Winning Comedy, Starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven (Angels, Xmas Movies)

In The Bishop’s Wife, a commercially popular comedy that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, David Niven plays Henry Brougham, a depressed Episcopelian bishop, who’s desperate for money in order to build a new cathedral.

Grade: B (***1/2* out of *****)

His marriage to Julia (Loretta Young) seems to be on the rocks and his faith utterly shaken, when he meets an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant), who suddenly appears on the scenes and uses his magical powers to solve both marital and professional problems.

The gimmick is that the unsuspecting Julia doesn’t know Dudley’s origins, and she goes for the fantasy ride. Indeed, as played by the charismatic Cary Grant, Dudley is less tedious than most Hollywood angels–Dudley could be any man with strong faith and good heart.

In the end, the new church remains unbuilt, but Dudley has shown the bishop the right way, and perhaps more importantly, brought happiness and romance to his stale marriage. Did I mention that the angel also help Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley) regain his confidence

Craftsman Henry Koster basks this sentimental serio-comedy, which benefits from Robert E. Sherwood and Leonardo Bercovici’s well-crafted scenario, based on Robert Nathan’s popular 1928 novel, with human warmth and gentle touches. Occasionally, there are sequences that are too verbose (particularly in the first reel), but then a magical skating scene and other acts make up for the deficiencies, resulting in a rather sophisticated Christmas Carol by standards of the 1940s.

This might explain why this picture was such a popular success at the time, and continues to enjoy repeat showing on TV around Christmas time, along with Capra’s 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Stay away from the all-black remake of the movie with Denzel Washington and Whitney Huston.

Dudley (Cary Grant)
Henry Brougham (David Niven)
Julia Brougham (Loretta Young)
Debby Brougham (Karolyn Grimes)
Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley)
Sylvetser (James Gleason)
Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper)
Matilda (Elsa Lanchester)
Mildred Cassaway (Sara Haden)
Maggenti (Tito Vuolo)

Oscar Nominations: 5

Picture, produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Henry Koster
Film Editing: Monica Collingwood
Sound Recording: Gordon Sawyer (sound director)
Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Hugo Friedhofer

Oscar Awards: 1
Sound Recording

Oscar Context

In 1947, the two frontrunners in the Bets Picture category were: Kazan’s anti-Semitism drama “Gentleman’s Agreement” (which won) and Edward Dmytryk’s “Crossfire,” which lost in each of its five nominated categories. The other contenders were David Lean’s “Great Expectations” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Kazan won Best Director, the editing Oscar went to Francis Lyon and Robert Parrish for the boxing drama, “Body and Soul,” and the Scoring Oscar was given to Miklos Rozsa for “A Double Life.”

RKO Radio
(Samuel Goldwyn)