In The Bishop’s Wife, Henry Brougham (Niven) is a new and ambitious bishop trying to raise funds for building a new cathedral, whose prayers for guidance are answered by an at times mischievous and frustrating angel by the name of Dudley (Grant). Henry is a lamb who has lost his way; he’s focused all his energies on a new cathedral instead of the many people in need, all to the detriment of his own family, including his beautiful wife Julia (Young) and young daughter Debby, who are feeling very neglected. Skeptical of Dudley’s revealed identify (only revealed to him), Henry is nonetheless eager to get his help in building a glorious cathedral on a hill for all his new (and wealthy) parishioners, but Dudley quickly corrects him, informing Henry he’s there to offer guidance not a cathedral. Henry is so obsessed with the cathedral, he’s oblivious to both Julia’s unhappiness and the true need behind Dudley’s appearance, but when the entire household, including Julia and Debby, begin to fall under the spell of the charming angel, Henry finally opens his eyes and realizes a man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do, even if it means fighting an angel for the love of his wife.
This was such a great find. I had never seen this classic, and I absolutely loved it. The movie offers each of us a reminder of the true priorities (love and family) in both life and during this holiday season. It is a sweet and sentimental tale that offers all of the wholesome innocence and charm you’d find in most of the movies of that time. An oldie but goodie about which you can honestly say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Grant oozes charm in his role as the helpful angel that begins to be tempted by the all too human feelings of love, and to envy the human he’s been charged to help. There was such a devilish glint in his eyes in his every scene with Young, as well as all other ladies (young and old) in the film, that you couldn’t help but be held equally spellbound by his charm. Niven was perfect as Henry; portraying a lost but sweet man who only needed to be reminded about the true priorities in his life. Niven played the perfect straight man to Grant’s wit, and even brought a few laughs of his own with some slapstick humor involving a newly finished chair. Young was equal to both lead actors, and quite believable in her role as the neglected wife finding new joy and life in the attentions of this very attractive and captivating angel. In addition to the main leads, you’ll also recognize a couple of the young stars, who also appeared in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, including Karoline Grimes, who portrays Henry’s daughter Debby and was little Zuzu Bailey, and Bobbie Anderson who appears in this film’s snowball fight scene with Debby and previously portrayed young George Bailey.
As I said, I loved this film, and in particular the closing scene when Henry, with no recollection of Dudley’s previous presence, reads a sermon which he thinks he wrote. The simple words are a perfect reminder of what is truly important during this holiday season.
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled... all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most... and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”