Friday, December 3, 2010

'The Bishop's Wife' Open Thread

Loretta Young early in her career.

   What did you think?


  1. One woman, two men. Right off the bat I can see that's problematic. I'll probably delete this comment after I see the movie, but Cary Grant and David Niven is pretty good company to be keeping, and that Loretta Young is a lovely woman.

  2. Hey! Just because your own this blog doesn't mean you get do-overs! Suffer with your deeds like the rest of us! ;-)

    There is a problem with your "two men" assumption. You'll see that rather quickly.

  3. I liked it. :)

    I liked the fellas just fine -- Cary Grant at his self-assured best, and David Niven very nicely just the opposite. ( I loved the bit with the celery. Oh, and that sad little "Do you think I'm an excellent husband?" when even he knows he's reaching.) I'm really not familiar with Loretta Young, but I liked her in this, sweet and gracious and affectionate -- especially when she finally showed a little human irritation with the good bishop.

    Dudley's ability to open hearts, and make everyone feel valued, was depicted so gently sometimes, and sometimes so funnily. The effect on the women in the bishop's household was nicely done, I thought -- Elsa Lanchester so dear when he would single her out for for a greeting or a "Good night," and even the older secretary, tucking a flower in her hair, not coquettish, just so much happier, and happier with herself, with Dudley around than otherwise.

    Monty Woolley's Professor was a good counterpoint to all the female characters, but he blooms under Dudley's warmth as well. We've already seen his usually well-hidden capacity for affection when he and Julia meet shopping for Christmas trees. (In fact, we're shown that Julia's mortal presence brings much the same joy as Dudley's to a number of characters -- that "making a Heaven on Earth" he talks about -- like the cabbie Sylvester, clearly smitten with Julia whether Dudley's around or not.) But Prof. Wutheregde is blessed with the encouragement he needs to do the work he has all but given up hoping to accomplish. (My question, though -- was Dudley telling an inspiring bit of fiction to get the old man interested again, or was that background on the coin supposed to be factual, and simply unknown?)

    Shoot. I'll be back.

  4. Spoilers

    Some trivia. . .David Niven was originally supposed to play Dudley (the angel). The original principal cast was slated to be David Niven, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright (Little Foxes, Pride of the Yankees.) Wright had to drop out when she became pregnant.
    Andrews was then loaned to RKO to get Loretta Young. Cary Grant would agree to the picture only if he got to play the angel. So trooper David Niven took on the bishop's role. The production was plagued with problems. In fact after the film was finished (and shown to test audiences) Samuel Goldwyn replaced the director William A. Seiter with Henry Koster, and ordered an extensive re-write, with Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett coming in to fix things, without screen credit. The book by Robert Nathan
    gives you nothing definitive to believe that Dudley is anything but all too-human. When he senses Julia Brougham's dissatisfaction, he propositions her immediately promising unimaginable carnal bliss if she would just leave her husband. My guess is that the first version followed the book too closely for Goldwyn's taste--and reason for making the movie to begin with--to give audiences an inspiring Christmas film and one not straying from Christian precepts. He did not want another movie that left it to the sudience to decide "was he? or wasn't he?

    I'm pretty sure that the writers want you to believe that Dudley had inside information about the coin, perhaps even first hand knowledge.

  5. Jim, nice error showing for your "followers"--
    "Too large to process."

  6. Yes, well I don't think there could possibly be all that many!

    Probably one of those technical errors in the program loop... or some such.

  7. The book by Robert Nathan...

    Wow! You know, I usually feel that the author's intent should be considered, you should pardon the expression, sacred, when a book is adapted for the stage or film, but in this case I am so glad they made it over so thoroughly! Frankly, the original material sounds rather... eww-y, and the movie is so lovely!

    Oh, yeah -- SPOILERS

    I like very much the religiosity of the story, even aside from it being more focused on Christmas. I liked the way they illustrated the idea that even when it seems that what we're about is good, and godly, we still need to pray, we still need to seek guidance, and be open to hearing what it is God actually wants of us.

    Over and over throughout the movie we're told that since becoming intent on building the cathedral, Henry has lost the gifts he once had -- sharing faith with his parishioners, sharing happiness with friends, and sharing the joy of living with his wife and child. Doing God's bidding may be tough on the looks -- strain and fatigue come with the territory -- but it shouldn't cause us to fail our friends and loved ones. Henry is being led to build a cathedral, but it isn't by God.

    I may be reading too much between the lines, but I got the impression that Mrs. Hamilton's support for Henry being made Bishop was due to her expectation that a young, inexperienced bishop would be much more useful in getting a cathedral built, and built "(her) way, or not at all," than a more mature man. But for all her coldness, and all her machinations, even Mrs. Hamilton turns out to be a sympathetic character, sorrowfully erecting monuments to the husband whose love she could never return.

    (Although it was kinda fun watching her flap helplessly in the "varnish" scene!)

    Two very different, but very vital, men had been in love with her forty years before; her revised notions of hospitality when Henry and Julia see her the last time suggest the young woman she may have been. Like Prof. Wutheredge, regaining some of the vigor that had made him a passionate historian, Dudley didn't change this woman his visit so transformed; he brought her back to her best self.

    And back to their best selves -- I love the scene in Debby's room, after Dudley has left (and taken their memories of him), and Henry and Julia are so happy just being with each other, Henry suggesting they liberate the punch bowl until reminded of Christmas Eve service.

    Oh -- I LOVED the special effects. (Well, I'd rather watch sleight-of-hand than disappearing jets or elephants.) The most inspiring was the sherry, bottle and glass, but the index cards were the cutest. And I loved the ice skating -- both the ice dancing and the clown routine. And the boy's choir number was beautiful. It wasn't even a musical, but you still got all that extra entertainment included in the price of the movie ticket.

  8. Oh -- and I want to explore* every nook and arch and alcove in that house. (I am determined to believe it's a real house; all that glorious woodwork is too fabulous to possibly end up junked as an obsolete set.)

    Explore, yes. Dust, no.

  9. I'm pretty sure it's just a set, alas. But one
    coming off Goldwyn's success with The Best Years Of Our Lives in 1946 with the Best Picture win and the lavish praise and box office. The day before shooting was to begin (on the first go-around), Goldwyn decided that he hated the Brougham house set not
    "ecclesiastical" enough. That alone caused a three week delay for the redesign and rebuild.

    David Niven had just lost his wife in an unbelievably stupid accident--playing a game of "sardines" at Tyrone Power's house [it's a hide and seek game played in the dark, with one player drawing the ace of spades being the "sardine" and the other players trying to suss them out.] She thought she was entering a closet when she actually opened the door to the basement and fell down the stairs striking her head. She died a few days later in the hospital.
    Cary Grant also had personal problems and Howard Hughes--a close friend--just had that famous plane crash in LA.

    Did you notice that the Brougham's daughter, Debby, was played by Karolyn Grimes – the little girl who played ZuZu Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life? And in the park scene where Debby wants to join the snow ball fight, the captain is played by child actor Robert J. Anderson who played “Young George Bailey?” Also on hand from Bedford Falls is Sara Edwards, who played Mary Bailey's mother, Mrs. Hatch, this time around playing a church organist.

  10. My first choice from Netflix was... bypassed again! Apparently there's a lot of demand for 'The Bishops Wife'. I'm thinking that's a good sign.

    Anyway, I'm going to have to go ahead with the next festival feature, and come back to this one after I get a chance to see it... for heaven's sake!

  11. I didn't recognize any of them, even though the "captain" looked familiar. I can't believe I didn't recognize ZuZu!

    Hmm... Maybe I'm not as burned-out on It's A Wonderful Life as I thought.

    Goldwyn decided that he hated the Brougham house set not
    "ecclesiastical" enough. That alone caused a three week delay for the redesign and rebuild.

    It was worth it. :)

    And in the park scene where Debby wants to join the snow ball fight..."

    I loved that moment when Debby confirms to Dudley that "It's true! i can't throw." Concerned, but not embarrassed. She was really an very engaging kid; it's too bad there wasn't more for her in the script.

  12. What a delightful show. I so enjoyed it - from the very start. I loved looking at all those children, whose bright, cheery faces were so entranced with the spectacle of the imaginary Christmas world seen through the Christmas display windows... and the quiet, pleasant presence of Dudley as he wanders about doing small little good things to whomever was near by, as though it were simply a part of his nature. And the bright smile he had for the Bishop when he first waved through the window as he came by to act as his assistant.

    It was interesting to see the positive effect Dudley had on the people around him, much as Julia did for most people. Dudley seemed particularly charming to the women, and Julia particularly to the men, but both were just plain charming. I imagine it would be very pleasant just to spend time with either of them. But to do well is to seek that which is right, and to withdraw from that which would be wrong, and in this respect Julia had the edge on Dudley. He was quick to correct himself, and perhaps his intrusion was purposeful, to awaken the spark in David Niven's character to value what he had and fight for it.

    I think the coin was the result of first hand information on the part of the angel Dudley, and yes there was something about Dudley that was inspiring and appealing to everyone he came into contact with... including the professor, who found the courage to write, the stiff sponsor who softened and learned to love those around her, and even Sylvester.

    A friend of mine had a christian band that was kind of fun. They took a touch of the dialogue track from this movie and inserted it into one of their songs. The song plays along and then cuts to a instrumental, and the sound track comes up:

    Sylvester: "Do you folks know what the main trouble in the world is?"
    Dudley: "Oh, I've heard several versions of that."
    Julia: "Do you know, Sylvester?"
    Sylvester: "The main trouble is there are too many people who don't know where they're going and they want to get there too fast!"

    And then off they rip. It was great fun. At last I know the context. Shame I can't share it with you all.

    I did recognize most of those characters from It's a Wonderful Life. Young George I caught right off, of course. Zuzu seemed to have grown a bit, but I recognized her as well. I believe the sheriff that served George Bailey the warrant for his arrest was present as well if I am not mistaken.

    I think this would have been great with David Niven as the angel, Dana Andrews as the bishop and Theresa Wright as Julia. I love all those people - Theresa Wright I will forever have a warm spot in my heart for after seeing her in The Best Years of Our Lives, and Dana Andrews from the same, and for his role as the tough cop in Laura, but it was grand with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. My version had a trailer you could watch, which was done as a non-trailer really, and you could get a feel for their personalities. By all appearances, very enjoyable company.

  13. There is a box of VHS tapes that "came with the house" -- movies that Richard's dad had taped off TMC, etc, and I kept having this nagging sense of familiarity -- Sure enough, in between Miracle on 34th Street and Carefree was The Bishop's Wife, from 20 years ago, complete with 1990 ads for Aqua-fresh toothpaste and Jenga and the Christmas sales at Kohl's. (So weird.)

    So, I watched it again a day or two ago, and enjoyed the sweet humor and gentleness of it even more. Especially Loretta Young -- she's almost hypnotic sometimes. Lovely.

    Thank you, Darrell.

  14. I must confess--regarding Loretta Young-- my thoughts are not pure.

  15. Thank you for devoting this space in your blog to this movie, David. It's one of my favorite 1940's movies and one of my favorite Christmas movies.

    Two observations, one of them personal and the other professional.

    I live in New York, near Morningside Heights. In the Heights is the partially built Cathedral of St. John the Divine, started in 1892. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese in New York. Less than ten blocks away, however, in Harlem, is (at least as of 2001, when I lived there) a very modest Episcopal church, All Souls Church, with a front facade and a cast-iron fence very much like that of St. Timothy's depicted in The Bishop's Wife.

    Professionally, as a writer and former actor who loves Archie Leach's work, I can't help but thinkn that, in the scene at the Professor's apartment where the Professor asks Dudley what's his background, where does he come from and Dudley dodges the question and avoids it with an aphorism. I can't help but think that the character's discomfort was partly Cary Grant's own, since questions about his "background" and origins were problematic for the actor early in his career.

    The supporting character actors are all wonderful here, especially James Gleason's Sylvester (the ice skating scene is lovely, even if they do darken the film to obscure Cary Grant's stunt double) and Monty Woolley's misanthropic Professor (I love the scene between him and the italian-American store owner, arguing over the price of a Christmas tree).

  16. Those are great comments. Glad you could come by. Join us anytime at the Movie Club

  17. I wonder if it might not have been fun to have shot this movie the other way, with the boys trading roles. Do you not think David Niven would have made an excellent, overly helpful, and not entirely disinterested angel? Movie ace Matthew Coniam wrote an excellent piece on David Niven here, perhaps one of the first posts of Matt's that I read. When it comes to writing and appreciating the movies, that guy has a talent. It's a crime, literally criminal, that people aren't paying him. It's a labor of love then. I suppose those are the best kind. Anyway, check out his blog when you get a chance.

  18. Hey, James!
    Check out the fourth comment above.
    And enjoy a Merry Christmas! As should all those who stop here for all the fun--and everything else. Merry Christmas to all.

  19. Oh, right! You always have the inside scoop! I think it would of worked, if that prig Grant hadn't insisted on hogging all the fun. Ah, well, they both got to work with Loretta Young, so that had to be a plus. I suppose if you are asking someone to bail you out, you have to expect they might be demanding a fruit basket for their troubles. Have a great Christmas, Darrell!

  20. I think they got the parts right, especially since Niven's 28 year-old wife just died in that stupid accident. If Grant is going to be in the same film, you'd have to go with him to play the charming rascal. Angel or not. IMHO.