Sometimes it happens. You hear people going on and on about classic movies and you roll your eyes and think “ho hum, yeah, okay, whatever you say, yawn”. Sometimes. A lot of people are guilty of it. Hell, I’M guilty of it. Because cinema has always had the good and bad spilling on to the screens, it’s just that nowadays there’s so much more product and so proportionally more bad stuff. We still have a pretty great movie selection year in and year out. We still have our stars. We still have films that can grow to become classics. Of course, this optimistic point of view is undermined when you watch something as classy and warm and adorable as The Bishop’s Wife. Not only is it a great movie but it features David Niven, Cary Grant, Loretta Young and Elsa Lanchester. I hope you’ve heard all of those names but I’m not sure I want to know you if you don’t recognise the two male leads – absolute stars and onscreen gentlemen like they really don’t make any more.
David Niven is the bishop of the title while Loretta Young is his wife. Niven would like to get a new cathedral built and this seems to be taking up all of his time and energy. His wife would just like her husband to be happy again. When Cary Grant appears and tells the bishop that he’s an angel here to answer his prayer, the bishop must figure out exactly what prayer he wants answered. And Cary Grant isn’t really the purest angel, especially as he spends more and more time with the lovely Loretta Young.
With a cast also featuring Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Gladys Cooper and Elsa Lanchester, The Bishop’s Wife doesn’t want for great actors in pretty much every role. There’s a great mix of people playing it relatively straight and others playing it for laughs but the leads, especially the two males, perfectly blend the humour of the situation with the heart and make this a fitting vehicle for their star personas.
A cracking script helps, most pleasing in the web of lies woven by Cary Grant’s character as he does whatever it takes to get things going the way he wants them, and solid direction by Henry Koster allows the material to shine. It’s really a case of letting the main players interact brilliantly with each other and interspersing that chemistry with some wonderful set-pieces but it’s all done with care and a delightful sense of mischief (as inherent to the movie itself as it is to the character of the angel).
A couple of things don’t hold up quite so well nowadays – there’s a lovely ice skating scene that draws things out for too long until it becomes slightly creepy when you quickly notice a masked performer trying to be pass himself off as Cary Grant, obstacles often seem rather unnecessary, etc – but the film, overall, remains highly watchable, highly entertaining and highly adorable.
DIRECTOR: HENRY KOSTER
WRITER: ROBERT E. SHERWOOD, LEONARDO BERCOVICI (BASED ON A NOVEL BY ROBERT NATHAN), UNCREDITED WORK BY BILLY WILDER AND CHARLES BRACKETT
STARS: DAVID NIVEN, CARY GRANT, LORETTA YOUNG, MONTY WOOLLEY, JAMES GLEASON, GLADYS COOPER, ELSA LANCHESTER
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX