Some people will tell you that movies made by committee are what’s wrong with Hollywood.
They’re wrong. Movies made by committee have always been around, and like everything else made by committee, they occasionally turn out just fine.
Henry Koster’s The Bishop’s Wife, for instance, is a sweet little Christmas confection. It won’t fill you up, and it will possibly leave you wanting more, but for what it is, it’s delicious.
The original director was William A. Seiter, but producer Samuel Goldwyn didn’t care for what he came up with, so he replaced him with Henry Koster. (Koster’s version had its own problems, so Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett made some uncredited revisions to the script.)
The biggest change from Seiter’s version was that David Niven and Cary Grant switched roles, but there were several other changes. For one, Teresa Wright — who originally played the bishop’s wife — was replaced by Loretta Young.
But Niven and Grant’s role-switching is the big change that everyone talks about, and with good reason.
The priggish but always likable Niven is perfect as Henry Brougham, the Episcopal bishop whose cathedral-building project is destroying his personal life, and Grant is perfect as Dudley, the angel who’s sent to put Henry back on the right track.
It’s as difficult for me to imagine anyone but the ageless and effortlessly charming Grant as Dudley as it is for me to imagine anyone but Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street.
Dudley shows up on earth in answer to Henry’s prayer for guidance, but he’s not an unearthly angel who waves a magic wand that sets everything right. While he can move objects with his mind, stop busy traffic on Madison Avenue while helping a blind man cross the street, and presumably do pretty much anything he wants, he mostly just puts ideas in people’s minds … good ideas that they end up thinking are their own.
Dudley is also not an ethereal, androgynous angel whose feet never touch the ground. He’s Cary Freakin’ Grant, and his good lucks and charm have quite an effect on Henry’s neglected wife Julia (Loretta Young). One afternoon — after Henry’s forced to cancel yet another date with his wife due to his work on the cathedral — Dudley takes her to lunch at Michel’s, the French restaurant where Henry proposed to her.
After Dudley orders, Julia tells him, “You speak French beautifully.”
“I’ve had quite a bit of work to do in Paris,” Dudley responds.
And when Dudley takes Julia’s hand to read her palm, oh how the old bluenose biddies tut-tut.
The Bishop’s Wife takes place around Christmas, and it’s a wonderful holiday film. It’s also an excellent comedy, even though its broadly humorous moments are rare. Mostly its just a heartwarming, romantic, and delightful film.
And the scene in which Dudley takes Julia ice-skating and uses his magical powers to make them both glide around the ice like Olympic champions is one of the most enjoyable bits I’ve seen in a long, long time.
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