The Bishop’s Wife

This has long been one of our Christmas essentials. From the script to the direction to the acting, it is a superbly done movie, starring one of our favorite classic Hollywood actors: Cary Grant. Throw in the always lovely Loretta Young, a delightful David Niven, and the perpetually amusing Monty Woolley, and it well deserves its place in the Top 10 of classic holiday movies.


Episcopal Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) is struggling to raise funds for a new cathedral. His focus on catering to the demands of a wealthy widow, especially during Christmas, is creating tension with his wife, Julia (Loretta Young). Praying for guidance, the bishop is surprised when a debonair angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) shows up and immediately enchants Julia, their daughter Debbie, an old professor (Monty Woolley), and even the diocesan and household staff and St. Bernard. The bishop grows increasingly jealous, and Dudley seems strangely attracted to the ravishing Julia. Along the way there are many comic miracles and then several transformational miracles that change the demanding donor and salvage the troubled marriage … but not the cathedral.


The movie never explicitly references New York, but the large mansion, the skating scenes in the park and the general urban spirit give it a bit of a New York feel. The novel by Robert Nathan, on which the movie is based, is set in a generic city as well.


The movie is set firmly in the Christmas season, culminating with the Christmas Eve mass and a sermon delivered by the bishop, though written by the angel. There are Christmas trees (large and small), delicious department store windows, and Christmas choirs enough to make it a wonderfully warm and festive film.


Monty Woolley plays Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner. He appears opposite Cary Grant in the film biography of Cole Porter, Night and Day, where Woolley actually plays himself. James Gleason is one of my favorite character actors and plays the newspaper editor in Meet John Doe. Regis Toomey, who plays Mr. Miller, also appears in Meet John Doe. Sara Haden appears in The Great Rupert and another Christmas essential, The Shop Around the Corner.


David Niven was a great Hollywood friend of Fred Astaire’s. See more in the post on Bachelor Mother in which he co-stars with Ginger Rogers. James Gleason was a fellow member of the Lamb’s Club with Fred and appeared in several Broadway benefits with him in the 1920s.


Cary Grant! Ironically, he was originally slated to play the bishop, but when producer Sam Goldwyn had Henry Koster replace William Seiter as director, Koster realized that Grant was better suited as the debonair angel. We have grown to love the music in this film, which adds so much to the uplifting meaning of the movie. The music is by Hugo Friedhofer, who had won the Oscar for best score for The Best Years of Our Lives, also produced by Goldwyn with a screenplay by Robert Sherwood, who also wrote the screenplay for The Bishop’s Wife. Incidentally, a few years ago, I read Robert Nathan’s novel on which the movie was based. The movie is much better.