Christmastime is Here: The Bishop’s Wife

In preparation for this blog, I rewatched The Bishop’s Wife (1947) to refresh my memory on a few things. Maybe I’m older and I daren’t call myself wiser, but this film struck me differently this time around. This is the second Christmas film of my double take with films featuring Karolyn Grimes and also classic films with a hint of Christmastime morality from angels. Karolyn plays the part of Debi, the daughter, and she shared with me and my cohost her favourite memories of working with the late, great Cary Grant — few people can say they’ve been in the arms of both Jimmy Stewart and Cary (okay, maybe Grace Kelly… but whose arms wasn’t she in?).

The Bishop’s Wife tells the story of an angel named Dudley, played by Cary Grant, who comes to town to teach the Bishop (David Niven) a lesson or two about prayers and guidance. During Dudley’s “assignment,” he touches many lives along the way, but most attention is paid to the bishop’s wife, Julia Brougham (Loretta Young). Now, this is where I find the film taking a different turn than I remember from my early teen years when I first saw it. The Bishop is so caught up in raising money to build an edifying cathedral that he’s forgotten his wife, family, and congregation in the mix. His only interest is finding rich people in the town to fund the restoration of his cathedral. Dudley comes along and uses very unethical means to get his way … which leads me to the ethics portion of this blog.

Dudley: Unethical Angel?

1. Replenishing a Bottle of Sherry for a Professor

I’m not one for sacrilegiousness in a film, so I felt a little uneasy when Dudley used his celestial powers to replenish the glass of sherry for the Professor. Maybe it’s meant to be an allusion to Jesus turning water to wine, but Dudley does it several times in one sitting. Was his aim to place the Professor in a drunken stupor of belief? And why did he give him a never ending bottle of sherry to remember him by? Sure, the Professor started believing in Dudley’s powers, but is an alcoholic beverage the best way to get that across?

2. Flirting with the Bishop’s Wife to Stir Up Jealousy Within the Bishop

I have greater qualms with this aspect of the film.Yes, it’s Cary Grant, he’s gorgeous… we know. And he’s an angel! How fitting! But, assuming these angels are under the same spiritual laws as, oh… I don’t know… presumably God, is it really proper to glue the Bishop to a chair and take his wife out on a date or two? I thought, “Oh no, he’s just being nice to Julia since the Bishop neglects her.” But then Dudley starts talking about how he doesn’t want to leave and she forces him to go. What is going on here?! Of course his flirtation and jealous tactics work on the Bishop, but that seems, to me, the worst way to show someone where they’ve gone wrong in their life.

I love Cary Grant in this role, but I have to say I’m partial to Henry Travers’ angel, Clarence, of It’s a Wonderful Life. An angel receiving his wings seems much more fitting than perhaps an angel needing his wings clipped.

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