Holiday Classics: “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947)

The Bishop’s Wife” is a lovely little comedy that isn’t unlike “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which was released the year before. Only in this movie, the focus is every bit as much on the angel as it is on the man he’s providing guidance for. Cary Grant plays the angel Dudley, who answers Bishop Henry Brougham’s (David Niven) prayers for guidance in collecting funds to reconstruct a cathedral. But rather than helping him with that task, Dudley assists Henry in rediscovering what’s really important, like using the money to help the needy and reconnecting with his wife Julia (Loretta Young) and daughter Debby (Karolyn Grimes, who incidentally played little Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life”). Dudley runs into some problems, however, especially when he finds himself falling for Julia, prompting Henry to want him to leave.

Cary Grant decorates the Christmas tree in “The Bishop’s Wife”

The role of Dudley provided Cary Grant the chance to give one of his finest performances in this moving holiday classic. But the movie almost didn’t turn out the way it did at all. Niven was initially cast as the angel, with Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright costarring as the Bishop and his wife. Wright had to leave the film after she got pregnant, so Andrews was loaned out so Young could replace her. William A. Seiter had begun directing the film when producer Samuel Goldwyn decided to replace him with Henry Koster. Reportedly, a few scenes had been shot under Seiter with Niven playing the angel and Grant playing the Bishop; when Koster viewed these scenes, he saw that Niven and Grant were playing the wrong parts for them, and switched them.

Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young in “The Bishop’s Wife”

“The Bishop’s Wife” experienced further problems when filming was completed. Preview audiences didn’t like it, so rewrites were made. Critics liked the final film very well, but it performed poorly at the box office, with many moviegoers avoiding it because they thought it would be too religious. This led Goldwyn to renaming the film “Cary and the Bishop’s Wife” in some places where it was playing; the more light-hearted title did somewhat improve audience attendance.

Despite its rough beginnings, “The Bishop’s Wife” is today regarded as a holiday classic and one of Cary Grant’s best movies. In 1996, it was remade as “The Preacher’s Wife”, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.

“The Bishop’s Wife” is streaming for free on Tubi TV and can be rented or purchased on all digital platforms. It is also airing on Turner Classic Movies on the following dates:

Saturday, December 19th at 6 PM EST

Thursday, December 24th at 8 PM EST

Runtime: 109 minutes.

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