There are a good few Christmas movies which feature supernatural creatures visiting someone to improve their lives, from It’s A Wonderful Life to, well, all of the ones with that hairy Father Christmas fella, but The Bishop’s Wife is quite a unique piece as Cary Grant’s Dudley is an angel who is sent on a mission to give guidance to David Niven’s Bishop Henry, but then tries to fuck Henry’s wife.
This is the nineteen forties so it’s not quite that explicit of course, and at first Dudley’s motives are far less dodgy as Henry is trying to raise money for a new cathedral but struggling to do so as the woman who has promises to donate the cash won’t do so unless a huge deal is made of her dead husband. Henry praying for guidance leads to Dudley arriving on the scene, though only Henry is aware of his miraculous abilities.
Now as everyone knows God’s a frustrating bastard and that applies to Dudley too, and so though he could solve world peace and end poverty if he wanted too given his powers he mostly spends it on quite rubbish miracles, including decorating a Christmas tree without moving a muscle, creating a wine bottle that always replenishes itself, and making Henry stick to a chair so that he can’t get home. All of the miracles are quite funny as it goes, especially when Dudley uses his powers to force boys to sing in a choir, but given his abilities you can’t help but wonder why he doesn’t do more.
Of course the idea is that Dudley and his fellow angels are on hand just to give people a minor shove in the right direction, and it’s up to us to do the right thing ultimately. Yet given that message the movie almost sees the opposite happen as Dudley falls in love with The Bishop’s Wife Julia (Loretta Young) and all but begs her to commit adultery, and even worse is that when she doesn’t it’s really difficult to understand, as Henry’s a stuffy, dull bloke, underplayed by David Niven and lacking his normal charisma, while Cary Grant’s a suave handsome bastard who is seemingly desired by every single person he meets.
As it was a feel good Christmas movie Julia was never going to leave Henry but I wish she had, it would have been far more amusing, and a great way to prove that self-righteous idiots shouldn’t always end up with the girl, and then it’d be a Christmas movie I’d watch every year. But that gripe aside there is still a fair deal to like about the film, Dudley’s miracles are never less than amusing and a moment where he takes Julia skating is laugh out loud funny if only because it’s blatantly a stunt double wearing a mask of Grant’s face.
The dialogue is mostly strong, and Julia and Henry’s professor friend is great value for money as the only other person who realises that Dudley is not of this Earth, but it’s also a tad overlong and a good few scenes of Henry being dull and annoyingly religious could have been cut without anyone complaining. Still, Cary Grant and Loretta Young are on top form here and their chemistry is indisputable, and as long as you don’t mind the unhappy ending for poor old Dudley this is extremely amiable Christmas fare.