I'd like to spank the Academy

Archive for December, 2017

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

downloadDirected by Henry Koster

Happy Christmas Eve! I decided that there is no better way to celebrate Christmas Eve than in reviewing an Oscar-nominated movie that ends on Christmas Eve.

The Bishop’s Wife is a Christmas classic that I did not grow up watching, which is actually kind of strange, come to think of it; we watched so many in my family when I was growing up. Anyway, I saw it for the first time a few years ago, and I thought it was kind of creepy. Yes, it has some familiar Christmas movie elements – someone who has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, an angel sent to help, a moment with a lovely carol – but in a normal Christmas movie, the angel is not trying to seduce the wife of the man he’s sent to help.

So what’s the story? Episcopal bishop Henry Brougham has decided that his purpose in life is to glorify God by building a huge cathedral, but he can’t raise the money. In his obsession to build the cathedral, he has started to neglect his family, his parishioners, and his relationship with God. One night, desperate to get the money for his cathedral, Henry prays for help. Help comes in the form of angel Dudley, but it’s not the kind of help that Henry was expecting.

The Good: Most of the cast are excellent. David Niven makes a fabulously stuffy bishop. Loretta Young does a wonderful job as Julia, the distressed wife who can’t seem to get her husband to see past his plans for his cathedral. James Gleason is delightful as always in his role of Sylvester, the comedic taxi driver. Monty Woolley plays atheist Professor Wutheridge with charm and sympathy. Gladys Cooper in her role of Mrs. Hamilton is the epitome of the wealthy society dame who always gets her way in the end. There is good chemistry among the cast; they just work well together as a team.

Other film elements work together well, also. The music is just right, jolly and Christmassy at times, dramatic and sad when needed. There are some fun editing tricks that showcase Dudley’s angelic powers. The design of the bishop’s house (the rectory? I’m not sure of the right term) – nice, but old-fashioned – contrasts perfectly with Mrs. Hamilton’s fashionable mansion and Professor Wutheridge’s tiny apartment in a poorer part of town. 

The Bad: Whoever decided to cast Cary Grant as an angel had a lapse of judgment. Don’t get me wrong; I love Cary Grant, but this role just doesn’t fit him. His calm angel’s demeanor comes off as smarmy half the time. The “angel knows best” attitude doesn’t work with him. Grant seems supercilious rather than sympathetic.

The Ugly: The story and screenplay make me so uncomfortable. I have no problem with an angel coming to help someone remember what’s truly important in life, but an angel should not make a woman fall in love with him in order to make her husband feel like he has to literally fight for her in order to keep her. It’s underhanded and gross and a little misogynistic. Dudley uses his powers to keep a woman’s husband away so that Dudley can take her on a date? Creepy! The fact that Dudley makes the women around him feel better about life by charming them seems to say that women will be happy as long as they have a little attention from a handsome man. The screenplay is quite funny in places, and the idea of an angel falling for a human woman is fine, but the rest of it is just plain wrong.

Oscar Won: Best sound, recording.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best director; best film editing; best music, scoring of a dramatic or comedy picture.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

miracle on 34th streetDirected by George Seaton

It’s December 1st! For me, today is the day that I can hear Christmas music on the radio without being annoyed by how early it has started. I can justifiably watch Christmas movies, and I can start eating my daily piece of advent calendar chocolate. I’ve decided I’m going to start this Christmas season with a review of a Christmas movie. Have a happy holiday season!
(Also, yes, I am completely aware that this is not the first movie alphabetically. I had some availability issues, so I’m going backwards this month.)

Miracle on 34th Street is a movie that I grew up with. We watched it at least once every Christmas season. I loved it so much as a child that I was angry when it was remade in 1994. I was twelve, and could see no reason why there needed to be another version. The excuse that kids wouldn’t want to watch a black-and-white movie or an old movie made me so mad; I was living proof that kids were, indeed, capable of enjoying things besides the latest movies. Now I’m an adult, and I still don’t see that there was any need for a remake. I absolutely love this movie.

So what’s the story? Macy’s Department Store hires a man to play Santa at the last minute, not realizing that they have hired the real Kris Kringle. Although he is sad by how commercialized Christmas has become, Kris decides he will not only do his best to help everyone have a happy Christmas, but will also help no-nonsense Doris Walker and her young daughter, Susan, believe in Santa again. But when a jealous coworker accuses Kris of insanity, will Kris’s new lawyer friend be able to prove to the court that Kris is actually Santa Claus?

The Good: I would honestly not be surprised if it came out that Edmund Gwenn were truly Santa Claus. His performance as Kris Kringle is fabulous. He’s a jolly, twinkly-eyed man whose only sorrow in life is the unhappiness of others. Each of his scenes is a delight to watch because he truly embodies the spirit of Santa.

The rest of the acting in the movie is good, too. Maureen O’Hara plays Doris Walker perfectly, showing her growth as she changes from a bitter, jaded divorcee to a woman who believes that good things might be possible after all. Precocious seven-year-old Susan Walker is played wonderfully well by Natalie Wood. Besides showcasing these marvelous actresses, Miracle on 34th Street is also the film debut of one of my favorite character actresses: Thelma Ritter, who plays the exhausted, exasperated mother whose little boy wants a special fire truck, the catalyst for Kris’s shocking idea of helping people find what they want for Christmas, no matter where it is for sale. I adore Thelma Ritter in all of her roles, and even though her role is tiny in this movie, I am still happy to see her.

Miracle on 34th Street is a bit of an oddity in that it was released as a book and a movie at the same time. I’m not sure if the screenplay is wholly based on the book, or if the writers worked on both at the same time. I have read the book, and bits of it are word for word the same as the screenplay, but I’m not sure exactly how the dynamics worked. However it worked, though, the screenplay is perfect. The story of how Santa would fare in the modern Christmas season is simple and sweet, but the screenplay elevates the basic story to really make the characters come alive. There’s heart and humor and love without being too sickly sweet; it’s really just delightful.

The Bad: John Payne doesn’t do a bad job of playing Fred Gailey, per se, but Fred is such a flat, bland character that anyone could have played him. There’s just not much for him to work with. It’s a little bit sad that a movie with such dynamic characters has such a boring man for the leading lady to fall in love with.

The Ugly: Like One Hundred Men and a Girl, Miracle on 34th Street is much too sweet of a movie to have anything really ugly in it.

The Major Disappointment: I had always thought that the real Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel played themselves. However, I learned this year that they were played by actors. It’s obviously not a huge deal, but it feels like I’ve been lied to my whole life.

A Satisfying Fact: Even though Macy and Gimbel weren’t really themselves, Edmund Gwenn really was Santa Claus for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The film of him being Santa in the parade is real, not staged.

Oscars Won: Best actor in a supporting role (Edmund Gwenn); best writing, original story; best writing, screenplay.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture.