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MGM Studios DVD presents
"Somehow it seems so wrong to have so much fun, but I can't figure out what's wrong about it."
DVD ReviewI have a definite soft spot for any film that can make a bitter old cynic like me feel good. After the dark days of World War II, Hollywood must have felt that the public needed uplifting stories. A spate of films involving angels came out in those years, such as It's A Wonderful Life. A less familiar but equally endearing production is the star-filled The Bishop's Wife.
The radiant Loretta Young stars as the title character, Julia Brougham. Her husband, Henry (David Niven) has become increasingly obsessed with his dream of a new cathedral and spends all his time lobbying wealthy matrons for contributions, and in the process ignores his wife and breaks her heart. Onto the scene comes Dudley (Cary Grant), who insists that he is an angel sent in answer to the bishop's prayers. He quickly works his way into the hearts of Julia and her daughter Debby, and generally turns things on their heads. Along the way, both Henry and Julia, as well as their friends, learn several important lessons about life and faith. But as his relationship with Julia becomes closer, it's not entirely clear whether Dudley might have some agenda of his own.
Unlike many religion-based films, this picture is very much in a humanist mold. Dudley insists that God is better served by putting little roofs over the heads of the needy than in building a massive cathedral. He also makes it clear that piety is not inconsistent with enjoying life and having fun. This refreshing attitude makes the film enjoyable, even for those who don't particularly care for religion at all.
Grant is outstanding, playing a caricature of his normal roles, able to jack up the smug smarminess factor another few levels. Niven does a terrific slow burn as the husband who gradually fears he is becoming a cuckold. Young is pleasant throughout, ranging from the unhappy wife to the woman falling in love with another man, even though she knows she shouldn't. The supporting cast is excellent as well, with character actors Monty Woolley as a history professor with writer's block and James Gleason as a cynical cabbie who joins Dudley and Julia on an ice skating expedition. Elsa Lanchester is mostly wasted in a tiny role as the Brougham's maid.
The staging and framing is quite striking as well. Often the extremes of the frame are used, as in the dining room scene, making one wish the film had been made during the widescreen era.
Set at Christmas time, this film deserves to be a regular holiday fixture, right beside It's a Wonderful Life. Endearing and charming without being sloppy in its sentimentality, The Bishop's Wife is highly recommended.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The superb black&white photography comes through in dazzling shape here. The transer is full of detail, with rich blacks and low contrast levels. The source print is nearly immaculate, with not more than a handful of speckles to be seen. Occasional edge enhancement is seen, but it is not at a distracting level. The package erroneously states that the film has been "Modified to fit your screen" - but this 1947 film was never widescreen.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The English soundtrack is provided in both the original mono and in a delicately remixed Dolby Surround version. Both suffer from mild crackle and hiss. The surround track is center-oriented for dialogue, with sound effects nicely directional and music coming from mains and surrounds. Both are quite pleasant and do the job nicely. The French mono is adequate, but the Spanish mono track is downright terrible; it sounds as if it were recorded underwater. Even the music on the Spanish track sounds awful. It would rate an F or a D-; the grade given is for the English tracks. Kudos to MGM for supplying both a nice remix and the original mono track for purists.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: The sole extra is the original theatrical trailer, which is a predecessor of the modern teaser trailer. Since nothing of consequence is revealed, it makes for an excellent opener to play it before the film proper. Chaptering is adequate. Oddly enough, even though this is a full-frame film, the menus are presented in anamorphic form.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA gem of a spiritual film with more moral value than ten Greatest Story Ever Tolds. Given a beautiful transfer, this disc is recommended, despite a lack of extras. Watch the entertaining "trailer" first, though, and avoid the Spanish language track.
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