Three movies that I’ve never heard of, all Christmastime classics if Robert Osborne is to be believed. Nice to see Primal’s new open (featuring myself) introducing them.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947, Henry Koster)
Robert Osbourne tells us before every single movie on TCM that the studio wanted to get Cary Grant. With every 1947 picture to choose from, you’d think he could’ve livened up Unfaithfully Yours, starred in Moonrise or cameoed in Key Largo, but instead he did this inert religious drama with David Niven (a year after Niven appeared in P&P’s probably much better angel drama A Matter of Life and Death). Niven is a bishop with pretty wife Loretta Young (of Man’s Castle, also costarred with Niven in Eternally Yours). She misses doing nice romantic things with her husband, going out to eat, seeing old friends, so when actual angel Grant shows up, in addition to helping the bishop with his church work, he starts treating the wife right and falling in love with her. In the end it turns out he’s sabotaging Niven’s attempt to build a grand cathedral, and getting the lead sponsor (Gladys Cooper, Henry’s society mom in My Fair Lady) to invest in smaller, less gaudy charities instead. A real rogue prankster of an angel, he also inspires their lonely professor friend to start writing his long-delayed history book and gives him an infinite bottle of port.
Nominated for best picture and director, but twice beaten by Elia Kazan’s important issues drama. From the director of Harvey, another movie with a Hitchcock star and an imaginary friend. Movie seems to rely entirely on Grant and a few “miracle” fx tricks for charm, otherwise full of draggy scenes and dull dialogue.
Christmas In Connectitut (1945, Peter Godfrey)
Another romantic comedy based on a Big Lie, Barbara Stanwyck (post Lady Eve and Double Indemnity, lacking the fire and energy of either of those) writes a newspaper column where she’s a perfect CT housewife and mother full of amazing recipes. Her editor (Casablanca’s Sydney Greenstreet, big guy) invites himself over for Christmas, so she fakes it by borrowing a house and a baby from a dapper dullard (Reginald Gardiner of The Great Dictator) and inviting her master chef buddy Felix (Hungarian Cuddles Sakall, also in Casablanca). Also over for dinner is hot young WWII hero Dennis Morgan (of Affectionately Yours & The Return of Doctor X), who makes his desire for Stanwyck and her fake life known by meddling in simply everything and being overall a nuisance houseguest. It’s all seen as good and romantic though – after all, a guy who enjoys changing diapers is a real catch – and after the Lie falls apart, Barbara barely avoids marrying the dullard and snags Dennis instead.
Director Godfrey made a nazi shock drama starring Peter Lorre the same year. Despite having the least interesting plot of the three movies, this was the best written, and Cuddles Sakall steals every scene he’s in, very friendly to everyone except the big boss, whom he calls “fat man”, conspiring to ruin Barbara’s secret wedding to the dullard so she can end up with our hero.
Holiday Affair (1950, Don Hartman)
This one raises the stakes a little. Janet Leigh, just two years into her film career, has a real kid (not fake babies like Barbara Stanwyck), and a real threat to her happy, stable relationship (not a horny angel like Cary Grant) in the form of noir hero Robert Mitchum. Working as a secret comparison-shopper for a rival department store, she accidentally gets Mitchum fired. Forced into near homelessness without a job, he doesn’t whine about it, instead takes the opportunity to stalk Janet before departing to pursue his dream job of building sailboats. Janet tries to convince herself she’s happy with her extremely boring long-term guy (Wendell Corey, Stewart’s buddy in Rear Window, costar of The Furies), whom her little boy dislikes, but eventually she falls for our Mitchum. There’s some junk about an overpriced toy train which she buys for her store, then returns, then he buys for the boy, then the boy returns to give the money back to Mitchum when he finds out Mitchum is broke. It’d be a decent subplot if the kid himself (also in The Narrow Margin a few years later) hadn’t been unbearably crappy.
Don Hartman was writing Hope/Crosby Road movies before he followed Preston Sturges into directing. This was the middle of his five-year directing career. No word what he did after (besides die in 1958). Movie is full of arbitrarily placed mirrors and stupid framing (there’s a joke about a girl roller-skating on the ice rink, but her skates are blocked from view by a park bench), but is pretty watchable just for our two stars.
All three movies got 1990’s remakes: Holiday Affair made for TV from the director of Police Academy 5… Bishop’s (Preacher’s) Wife from Penny Marshall starring Denzel and Whitney… and Xmas in CT from director Arnold Schwarzenegger (his only film) with a cast too baffling to list (plus a rumored 2009 remake with Jenn. Garner).