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Film / The Bishop's Wife

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Usually only regular human men will hit on a guy's wife.

The Bishop's Wife is a 1947 comedy-fantasy directed by Henry Koster, starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young.

Bishop Henry Brougham (Niven), newly promoted to his position, is stressed out with the pressure from raising funds to build a new cathedral for his diocese. His work stress is putting pressure on his marriage to Julia (Young). A distraught Henry prays to God for guidance, and his prayer is answered with the appearance of Dudley (Grant), an angel sent to help Henry find his way. However, Dudley starts proving a little too helpful, especially with all the attention he pays to lovely Julia, causing Henry, the only person who knows what Dudley is, to become jealous.

This film was given a Race Lift in 1996 and remade as The Preacher's Wife, with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston playing the parts originated by Grant and Young.


Tropes present in both versions:

  • But Now I Must Go: Those are the rules for a guardian angel once they've completed their task. Dudley is pretty sad about it, because he's grown tired of wandering and he's become attached to Julia.
  • Church Lady: Soft-spoken church matriarch Julia is neglected by her ambitious but well-meaning Preacher Man husband until "Dudley," an angel sent to answer the husband's prayers, enters the picture (though the wife is unaware of Dudley's true nature) and starts paying attention to her, as part of an Operation: Jealousy that turns into In Love with the Mark on his part. The fact that an actual angel falls for her is a testament to her goodness, and notably, in the original film, when Dudley confesses his attraction to her, she tells him to leave, proving her devotion to her husband despite how kindly Dudley treated her.
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  • Dance of Romance: A variant when Dudley takes Julia ice-skating.
  • Good Shepherd: Henry is trying to be this, in any case, but his fixation on building the cathedral is obviously distracting him from what a bishop really should be doing. Dudley steers him on the right course.
  • Guardian Angel: Dudley. It seems that guardian angels are case workers, sent to answer prayers, moving on when they are no longer needed.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: When Dudley leaves, he erases everyone's memories of him, leaving them with Character Development they can't quite account for.
  • Love Triangle: A rather odd one, since one of the three is an angel.
  • Operation: Jealousy: An altruistic, third-party version: Dudley's innocent but eyebrow-raising attentions to Julia are what it takes to make Henry realize how much he has been neglecting his marriage. Or, as he puts it, "Since you wouldn't let me represent you with Mrs. Hamilton, I represented you with your wife." Dudley in the Preacher's wife starts out like this at first but then things start to change
  • Preacher's Kid: Debby, the Broughams' young daughter. The Preacher's Wife gender flips this with Jeremiah.
  • Talent Double:
    • No, Cary Grant wasn't an expert harp player. Those are the hands of a professional harp player in the scene where Dudley is playing the harp for Mrs. Hamilton.
    • The skaters in their skating sequence are pretty clearly not the main cast either, although artful lighting helps to conceal that fact. Averted with The Preacher's Wife wherein Whitney Houston's hard time skating plays into the scene.

Tropes exclusive to 'The Bishop's Wife':

  • Driver Faces Passenger: Sylvester gets so involved in talking to his back-seat passengers that he nearly drives their cab into a truck. Dudley has to use his angelic powers to save everyone else in the cab from death.
  • Exact Words: At the end, when Dudley's machinations have resulted in Mrs. Hamilton deciding to spend her money on the poor, Henry asks why the cathedral is being cancelled when he prayed for help to build a new one. Dudley reminds Henry that Henry prayed for guidance, not a new cathedral.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Dudley makes a suitably spooky entrance when he materializes in Henry's study with his face framed in this way.
  • Freudian Excuse: Agnes Hamilton's Control Freak tendencies over the building of the cathedral are revealed to stem from her guilt over the fact she never loved her husband, George Hamilton, even though he was deeply in love with her. She spent a fortune on memorials in his honor trying to make up for that.
  • Get Out!:
    • The bishop, driven into a jealous fit and reeling from Mrs. Hamilton's decision to rededicate her donation to more charitable purposes, tells Dudley to leave and never come back.
    • Julia also tells Dudley to leave and never return when he confesses his attraction to her.
  • Gossipy Hens: Mean old Mrs. Hamilton and her old lady friends, who start getting judgmental after seeing Dudley and Julia at lunch. Dudley disarms them by inviting them over.
  • Grail in the Garbage: Dudley reveals to the professor that the old coin he has (that Henry dismisses as worthless) is actually a one of a kind treasure.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Hamilton, the haughty old widow who demands that the cathedral be built her way—as a gaudy memorial to her late husband—or not at all. But see Hidden Depths below.
  • Hidden Depths: Dudley discovers that Mrs. Hamilton actually didn't love her husband. The only man that she loved was a composer, a poor man who died young after she rejected him to marry rich Mr. Hamilton instead. This guilt over not loving her husband is what was driving her to demand the gaudy cathedral.
  • I Never Told You My Name: Dudley has a bad habit of addressing people by their names before being introduced. When Sylvester the cabbie catches him on this Dudley plays it off by claiming he saw Sylvester's name on his cab license.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Why does an American Protestant bishop sound like an Englishman? Well, if you're David Niven, why not?
    • Then again, if he's a married bishop he's likely Episcopalian, which is a branch of Anglicanism. Or he could have immigrated and held on to the accent.
  • The Professor: Professor Wutheridge, who is trying and failing to write a book after being fired from the university.
  • Secret-Keeper: Enforced. Henry is physically unable to say that Dudley is an angel unless they're alone, up almost until the end of the film.
  • Snowball Fight: Debby gets allowed into one after some divine assistance from Dudley.

Tropes exclusive to 'The Preacher's Wife':

  • Amusing Injuries: In an effort to get them to talk to each other Dudley has them both fall down while delivering Christmas baskets.
  • Babies Ever After: Jeremiah's ending narration reveals that Henry and Julia adopted Hakim.
  • Beauty Inversion: A slight case. Whitney Houston is still undeniably gorgeous, but her clothing and hairstyle are far more akin to a middle-class minister's wife rather than a famous actress/singer.
  • Beta Couple: Beverly and Saul.
  • Children Are Innocent: Jeremiah is the only one to remember Dudley when he leaves.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Julia and Henry, who met as children and became romantic later on in high school.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Joe Hamilton, who plans to buy up the neighborhood and church for the land. he gets better though.
  • Generation Xerox: Henry & Julia, who are the preacher & preacher's wife of the local church much like Julia's parents.
  • Happily Adopted: Hakim at the end of the film.
  • Imagine Spot: Near the end of the movie Dudley very briefly swaps himself into Julia & Henry's wedding photo but changes it back after hearing thunder.
  • It's Raining Men: How Dudley makes it to earth this time.
  • My Beloved Smother: Julia's mother Margueritte can be this at times, offering advice to both her own daughter and Henry despite never being asked for it.
  • Oh, Crap!: Henry, in a rage, throws Dudley's rule book into the fire. As it goes up in a magical puff of smoke Dudley quickly pleads to the heavens that it was not his fault.
  • Put on a Bus: Hakim, who is taken by child services because his grandmother can no longer care for him properly. However,he's back by the end of the movie.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Both Margueritte and Beverly are this, contrasting the soft spoken Julia.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Margueritte threatens this when she fears how close Dudley is becoming with Julia.