Posts Tagged ‘David Niven’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Bishop’s Wife, for the Christmas Movie Blogathon

I was honored when Family Friendly Reviews asked me to participate in their first blogathon, focusing on Christmas Movies.  Immediately I knew I’d write about one of my favorites, The Bishop’s Wife.   Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Henry Koster,  and made in 1947, the film resonated so much with audiences that besides doing extremely well at the box office it was a Best Picture nominee at that year’s Academy Awards.   The talented cast included  Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Gladys Cooper, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Elsa Lanchester, and Karolyn Grimes.  CM Blogathon

David Niven portrays Bishop Henry Brougham and Loretta Young is his wife, Julia.  They have an 8 year old daughter, Debbie(Karolyn Grimes, who also played  Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life) and they live in a huge house with a cook and a maid, Matilda(Elsa Lanchester),  and the Bishop also has a secretary, Miss Cassaway(Sara Haden.)    Life would appear to be simple and easy for the Bishop and his wife, but that isn’t the case at all.

It’s Christmas time as the film opens and we see a winter’s evening settling in over a large city.  The city isn’t identified but as large as it is in the opening flyover shot, I assumed it to be New York City.  We see excited and smiling children admiring the department store windows decorated with moveable characters, acting out little scenes of elves building toys in Santa’s workshop.  Watching all of this happiness is one lone man, smartly dressed, who quietly assumes a watchful eye.  He helps a blind man cross a busy street, cars suddenly braking to a stop as if an unseen force caused the braking.  We see this same man stop a runaway baby buggy and then hand the infant over to her grateful mother.  Then as this man is about to stroll away, he notices Julia, the Bishop’ s wife, looking longingly at a hat in a store window.

Julia wants that hat!

Julia wants that hat!

Julia moves on from the store window and runs into Professor Wutheridge(Monty Woolley) at the florist’s store where she is going to buy the Christmas tree for the Bishop’s house.  ( She orders a huge tree, to be delivered, for $1.85!!!!  Oh those 1947 prices!!)  The Professor admits that he misses seeing Julia and Henry since Henry’s  promotion from being the head minister at St. Timothy’s, which is now in danger of being shuttered.  Julia agrees that she misses the Professor, the old  neighborhood, and she is sad about St. Timothy’s.  The Professor knows about Henry needing to raise money for the building of a  cathedral and despite being a non-religious man, he gives Julia an old Roman coin, and asks her to give it to Henry, to put it towards the cathedral.  This offering touches Julia and she tears up in spite of herself.

When Julia arrives home, she has just missed another meeting  with Mrs. Hamilton(Gladys Cooper) and the cathedral committee.  What she missed was Mrs. Hamilton scolding  Henry about his “fuzzy-thinking” and the doubts Mrs. Hamiton has that Henry is the right man for the job.  Mrs. Hamilton’s bossy,  irritable mood has rubbed off on Henry and he chastises Julia for missing the meeting and he scoffs at the coin from the Professor.  Julia and Henry sit down to an unhappy,  tense dinner and Henry tries to make amends with the suggestion that he and Julia actually have a date for lunch the next day.  Julia’s face lights up at this plan, only to have their date shattered with a phone call from Mr. Travers, to remind Henry about a  meeting that will conflict with the date and cannot be gotten out of.  With the date cancelled, Julia goes  upstairs and  Henry goes back to his study and looks intently at the painting of a cathdral that is above the fireplace mantle.  He prays aloud to God for guidance and hears the door to his study open and close.  He turns to see who is there and no one is there.   As he looks back at the painting, it seems to be lit up and a man is suddenly in the room with him.  It is the smartly dressed man we saw in the film’s opening, the good samaritan who was helping people.  The man introduces himself as Dudley(Cary Grant), and he tells Henry that he is an angel, sent by God, to give Henry the help he’s prayed for!  Henry is at first, very skeptical that this man is an angel and he demands that Dudley perform a miracle right then and there, perhaps to build the cathedral with the wave of his hand.  Dudley chuckles at Henry’s challenge and informs Henry that he will help Henry reach his goals until Henry utters a prayer saying he doesn’t need Dudley’s help anymore and Dudley will then leave and no one will remember him having been among them.

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley, himself, has a conflict.  He is falling in love with Julia, and Henry has an inkling that this is happening.  All the ladies in the Bishop’s household: daughter Debbie, Miss Cassaway, Matilda, and Julia, are all charmed by Dudley, much to Henry’s consternation.  There are many great scenes where Dudley steps in and weaves his “angel magic”: helping Debbie get accepted into a  snowball fight, keeping the Professor’s sherry bottle filled, dictating the Bishop’s sermon to an unmanned typewriter,  helping Julia and taxi driver Sylvester(James Gleason) ice skate like Olympic athletes, playing the harp to melt Mrs. Hamilton’s icy heart, getting the boys to show up for choir practice at St. Timothy’s, keeping Henry away from the choir practice and literally stuck at Mrs. Hamilton’s home,  and my favorite: the decorating of the Bishop’s Christmas tree.

Who wouldn't want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Ice skating with Julia

Ice skating with Julia

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

What I enjoy about this movie is it’s depiction of faith, of a marriage in trouble, and of relationships developing and relationships healing.  The characters are very realistic, even the depiction of an angel!  Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant as their angel??  There is charm, comedy, and a wistfulness in this film.  When it was first in production, Samuel Goldwyn didn’t like the way the first director, William A.  Seiter had handled  the film, so he fired Seiter and had him replaced with Henry Koster.   He also had Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett make some uncredited rewrites of the screenplay.  Gregg Toland’s cinematography was top-notch.     Based upon Robert Nathan’s  1928 novel by the same title, I am glad Goldwyn stepped in and ordered those changes which yielded such a rich film.

Will the cathedral get built?  Will Mrs. Hamilton win and get Henry demoted?  Will St. Timothy’s be closed for good?  Will Henry and Julia’s marriage be saved?  Will Dudley resolve his feelings for Julia? Will he reveal who he really is to her?  The only way to find out the answers to these questions is to seek out The Bishop’s Wife for oneself.   It is available at Amazon and at TCM, and it will air on TCM on Christmas Eve at 12:15 am EST, so set that dvr machine!

At the film’s end, we get to hear a portion of  Bishop Henry’s Christmas Eve sermon:…”all the stockings are filled except one, the stocking for the child in the manger…Let us ask ourselves what would He wish for most?  Let each put in his share.  Lovingkindness, warm  hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.  All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”  I would add that for the next Christmas season, if you or your family are looking for an opportunity to serve others check out Operation Christmas Child, part of an outreach with The Samaritan’s Purse Ministry.  It allows one to give gifts that will be picked up and delivered to children in third world countries.  The ministry supplies a guided list of gifts to send and the costs for mailing the packages oversees.  For more information, click on this link.

For a lovely Christmas movie, one the entire family can watch and enjoy together, please seek out The Bishop’s Wife!  TBW movie poster 1

My Classic Movie Pick: Bachelor Mother

For a light-hearted romance comedy, one couldn’t pick a better  movie than 1939’s Bachelor Mother, which stars Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Charles Coburn.  The true subject matter, that of an abandoned baby, is a serious one but deftly handled in this film.  Bachelor Mother Rogers portrays Polly Parrish, a hard-working and clever shopgirl for the John B. Merlin and Son Department store in NYC.  The need for employees is great as the Christmas shopping season is right at hand, yet Polly has just learned that her position will be cut once the holiday is past.  On her lunch break, she sees an abandoned baby placed on the steps of an orphanage and she rushes to stop the baby as it is about to roll down the steps and land in the street.  At that moment, a worker at the orphanage opens the front door, and seeing Polly with the baby, assumes that  she is the mother.  Polly protests that she is not the mother and walks away after handing them the baby.  The workers decide to track down Polly and they find out she works at the department store.  While looking for her there, the “Son” in the store’s title, David Merlin(David Niven) is told about this unwed mother shopgirl and decides to find out how the store can help her out in her situation.  He arranges for Polly to keep her job.  Polly’s landlady gets involved when she offers to babysit the baby while Polly is at work, so being unable to convince anyone that she is not the baby’s mother, Polly decides to take the baby in and become his mother.

Polly learning to care for and love the baby.

Polly learning to care for and love the baby.

Polly denying that she is the mother.

Polly denying that she is the mother.

The comedic part of the film is that the store’s owner, J. B. Merlin(Charles Coburn), is tired of his playboy son’s ways and wants him to settle down and get married and provide him with some grandchildren.  David’s character undergoes the most change as we see him in the film’s beginning content with his playboy lifestyle until he meets the wise and pretty Polly.  It is fun to see the impact her character has on his and how this starts the wheels in turning him away from his carefree existance.  There are mistaken identities, a disgruntled stock clerk who wants to use Polly’s predicament in order to blackmail David Merlin and all of these shenanigans add up to a fun movie viewing experience.

J. B. hoping that this baby is really his grandson!

J. B. hoping that this baby is really his grandson!

David checking in on Polly and the baby.

David checking in on Polly and the baby.

Bachelor Mother was distributed by RKO Studios.  It cost the studio $500,000 to make the film and it earned almost $2,000,000 in box office profits.  Directed by Garson Kanin, screenplay by Norman Krasna, which actually came from a 1935 Austrian-Hungarian movie, The Little Mother, written by Felix Jackson.  Bachelor Mother is available via Amazon.com, there are several scenes including a fine summing up of the movie’s plot by a fan on Youtube, and on Saturday, August 24th, Turner Classic Movies will air it at 4:30 pm(ET)/3:30 pm(CT).

A second Bachelor Mother publicity still.

A second Bachelor Mother publicity still.

Publicity still for Bachelor Mother

Publicity still for Bachelor Mother

My Classic Movie Pick: A Matter of Life and Death

The Archers logo from A Matter of Life and Death

The Archers logo from A Matter of Life and Death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Matter of Life and DeathIn September 1945, Michael Powell and Emeric  Pressburger began production on  a new movie for the studio that they created, The Archers.  The film, written by Powell and Pressburger, was called A Matter of Life and Death in the United Kingdom.   For the U.S. audiences, it was re-titled Stairway to Heaven.   This film was one of the more unusual ones that the team of Powell and Pressburger ever created.  A romance, with a history lesson, and a fantasy, all rolled into one concept.  The British cast members were led by David Niven, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Robert Coote, and Kathleen Byron.  American actress Kim Hunter was the female lead and Canadian actor Raymond Massey also starred in the movie.

The plot centers around RAF pilot Peter Carter(Niven) desperately trying to land his damaged and burning airplane after a mission over Germany on May 2, 1945.  His crew has already bailed out as he had ordered them to do, not revealing that his own parachute was all shot up.  He manages to contact June, an American radio operator based in England.  He talks with her movingly as he knows his life is about to end, and he makes the decision to jump from his plane without a parachute before it crashes into the sea.  By all accounts, Peter should have died but Conductor 71(Marius Goring, dressed as a very pompous French Aristocrat, circa the French Revolution) misses Peter due to the thick fog over the English Channel on the night of May 2nd.  Thus, Peter wakes up on a beach in England, instead of being led to Heaven by Conductor 71.   The next morning, after Peter awakens on the beach and realizes he is alive, he happens to meet June, who is bicycling back to her home for some sleep as her shift has ended.   As Peter and June spend time talking to one another,  so surprised and relieved that Peter survived the jump, they fall in love.  Conductor 71 finds Peter and is able to freeze time, in order to greet Peter and tell him that Peter should really be dead and that he must take Peter to Heaven now.  Peter demands that there be an appeal, after all, it’s not his fault that the Conductor messed up.  Now that June is in his life, he doesn’t want to go to Heaven.  The Conductor has a consult with his superiors who agree that Peter can make an appeal.  The Conductor returns to Earth to tell Peter that he has three days to prepare his case for staying on Earth.  He is allowed to pick a defense counsel from anyone who has already died, but has a hard time deciding on who to choose.

.Roger Livesey Stairway to Heaven

Meanwhile, June has a friend, Doctor Reeves,(Roger Livesey), who is fascinated by Peter’s survival, and thinks that the visions of this Conductor are a result of a brain injury; chronic adhesive arachnoiditis from a slight concussion Peter suffered two years prior.  Reeves schedules Peter for surgery to correct the problem and to rid him of the visions.  Unfortunately, Dr. Reeves is killed in a motorcycle accident before the surgery is to take place, but now he can be Peter’s Defense Counsel in Heaven.   With Dr.  Reeves in place for the defense, Heaven chooses its prosecutor for this unusual appeal and Abraham Farlan(Raymond Massey) is picked for the task.  Mr. Farlan was the first American who died in the American Revolution and there is no love lost between him and England.  He even admits he is shocked and saddened that an American maiden, such as June, and a Bostonian too, could fall in love with an English man!  As Peter is given anesthesia and is unconscious for his surgery, the court trial in Heaven begins.   Immediately, Dr. Reeves challenges the make-up of individuals in the jury, which are individuals who hate the British.  The judge agrees to let this jury be replaced with a mixture of modern day Americans.

Events from World History and British History are cited by Reeves and Farlan, and finally Reeves requests that June be allowed to take the stand.   This poses a problem as she is still alive, not a resident of Heaven, so Conductor 71 solves that problem by causing June at the hospital, awaiting the outcome of Peter’s surgery, to fall asleep so that she can then give her testimony to the Heavenly court.  Reeves proves that June truly loves Peter as she shows that she is willing to take his place in Heaven so that he can go on to have a longer life on Earth.   “…nothing is stronger than the law in the Universe, but on Earth, nothing is stronger than love,”  says Dr. Reeves in his summation.  I won’t reveal anymore about this movie’s end as I want anyone who reads this blog to search out the film on their own to see it!  The production team made a very creative decision to film all of the Earth scenes in rich technicolor and all of the Heaven scenes in black and white, a reverse of what was done for The Wizard of Oz.   Jack Cardiff, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, shot this film for The Archers, and his love of the craft shows.  It is a beautifully lensed  film.   To convey that it takes a while for the characters to travel to Heaven, a huge escalator was built by a team of engineers.  They dubbed the project “Operation Ethel” and it took 3 months to build it and cost 3000 pounds.  The escalator had 106 steps, each step being 20 ft. wide, and it was driven by a 12 horsepower engine.  Unfortunately the noise from that engine was so loud that all the dialogue for those scenes had to be re-dubbed in studio.  There was also a 9 month wait for the film stock and Technicolor cameras because they were in use by the U.S. Army to make their training films!

A Matter of Life and Death was chosen for the first ever Royal Film Presentation on Nov. 1st, 1946, then it went out to the general public in the U.K. on December 15th, 1946.  It had it’s first showing in America, under a new title: Stairway to Heaven, on Dec. 25th, 1946, in New York City.   The Archers Studio, aka Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, made wonderful movies to view, usually filmed by Jack Cardiff,  with very interesting plots and this is one of my favorites that they produced.  Other films in their canon that I have seen and enjoyed are: I Know Where I’m Going, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Contraband, 49th Parallel, and  A Canterbury Tale.  A Matter of Life and Death is available at Amazon and Turner Classic Movies will air it on April 18th.

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