Holiday Rewind: The Bishop’s Wife

I thought I had originally selected The Bishop’s Wife as a Christmas viewing, but I originally reviewed it in a September, so clearly not. I remember it as being less about Christmas than I had expected, which is strange if I hadn’t gone out of my way for it.

I also remember it being a quiet and almost thoughtful movie. It was light and feel-good more than being about the comedy or the drama. The busy man has to feel in danger of losing his wife to a man in tune with her needs to remember to value life outside of his ambitions. Merry Christmas, take nothing for granted. If I didn’t know that It’s A Wonderful Life only got popular much later because it could be run on TV for cheap, I’d suspect that this movie that came two years later was trying to capitalize on it.

The Bishop’s Wife. RKO Radio Pictures 1948.

Harry Brougham used to be the reverend of a small church in a poor part of the city, but not too long ago was appointed as the local bishop and tasked with overseeing the fundraising and construction of a new cathedral, which he’s become obsessed with building as a glorious edifice, but in order to get the money for such a grand work, must brown nose with the area’s wealthy elite, especially Mrs. Agnes Hamilton, who wants to leverage her donation to make the cathedral a monument to her late husband. But with his constant negotiation and planning meetings with the big donors, Bishop Brougham has not only lost all joy and charity, but also any time to love his wife Julia and daughter Debby. Strained by the tension between his principles and his desire to realize the magnificent cathedral of his dreams, Henry prays for guidance, and into his life pops Dudley, an angel who’s come to pose as Henry’s assistant and help him find his path. Though Henry doesn’t want to believe Dudley is who he says he is, particularly as Dudley won’t perform any miracles with witnesses, he does begrudgingly believe that Dudley may be supernatural. But instead of a helper to raise a cathedral from nothing with the wave of a wing, Dudley spends most of his time raising the spirits of Julia and Debby by “representing” Henry in his roles as husband and father. As Julia is lifted out of the misery of her existence since Henry’s duties took him away from his family life, Dudley’s relationship with her begins to resemble something wholly inappropriate.

This gets billed as a comedy, but it seems more like a light feel-good melodrama. Or really, it’s an unorthodox romance, where the central tension is that not only can the central couple really not be allowed to end up together, but the whole point of them getting dangerously close to falling in love is as a wakeup call to the protagonist. Dudley’s lies of omission and other interactions with the secondary and tertiary cast bring some levity, but it really feels more like comic relief than something intended as a comedy. Although perhaps in its day it was entering comedy territory just to put the pair into situations that lend themselves to misinterpretation from the outside. Definitely there’s a mild laugh a couple of times from people getting the wrong idea, but it’s very mild.

One may almost be tempted to consider it interesting that Cary Grant is not here as a romantic lead, only that’s not actually true, since again, the main shape of the movie is a romance story, only Dudley and Julia can’t actually be together. What makes it unusual is that the tragedy of them not being able to be together isn’t really foregrounded, it’s more of a postscript to the morality play of staging a crisis in Henry’s life.

I’m impressed with myself that in the original review I summed up the movie as feeling like a Christmas card, because I came up with the same imagery in organizing what I expected to write this time. Both times I was probably inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life originating as a short story in a Christmas card, even though I didn’t reference that movie directly in the original review. This came from a novella, as most movies with an unusual amount of texture do.

I also think I was pretty harsh on the diversions from the plot for entertainment value. Does the scene with Dudley, Julia, and their cab driver advance the plot the whole time? No, but it advances the theme of brightening the world with understanding and unconventionality. Does the boys’ choir scene advance the plot? No, but it illustrates some Christmas magic. I don’t know why I remembered it as barely a Christmas story, since so many scenes are steeped in at least being in early winter and the climax is on Christmas Eve, as well as having a very Christmas message of love, generosity, and fellowship. This could easily be among the movies left on repeat on cable channels that send everyone home for Christmas week.

Holiday Rewind: Fitzwilly

I strongly associate this movie with a sweaty, empty apartment because I originally reviewed it during a broke summer internship where streaming video was my only luxury. There was nothing signalling to me going in that this was a Christmassy movie, all I knew was that it starred Dick Van Dyke and it was some kind of caper maybe. And at this point, I never really remember much more than that it’s a Christmassy movie, Fitzwilly is running some kind of kind-hearted scam, and I liked it a whole lot more than I expected, to the point that I included my original review (which I made so early in the run of this blog that I hadn’t fully developed my standards for movie poster graphics and so it has a relatively tiny poster) in at least three different bundles of recommended back catalog reading/watching. Over the years I’ve occasionally felt a little disappointed that I didn’t run it at Christmas because I recall it being such a good Christmas movie nobody remembers. So, does it live up to my recollections?

Fitzwilly. The Mirisch Corporation 1967.

Claude Fitzwilliam has been elderly heiress Victoria Woolworth’s butler as long as he was old enough to run the household, after his father, her previous butler, died and Miss Vicky raised him. Miss Vicky’s father spent all of her inheritance, but Fitzwilly has made it his and his staff’s mission to keep her from knowing this, and to that end has developed an elaborate network of thievery charging expensive goods to other wealthy people and companies and diverting them to his “charity” thrift shops. Aside from the considerable expense of maintaining the house and staff and lifestyle Miss Vicky is accustomed to, the biggest hindrance to this scheme is her great passion for philanthropy, as she is constantly writing checks for thousands of dollars to any noble cause she comes across, most, but not all, being intercepted by Fitzwilly’s staff. A new complication enters this operation when Miss Vicky hires a secretary for her dictionary project who is not handpicked and briefed by Fitzwilly, but a straight and narrow college grad Juliet Nowell, who has to be kept from learning anything about the charade, and in the process comes to worry that Fitzwilly’s job as a butler isn’t appropriately challenging for someone with his mind and education. Under Juliet and Miss Vicky’s noses, Fitzwilly’s gang has to execute their biggest job ever, redecorating a house in Florida for a contact who spent most of the money his employers gave him on himself, in exchange for the remaining $75k, enough money to keep Miss Vicky in her lifestyle for the rest of her life.

For most of the movie I feel like my memory has oversold the amount to which it’s a Christmas movie, however the climax is in a busy department store on Christmas Eve and features carol singers, so it gets there eventually. Until that point it doesn’t even feel much like winter.

The two things this movie runs on are Dick Van Dyke’s charisma and to a somewhat lesser extent, the verbal fencing going on every time Fitzwilly and Juliet interact. Their scenes together are often dazzling displays of conversational agility and both actors meet the requirements of the dialogue expertly.

This is a comedic caper with a chapter that has as much Christmas in it as A Christmas Story, but it’s a much better fit to expectations to watch it for the heisting than for the Christmas.

Mystery Men

Mystery Men. Dark Horse Entertainment 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I have hardly any idea what this movie is like, and it kind of occupies the same headspace with Mystery Team, another cult movie that I think is ensemble-based that I need to get around to, but it looks like of the large ensemble there are a lot of big names, but only one I’d expect to be involved in something like this. My early impression is something like Watchmen by way of Kick-Ass. A deconstruction of superhero narratives, but as a farcical parody.

The timing of the movie should make an interesting tone. The late 90s were a time where superhero movies weren’t very popular, and sometimes not very well made. After Superman and Batman fell apart, the superhero genre struggled in movies, but the technology was starting to provide the ability make more convincing effects than the stunning work of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, but the cynicism and assembly line pop culture of the post-Dark Knight/cinematic universe era hadn’t yet come in. Without global tentpole scrutiny from the studio, maybe a superhero movie could even Say Something. That’s probably a lot to ask of a failed spoof, but the possibilities are there.

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Congo

Congo. Paramount Pictures 1995.

Before watching the movie:

So much as I thought I knew what this was about, it seems I completely misunderstood this movie. I had the idea this was some kind of action drama about conservation, like fighting poachers or something. Maybe a military operation in the jungle.

What this actually seems to have something to do with is a new species of killer gorilla and also a signing gorilla, and the preview I saw looked a lot funnier than I expected. So I’m completely at a loss for what to expect now, besides Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson being in it.

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The Shaggy Dog

The Shaggy Dog. Walt Disney Productions 1959.

Before watching the movie:

While I’d seen brief promos for this movie before with other Disney home video rereleases, I never really got an idea of what it was like beyond somebody turning into a dog. I did see the Tim Allen remake, but if that draws on anything past the “human turned into a dog” idea, it looks like it has more to do with the sequel The Shaggy D.A. I do see that where that remake used genetic research as the catalyst for the metamorphosis, I’m kind of amused that this is just “a magic ring”. Or rather, a magic ring the Borgias had, because dropping random historical names makes things sound more legitimate.

I know a few more details now but I still don’t really know what shape the story will take. It’s always nice to see Fred MacMurray though.

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Election

Election. Bona Fide Productions 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I never knew much more about this movie than that Matthew Broderick is in it and it’s probably some kind of political satire, so it always lived in my head near movies like Swing Vote, Welcome to Mooseport, and The Campaign.

On taking a closer look, this is centered around a high school class president race, and the central conflict seems to be between a teacher and a student, so I’m intrigued at the prospect of a more unorthodox satire and wondering what political parallels could develop from this dynamic. Or maybe I’ve gotten it completely wrong and this is just a study of high school politics, but I don’t think so. Stories that came from novels generally have some kind of more applicable theme.

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The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin. Walt Disney Pictures 1967.

Before watching the movie:

This is another one it’s hard to find much description that doesn’t just recap the entire plot, so I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to see for a while. A rich Boston kid running away to Gold Rush California to have adventures? Eh, not too exciting. The kid getting accompanied by his family’s very buttoned-up butler out of concern for his safety, and the butler is played by Roddy McDowall? This is somewhat more relevant to my interests.

I suspect this is going to have more of an episodic structure, as the Disney equivalent of a pulp Western adventure. Apparently it’s a musical, which could go either way. Being based on a book, there will probably be a decent amount of substance, but mostly I expect loosely connected Western-themed hijinks and barely justified showstopper songs.

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The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada. Dune Entertainment 2006.

Before watching the movie:

I think the main reason I was never especially drawn to this movie was because I’m not that into fashion, but then movies can be themed around anything without requiring intimate knowledge of them. And maybe it was also something that didn’t appeal to me because it’s a women-oriented movie and I wasn’t as interested in those in 2006.

I do vaguely recall it being among the movies that I first got a real glimpse of what’s interesting about it at the Academy Awards that year, but like most other movies that I never really considered until the Oscars showed me more than any trailer did, I never really followed up.

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Unidentified Flying Oddball

Unidentified Flying Oddball.
Walt Disney Pictures 1979.

Before watching the movie:

While the title isn’t very indicative of what the movie is about, upon reading that it’s about an astronaut accidentally winding up in the time of King Arthur, I’m incredibly unsurprised that it’s an adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court but jazzed up with space. And a robot too, for good measure. I hope the “android double” won’t be too ridiculous.

I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen Jim Dale perform in anything, but of course I know him pretty well as the audiobook narrator for the Harry Potter series in the US. I would not have expected him for Mordred though. A few of the other names are vaguely familiar but I can’t tie them to anything specific.

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Jane and the Lost City

Jane and the Lost City.
New World Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

The legend of the comic strip “Jane” is of a series of contrived pretenses to get the attractive young woman character to lose her clothes, especially around soldiers, drawn as a morale booster for British soldiers in WWII. When I was investigating the background of what this movie is based on, I couldn’t even get much more out of Wikipedia, because the legend is that pervasive. But that just made me even more curious how this pulp adventure-sounding story could relate to that beyond jamming an attractive girl named Jane whose clothes keep falling off into the plot.

I was able to find an article that traces a somewhat more comprehensive history (part 1 of 4, sequential parts are backward in the archive for some reason), where I was able to learn that it started as a high society satire/romance comic a bit like how I imagine early Blondie was before it fossilized around Dagwood’s suburban atomic family, and only later did the titillation creep in, and the war only took it over still later than that, but that reaches the end of the scope of the article, so while I have an impression that Jane was getting into war-related scrapes as an officer’s secretary, I still don’t have much of an idea of how that translates into a movie described as “Winston Churchill sends Jane on a mission to retrieve diamonds from a lost African city before the Nazis can get them.”

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