Last of the Monster Kids

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 17

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Kids are dumb. By their very nature, they are uninformed about the world. When I was much younger then I am now, I remember seeing advertisements for “The Preacher's Wife.” For some reason, that movie has always stuck in my brain, even though I've never actually seen it. While discussing it at some point down the line, I was informed that it was actually a remake. That original, it turns out, is actually pretty highly regarded. Yes, even back then, I prided myself on knowing a lot about movies. Boy, was my face red. Anywho, “The Bishop's Wife” is a Christmas movie which is why I'm discussing this at all.

A bishop named Henry Brougham is preoccupied with work. He's stressed out that he's unable to secure funding for a new cathedral. His work load has led to a strained relationship with his wife and young daughter. In a hopeless moment, he preys to God for a miracle. The next day, a man claiming to be an angel appears. Dudley, as he calls himself, has a positive influence on everyone he meets. The angel is especially focused of Julia, the bishop's wife. Soon, Bishop Brougham begins to wonder why Dudley actually came into his home and if he has his angelic eyes set on his wife.

Cary Grant as an angel seems like ideal casting. He was, after all, one of the most classically handsome actors of Hollywood's golden age. In “The Bishop's Wife,” he plays pretty much the perfect guy. He swoops into a lonely woman's life. He's immediately funny and sweet. While her husband ignores her, Dudley takes Julia to her favorite restaurant. In maybe the film's most famous scene, he takes her ice-skating, the two dancing around the ice together. He's also literally magical. Dudley directs a snowball with pinpoint accuracy, allowing the daughter to make new friends. He provides a professor suffering from writer's block with a never emptying glass of inspiration lending sherry. He can decorate a Christmas tree in seconds and dictate to a type writer. The character is practically perfect, with even his flaws serving to improve the lives of those around him. The part needed an actor of unlimited appeal, like Grant, to make it work at all. Luckily, Cary Grant really was that charming.

“The Bishop's Wife” is also a very strange love triangle, if you stop to think about. Dudley has been sent to make Bishop Brougham appreciate his family more. He does this by... Seducing his wife? Yet Dudley, being an angel, is never inappropriate or overtly romantic. He's always just shy of outright courting Julia, even though he does everything to win her over. Similarly, Loretta Young plays the part of someone obviously falling for the guy but working extra hard to keep things platonic. It's a tricky balancing act to play. When it's revealed that Grant is falling for her, it honestly seems a little out of character, despite the obvious chemistry the two share. It's a testament to the talent of the actors involved that this story line comes off as way less weird then it actually is.

“The Bishop's Wife” is a romantic comedy that more often emphasizes the comedy. David Niven is usually the butt of these jokes. Niven was excellent at playing stuffy guys, so he's a good target. When he directly tells his daughter he can't tell her a story, you're tempted to dislike the guy. His comedic comeuppance are well-earned. An especially funny moment has him magically affixed to a chair. Another amusing bit focuses on the bishop's attempt to navigate an egomaniac woman's demands. Niven's frequently flummoxed reactions to Grant's magical shenanigans is another source of laughs. Yet “The Bishop's Wife” is a nice movie, so Niven gets his redemptive moment. Thanks to the underrated actor's ability, it works too.

For the record, “The Bishop's Wife” is super Christmas-y. Carols are heard all throughout the film. The nativity story is frequently referenced. Snow is on the ground the entire time. Christmas activities make up large portions of the plot. It even co-stars Zuzu from “It's a Wonderful Life!” Weirdly, the movie isn't actually about Christmas, the holiday setting merely being decorations for a story about love and faith. The movie is kind of odd, once you think about it, but entertaining while you watch it. Not exactly a classic but certainly worth watching around December. [7/10]

Roseanne: Santa Claus

“Roseanne” was controversial in its day for putting a blue collar spin on the traditional sitcom premise. In 2016, the show seems even more subversive and sharp then it was in the early nineties. Take “Santa Claus,” for example, the Christmas episode from season four. Roseanne's boss is looking to fill the position of mall Santa. After Dan declines, Roseanne talks Martin Mull into letting her don the red suit. Through this scenario, Roseanne meets Darlene's new friend Karen. Except Karen isn't a teenage girl. She's a middle-age woman that owns a book store. When Roseanne investigates further, she makes a surprising discovery about her daughter.

The main reason to check out this half-hour, especially around December, is to see Roseanne as Santa Claus. Her time in the chair is obviously the comedic centerpiece of the episode. As the kids sit on her lap, Roseanne responds in amusing ways. She cleverly negotiates with a kid who was disappointed in last years gift. When a pushy mom tries to influence her daughter's gift suggestions, Roseanne as Santa instead lets the girl speak her mind. Her response to the expected jaded child - “Well, Santa doesn't believe in you either” – is great. When a kid asks for a B.B. Gun, Santa has to get a correction from home, something Roseanne is more then able to roll with. Kids pull on her ear and beard, which is some fine physical comedy. Aunt Jackie provides some nice support as an atypical Missus Claus, who has to strong arm the kids in line sometimes.

The Christmas stuff is a lot of fun but, strangely, isn't part of the main emotional thrust of the episode. Instead, that revolves around Roseanne discovering her daughter is a huge nerd. She learns that the normally caustic Darlene likes to quietly hang out at a bookstore, take care of the owner's son, write science fiction, and is looking forward to attending a Star Trek convention. It's not so much the nerdiness that bothers Roseanne as the fact that Darlene is hiding stuff from her. The reason why – that she's afraid her mom would mock her, that she might be an atheist – roots a silly plot in some serious emotion. This spins towards a funny conclusion too, with mother and daughter realizing how similar they really are.

So there's no gift unwrapping montage or a big scene around the Christmas tree. Becky and D.J. basically have cameos, though Becky has a great gag with her dad involving a ring. “Santa Claus” is still a pretty good Christmas episode and serves to remind why I like this show so much. Even among the snappy dialogue, these were fully formed characters who cared about each other. [7/10]

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