Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A little extra and the Bishop's wife

I pay a little extra to the cable company to have a cable box with DVR, digital video recording.

I could write more than a few posts deriving from that one sentence. The cable company's rate structure and business model makes me think of modern day pirates. The quality of digital recording is excellent, and it records in high definition if one has that service - I pay a little extra for that, too. Why I should have to pony up more money for high def in a world in which high def became the broadcast standard some years ago has not been explained. Did I use the word 'pirates' yet? There is a problem, of course. (Isn't there always?) The box fills up with recordings, at which point programs and movies have to be deleted to make way for new items of interest.

I record a lot of movies, mostly from the classic movie channel. You know, the one that I was fortunate to get when it was part of a special deal? Otherwise, I'd have had to pay a lot extra for an entire service level of sports channels which I would never watch in order to get the one non-sports channel in that package, i.e. the classic movies channel. Did I use the word 'pirates' yet?

Well, anyway, since I gave myself that relatively inexpensive video projector for Christmas, I've been watching a couple of movies just about every week. The way I currently have things set up, the old Hollywood style projected picture is about 5 feet wide, and a little under 4 feet in height. Widescreen, well at least the tv version of it, is over 6 feet in length. In my small-ish space, I could reorient things and get a much larger picture, but my current method allows for a guest or two without totally rearranging the furniture.

Last night, I finally caught up with "The Bishop's Wife". For some reason or other, I'd never seen it. It's another of those movies with a somewhat messy history. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn using facilities at MGM, it was distributed by RKO, and somehow ended up looking like it might have been filmed at Paramount. The story told of a somewhat fastidious Bishop who had become so focused on the task of raising money for a cathedral that he was ignoring his wife and daughter, as well as the needs of parishioners. Heavenly intervention arrives in the form of a rather rakish angel. Goldwyn became so dissatisfied with the dailies he called a halt to production, replaced the director, had changes made to the sets as well as the script, and changed one important bit of the casting. The role of the Bishop was played by Cary Grant, the Angel was played by David Niven. During the hiatus, the director and Goldwyn decided that the roles should be reversed. Grant was allegedly not very happy with this turn of events. The story has changed over the years, however, so that now it is said that the change in roles was Grant's idea and it was Niven who was unhappy. (Niven was at a low point during the filming. His wife was injured in a fall and died from ensuing complications leaving him with two young sons to raise.) However the change happened, both men gave excellent performances in their new roles. Loretta Young does a decent job as the Bishop's wife, suffering neglect with admirable restraint, but was not quite as inspired in her performance as her co-stars.

One of the stories from the set told of a day the director had trouble with both Mr. Grant and Ms. Young. They each insisted that for one particular scene, they be photographed from their "good side". The only problem was that they both favored the same side. The director filmed the scene with the two stars standing side by side looking out a window. Mr. Goldwyn was not happy. The next day he confronted the director and the stars on the set. After having the situation explained to him, he is said to have remarked that if he was only going to get a shot with a half of the stars faces, then they would only get half of their salaries. There were no further such demands.

The rest of the cast was rounded out with instantly recognizable character actors. Well, instantly recognizable for anyone of my age, or for inveterate moviegoers. I especially liked Monty Woolley in the role of a history professor, and Gladys Cooper as the rich widow funding the cathedral. Elsa Lancaster had been cast in a maid's role, but had to withdraw due to other commitments. During the production delay, she finished up her other role and ended up replacing her replacement who had to exit due to commitments of her own. Two of the young players in the previous year's holiday picture, "It's a Wonderful Like" are in the cast - the fellow who played the young George Bailey, and the young lady who played ZuZu of the petals.

Although the film got glowing reviews, it didn't do a lot of business at the box office. Under the theory that the title made people think it was a religious story, the advertising was changed (and in some markets the name of the picture as well) to read "Cary and the Bishop's Wife!" In those markets, the box-office increased 25%.

It's easy to see why it became a Holiday classic back in the days when movies were regularly shown on broadcast tv. A charming sort of romantic comedy, there's Christmas shopping, snow scenes, and a tad of religion. In once scene, Cary Grant plays a harp in the home of the rich widow. The melody became popular, acquired a set of lyrics, and became a minor hit for Nat King Cole as "Lost April".

Most of the movies currently on my DVR are old favorites which I haven't seen in many years. I'm running out of movies I've recorded that I haven't seen. Soon I'll be watching a number of old favorites which I haven't seen in a long, long time. I'm still surprised I spent the money for the projector (it cost about the same as my 16mm print of Casablanca, purchased in 1975 or so). All the little extras I've spent which used to make me feel slightly guilty over the expense incurred have made this possible; it has turned out to be more rewarding than I ever imagined.

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