THE BISHOP’S WIFE contains one of Hugo Friedhofer‘s most heavenly scores. Cary Grant stars as an angel who is summoned to earth in answer to the Bishop’s (David Niven) prayer to help him find his way in building a new cathedral. Instead, Dudley (Grant) helps the Bishop reignite his relationship with his wife (Loretta Young) and his love for his vocation.
Friedhofer utilizes all the proper instruments of the season—chorus, organ, sleigh bells—and subtly weaves in a number of Christmas carols. The score is based on a series of leitmotifs, much like his Oscar-winning score to THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES the previous year.
The first motif is the first two chords that span the interval of a fourth, signaling Dudley’s heavenly place on Earth. There is a lovely, yearning melody for Julia (Young), first played on the cello. As Henry (Niven) looks up at the painting of the new cathedral growing with a supernatural light, the organ plays a high note and the strings ascend heavenward with the first statement of the “Miracle” theme.
There is a lively, upbeat theme for Dudley, composed in a quasi-Baroque concerto grosso style. (Miklos Rozsa also utilized this form for his Oscar-winning score for A DOUBLE LIFE that year.) There are themes for little Debby and even for a hat worn by a prospective buyer in a very amusing scene. Friedhofer’s use of wordless chorus (his first ever) foreshadows his later work the next year for his nominated score to JOAN OF ARC. One of the most delightful scenes takes place on the ice skating rink in Central Park. As Dudley and Julia glide onto the ice, Friedhofer mixes waltzes and polkas and the “Miracle” and “Dudley” themes for a joyous sequence.
Though I prefer the 1996 Whitney Houston-Denzel Washington remake, THE PREACHER’S WIFE (and I think I’m the only one), Friedhofer’s Oscar-nominated score elevates THE BISHOP’S WIFE above the usual holiday fare. It also provides the accompaniment to one of the strangest Hollywood trailers I’ve ever seen.