If you're like me, the Christmas season doesn't seem complete without a viewing of the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. I'm sure you know the story: George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a good man frustrated by life, is about to commit suicide when he is visited by an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George what life in the town of Bedford Falls would be like if George had never been born. George learns that he is rich indeed, because he has the love and respect of so many people. No one in my house can get through the movie with a dry eye.
BUT- I bet many of you have never seen another movie with similar themes, that was also released in 1947- The Bishop's Wife (though more of you may have seen the 1996 remake, The Preacher's Wife.) I've seen the original version two or three times, but this year I just happened to see it soon after seeing It's a Wonderful Life, and the two movies together have given me a lot to think about.
In The Bishop's Wife, David Niven plays Bishop Henry Brougham. The Bishop prays for help to get a new cathedral built -it is his dream project, but has encountered many snags. The answer to his prayer is a suave angel, Dudley, played by Cary Grant. To the Bishop's dismay, everyone seems to love Dudley more than they love him, even his wife Julia (Loretta Young). Dudley even visits the wealthy widow that has been hesitant to contribute to the bishop's project... the angel convinces her to make a huge donation, but not for a cathedral. Instead, she insists (at Dudley's suggestion) on giving the money to the poor. It seems that Dudley was not sent to help the bishop build his impressive cathedral -he was sent to teach him what is really important. Henry realizes that he must fight to win back his long-ignored wife's affection.
In some ways, this movie is almost the opposite of It's a Wonderful Life. George Bailey is a good man who doesn't realize how good he is, and how much he had meant to his town; he thinks he is a failure. He is visited by a rather bumbling angel, who shows him just how loved he is.
Henry Brougham is the opposite of George Bailey; he is arrogant and self-righteous. He is not really trying to build a cathedral for God, he is doing it for himself. He is sent a debonair angel, who basically shows him that he is an arsehole, and had better change his ways before he loses his family. The lesson is learned. Instead of learning, as George did, that he has been a good man all along, the bishop learns to become a good man- or at least find the good man dormant within him.
Ultimately, though, both angels bring the same message to the prayerful supplicants who summoned them.
You have so much to be grateful for.
You are so blessed.
Angels are envious of what you have.
The most important thing in life is giving to those in need... who are less fortunate than you. Praying doesn't bring you more physically -rather, God calls on you to give more. And then your non-physical blessings will grow.
All those messages are perfect for this season -and for every day. Next year, I highly recommend you watch them back-to-back and think on what Clarence and Dudley have to say.
Heck, there's no reason you have to wait for next year.
PS: Another thing the two films have in common- Robert Anderson, who plays young George Bailey and a singer in a choir that the angel Dudley works with.