"The Bishop's Wife" is playing this week at the Normal Theater. (Photos courtesy of the Normal Theater)
By Dawn Riordan
NORMAL - Holiday classic films are always a welcome feature of the season. We look forward to them each year with the anticipation of a kid on, well, Christmas Day.
Having worked 18 holiday seasons at the Normal Theater since its re-opening in 1994, I can tell you that the best way to enjoy one of these ‘"evergreens" is on the big screen in an historic movie theater. Recognizing I may be spoiled by the fact that I am at the Normal Theater for all the holiday classics, let me share some of the things I’ve heard our patrons say over the years:
“It’s part of our family tradition to see (a holiday classic) at the Normal Theater every year!”
“I’ve never seen this move all the way through, and it’s great!”
The second quote is one that inspires me. Amazingly, a lot of people have not yet seen some of these movies, even though they may me big classic titles or have big-named stars in them.
If you’re one of these people I highly recommend you see them at the Normal Theater when they will be on screen this holiday season. Seeing one for the very first time, duplicating the original experience of what audiences saw when the movie was first released is a really memorable moment. Seeing one again, this time on the big screen, makes for a whole new experience.
For example, this weekend we have two classic movies that you may have never really seen. One is pretty much obscure, but stars three big-name actors. The other one is probably one you’ve seen clips of, but how about the rest of the movie?
Cary Grant stars as an angel in “The Bishop’s Wife,” a small film that came out the same time “Miracle on 34th Street” premiered – and we know which one was more popular at the time. But “The Bishop’s Wife" is just as good, or maybe better than "Miracle" because it has a simple universal message – one that is playfully delivered by three great actors – Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young.
Cary Grant may be the most well-known of these three – a handsome actor whose impeccable ability to do comedy made him irresistible to fans and one of the few legends from the golden age of Hollywood movies. David Niven was Cary’s British equivalent – most of his movies were in fact made in America, but his British mannerisms and handsome, staid looks made him a good second if Cary wasn’t available. Loretta, well, she was oten cast as the good wife or the model wife ... and in this picture, both!
The story is a fun one. Bishop David Niven wants to build a big new cathedral, but he is having problems raising the funds. His wife, Loretta, keeps his house, raises their delightful daughter and stands by his side throughout meetings with rich parishioners who look at the project with a cynical and selfish eye. Enter one Heaven-sent angel, Cary Grant, to make things right and redirect everyone’s sensibilities toward a simpler and happier life for each and all. It’s got comedy and just the right dose of sentimentality to get you in the holiday mood.
Our second feature is not really a Christmas movie at all. However, it just happens to showcases one of the best Christmas songs ever written in the 20th century, sung by one of the best female singers – Judy Garland.
The story behind "Meet Me in St. Louis" centers on a romance Judy has with the boy next door. When it is announced by the family patriarch that they must relocate to New York, it puts the rest of the family in a dither over uprooting their lives for success. The feelings are translated well in Judy’s pivotal holiday moment onscreen.
Her voice lends a saddening lilt to the classic "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” a song written for the movie but not considered its big hit tune (that was “The Trolley Song” nominated for Oscar). Garland is the star of the movie, but it is 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien who steals the show. Even when the song is sung, Margaret, known for her crying scenes, wells up the tears and explodes at the end of the tune, running out into the cold snowy yard to destroy her snow people family, because she won’t be able to take them with her when they move.
Judy will lose touch with the boy next door and the rest of the family will miss the St. Louis State Fair, the biggest and best fair ever. It’s all about the family and true core values that money cannot buy. And it’s got that great MGM touch. Good stuff for the holidays!
If you want to escape the craziness of Black Friday, start a new family tradition or just enhance the one you already have in place. See a holiday classic movie on the big screen at the classic Normal Theater.
“The Bishop’s Wife” shows Thanksgiving night and Friday at 7 p.m. Judy and Margaret will be on the big screen in “Meet Me In St. Louis” this Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. each evening.
It’s a great start to having yourself a merry little season!
Dawn Riordan is manager of the Normal Theater.