Home Video Picks & Passes 12.1.13

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) PICK

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) PASS

Elf (2003) PICK

Planes (2013) PICK

Immortalized as the film playing at the Bedford Falls Bijou in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bells of St. Mary’s — new on Blu-ray — is Leo McCarey’s popular sequel to his Academy Award winner Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby as the lovable but unconventional Father Chuck O’Malley. (Both Capra and McCarey were Catholic, McCarey devoutly so.)

The rather rambling sequel introduces Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict, a strict but caring nun who runs the school at Father Chuck’s new parish. Naturally, their different methods lead to friction, and there’s a tear-jerking ending, but goodwill and sentiment triumphs overall. Henry Travers, best known as Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, plays a curmudgeonly businessman whom the nuns hope will save their school.

Speaking of curmudgeons, I confess I’m one when it comes to another new Blu-ray release of a pious Golden Age favorite, this one with an Episcopalian rather than Catholic milieu. The Bishop’s Wife is a Christmas-themed romantic comedy with Cary Grant as a Christmas angel coming to the aid of a troubled clergyman (David Niven) and his wife (Loretta Young).

Sorry, but I find the premise of a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant as an angel — not a pseudo-angel like Clarence, but an immortal, pure spirit who is nevertheless attracted to a woman, and a married woman at that — icky and wrong. It may be defensible in an art film, like Wings of Desire, though I don’t like it even there. But in popular entertainment, it turns me off. Angels — real angels — shouldn’t be imagined this way.

Would I prefer Will Ferrell as an overgrown adopted elf named Buddy who is raised in Santa’s workshop by Bob Newhart and is searching for his real father (James Caan) in New York City? I would — and I usually dislike Ferrell.

But you have to love him as Buddy in Elf, celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new Blu-ray edition. His innocence, optimism and goodwill buoy the film, along with Newhart as droll, deadpan Papa Elf, Zooey Deschanel as a jaded-but-sympathetic department-store elf and Mary Steenburgen as Caan’s good-hearted wife.

Finally, among new movies debuting on home video, Disney’s Planes is the gentlest, most family-friendly of this year’s big-screen Hollywood animated films. A spin-off of Pixar’s "World of Cars," Planes features an admirable protagonist who earns the audience’s support and a colorful supporting cast, a number of whom face various moral challenges and most of whom ultimately redeem themselves in one way or another. It’s not a great film, but it’s a sweet, pretty satisfying one.


Caveat Spectator: The Bells of St. Mary’s: Marital strife within a student’s family, but otherwise nothing objectionable. The Bishop’s Wife: Romantic complications. Elf: Fleeting bad language; a character’s out-of-wedlock origins. Planes: Some mild action and scariness; mild rude humor. All fine family viewing. (Well, maybe not Elf for younger kids.)