In the mid ’90s, I was employed at a video store in a rural community in Northeastern California that primarily consisted of white, white, God-fearing white folks. One day, a regular, elderly (white) customer rented The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, commenting in a typical predominately backwoods fashion, “I hear they’re remaking this with the blacks.” Several months down the road, well after the initial state of shock I had experienced from my customer’s remark had long since subsided, I discovered who “the blacks” in question were.
The Preacher’s Wife, the 1996 remake of the aforementioned classic from 1948, stars Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, and Courtney B. Vance — the latter of whom always sticks out to me in this cast line-up since he is the only one who doesn’t have a major city or state as a last name. Here, Mr. Vance is cast as Reverend Biggs: a man of God in NYC who finds himself questioning his faith as his marriage to his gospel singing wife is on the rocks and the neighborhood is being systematically torn down by a unscrupulous real estate mogul (the late great Gregory Hines). So, the Reverend asks God for help. And an angel named Dudley (Denzel) answers.
Naturally, the doubtful Mr. Biggs doesn’t believe in Dudley. Honestly, who would believe a fellow named Dudley is an angel? Simple miracles have no affect on the holy man, who reluctantly hires Dudley to help him out in his effort to clean up the community — even going so far as to invite the homeless seraph into his home. Alas, Dudley — who has not even smelled a woman in ages — begins to fall in love with Mrs. Biggs (Whitney Houston, who was at an all-time low in life, resorting to getting all kinds of high every day during the shoot), and his admiration certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by the affectionately-famished preacher’s wife.
In keeping up with the tradition beget in the late ’80s with the casting of Raven-Symoné as that annoying kid on The Cosby Show, The Preacher’s Wife co-stars and is narrated by an annoying kid — played here by the still-unknown Justin Pierre Edmund. Also starring in this mid ’90s family-friendly rom-com are Jenifer Lewis, Loretta Devine, Lionel Richie, and Whitney’s mum, Cissy.
A few days short of the six-month anniversary of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing (at the hands of cocaine — drugs are bad, kids!), Touchstone released this Holiday/gospel favorite to Blu-ray with an all-new AVC/1080p transfer. Since we hadn’t achieved that state of digital bliss filmmakers are all to-do about to-day in the ’90s, you can expect a fair amount of grain here. In fact, the overall picture quality doesn’t look too-terribly hot to me: detail is on the OK side of the meter, contrast is often murky, and the color palette is somewhat discernable at times — ranging from great in some scenes to not-all-that-great in others.
The accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a mostly front-heavy affair, and, but delivers all the banter between the male leads and the vocals by the female star admirably. Special features-wise, a recycled Standard-Def featurette is tacked-on here produced in the mid ’90s, along with a minute-long trailer that was ported over from the film’s first home video release.
Sixteen years after the Penny Marshall-directed The Preacher’s Wife hit theaters, not a whole lot has changed in the world. Sure, Whitney left us — as did the xenophobic elderly lady who used unnecessary articles when describing people of African heritage — but the fact remains that the feature film in question has gone by the wayside with filmgoers. It’s nowhere near It’s a Wonderful Life as far as proverbial Holiday classics go (heck, it’s not even as fun as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, for that matter), but it has managed to pick up a group of followers nonetheless.
Yeah, it’s a bit odd this title didn’t hit shelves around Christmas time. Yes, it could almost sorta kinda seem like the whole damn disc was rushed into production in order to capitalize on the death of another. Et oui, all of the extras are ancient ones that have been culled from inferior sources, while the audio/video presentations of the release itself were probably tossed together somewhat hurriedly. But does that mean that fans of The Preacher’s Wife shouldn’t buy this one on Blu-ray?