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Movies Made Here: Preacher's Wife (1996)

What would be Whitney Houston's last feature film was partially filmed on Tarrytown's Main Street.

 

I try to keep my Movies Made Here reviews at least somewhat seasonally appropriate, but sadly, what makes this Christmas movie timely is the death of .

Houston, who may not be remembered foremost for her acting career, here gets to shine as an actor who happens to do a lot of what Houston will be remembered for: lip-quiveringly belting out song.

Houston is the preacher's wife and the preacher is...well...not Denzel Washington. Washington is the angel Dudley who comes down to help this family and their church (seeing hard times and potential altogether razing). What really needs help is the humdrum marriage of preacher and wife who have lost their collective spark. Dudley, who, rather innocently, wants to help the marriage...by encouraging Julia to buy lingerie, taking her to lunch, to the jazz club where her husband proposed to her, and finally for a round of romantic ice-skating, is actually kind of edgy for an angel. We wonder if he'll make a cuckold of the humdrum preacher.

But, Lord have mercy. Houston sings and sings as choral director and it took me most of the movie to come to believe that the church scenes might have been filmed in a very transformed  (a stretch, I know). Music Hall director Bjorn Olsson set me straight and said they just used the outside side door as an entrance to the club "Jazzies." Ah well.

Olsson did say one of the film's location scouts loved our town so much he moved here, and started working at the Music Hall, soon after.

The one town interior the crew did get into was the now-gone Main Street Cafe. According to the New York Times article written about the filming at the time, cafe owner Paul Janos just happened to be sweeping the sidewalk early one morning when the location scouts were sniffing around Main Street. Not knowing who they were, he offered the group to go in and partake of his fresh pot of coffee; they called soon after to use the space for Penny Marshall's production.

Janos and his wife were able to enjoy their first paid vacation since they opened the place in 1993 by taking the kids to Florida. They came back on time though for the day of shooting, an April day in which Main Street and its shops had been transformed for Christmas. About 35 film crew folks were packed into the small cafe that day, Janos told the Times. About 200 local shopkeepers, village dwellers and officials were paid for their trouble. And onlookers were happy to catch a glimpse of Washington, Houston, and Houston's two body guards.

"For onlookers, it was indeed Hollywood-on-Hudson," said the Times.

Houston is perfectly fresh-faced in this film and patient as only a movie wife can be. Lovingly revered to as "The Voice" in the industry, she is at the height of her powers. The soundtrack, says Wikipedia, is the highest grossing gospel album of all time; the movie itself did only so-so. Who could know this would be her last film...almost:

From a recent article in Vanity Fair: "Fifteen years after starring in her last feature, The Preacher’s Wife, Whitney Houston was scheduled to return to the big screen this summer in the remake of Sparkle, the 1976 girl-group saga inspired by the Supremes. Now in post-production, the film showed signs of a career turnaround for Houston, who died unexpectedly on February 11 at age 48."

So we will see her sparkle again after all.

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