Going My Way (1944)
Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Frank Butler, Frank Cavett; story by Leo McCarey
Cinematographer: Lionel Lindon, John F. Seitz
Producer: Leo McCarey
by Jon Cvack
I had seen The Bells of St. Mary (1945) not knowing it was a sequel, making me all the more excited to finally get to this film. In that essay I mentioned how rare these feel good movies are, where they’re much more about the good nature and spirit of people, than any overt religious message. And while I actually think The Bells of St. Mary was a bit better, Going My Way was as close a second as they come, with another great performance by Bing Crosy.
The story involves Father O’Malley (Cosby; winning Best Actor) as he arrives at NYC church, having arrived from St. Louis, back when the team was called the St. Louis Browns. The elder priest is Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald; winning Best Supporting Actor), who’s a conservative hard ruler, who frowns upon O’Malley’s progressive ways. Unfortunate for Fitzgibbon, we learn that O’Malley is actually there to replace him.
They get into a series of disagrees, starting with O’Malley’s golf playing, then escalating when O’Malley is caught playing piano to a very attractive runaway - and young - runaway Carol James (Jean Heather). This is going to be embarrassing if I’m wrong, but some of Carol’s lines seemed to suggest that she was a prostitute. Although I kind of brushed it off as gold digging, it was when the Ted Hains, Sr. discovered her marriage to Ted, Jr., in which Sr. threatened to cut off Jr. and Carl proclaims she could make money regardless. Not to mention the strange vibe between O’Malley and Carol, which while sexual, seemed ominous and suggestive. Or maybe it’s because it’s so rare to see such a great feel good film like this that I’m too use to finding the darkest avenues possible.
O’Malley’s big mission comes in the form of caring for the church’s youth, who under Fitzgibbon, and ostensibly due to his conservative attitudes, have shifted to the streets, led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements, who has one of the greatest street accents I’ve ever heard); not to mention the church is falling into disrepair, and the low attendance prevents them from being able to fix it. O’Malley wins the boys hearts by taking them to a few ball games, then asking if they’d like to join in on a choir. Hesitant, they agree and we witness a perfect demonstrations of how a choir operates, allowing us to understand why the boys would enter into it so easily.
In a former life, O’Malley was once a singer and songwriter, and across the film we get numerous numbers between him and others. Later O’Malley meets up with an old girlfriend Jenny Tuffel (Rise Stevens; now Gene Lockhart [look into this]), who’s now a famous singer, in town for a show. O’Malley plays her the title track “Going My Way”, which while a beautiful rendition, is rejected when Jenny passes it on to her record company; that is, until they hear another a different, snappier tune “Swinging on a Star” performed by the children in the film’s greatest scene. The song helps the church’s ailing finances, with Ted Henry, Sr. agreeing to forego the foreclosure (*note this at the beginning)
Just as everything seems to be going well, with Fitzgibbon even joining O’Malley on the golf course, the church burns down. O’Malley has also been offered a new job. Still, they hold service in an old temporary church, where because of the song and O’Malley’s reforms, the community has gathered to give and help repair the church.
Although I haven’t seen Sister Act in a long time, I’ve seen it enough to see the parallels between the two, serving as probably the eighth example of another 90s post-modern film - in which they’ve taken the same premise of an ailing church and completely flipped the stereotypes of those who would typically fit those roles (and creating one of the all time greatest feel good films as well; I’ll have to revisit this soon). In Sister Act (1992), Whoopie Goldberg is sent to the inner city for witness protection (this is very different, yes), where the community has abandoned its church, leading Whoopie to lead the nun’s church choir to stardom, rescuing the church. In fact, Reverend Mother Superior (Maggie Smith) is equally, if not more dour than Fitzgibbon.
Other interesting facts I learned on the TCM DVD Intro is that this film had actually won Best Picture, making its success all the more revealing. It’s safe to assume that, near the end of WWII, the world needed a feel good film with a hopeful message. No matter how you feel about religion, this is a story about great people, and a great person who helps to inspire everyone to be better. As I said in The Bells of St. Mary, I hope Bing Crosby was a good guy in real life, as like Tom Hanks, he seems like the nicest celebrity you could meet. To hear that he was the most popular star of the time just goes to demonstrate his ability to unite the country together, connecting with his nice, accessible demeanor.
BELOW: The beautiful title track
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