The Bells of St. Mary (1945)
Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Dudley Nichols
Cinematographer: George Barnes
by Jon Cvack
Every time I watch a movie or hear a song with Bing Crosby I get that warm secure feeling that only a grandmother’s house could provide. It reminds me of the radio station they listened to that only played songs pre-1950s, always on in the background as they were preparing dinner or breakfast. Did Bing ever swear? And if so did he apologize immediately after? He seems like of the nicest person who has ever existed in show business. I’m sure someone could show me some skeletons. I just don’t care to see them. I like that every movie I see with him on Netflix looks as innocent as can be, offering a glimpse into such a cookie cutter, Normal Rockwell time of innocence. White Christmas, Holiday Inn, and this sequel which I never knew was a sequel until after I watched it.
The Bells of St. Mary's involves a wealthy businessman Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers) who hopes to buy the church orphanage property and expand his empire, while the head nun, Mary Benedict (Ingmar Bergman), is in chronic disagreement with newly arrived Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby), particularly over his support that the kids should box in the school yard. He believes it helps build the courage that they need. Can you imagine such a thing in today's world? Yet Bing makes you understand. You agree with Bing.
O'Malley learns that Mary has TB and has been ordered to transfer her to another location, and in direct opposition to Crosby’s persona, he lies and makes her feel as though it was their petty disagreements and poor performance which results in her transfer rather than the disease.
That’s about the extent of the story. It's such a beautiful and simple plot, which while political, never pounds you over the head about the evils of capitalism or the glory of God. It's just there, ready to be visited if you're interested. If not, no worries. We meet the children, follow the characters throughout the year, and discover it in no way matters that this is a positive-religious film, produced in a time when religious films didn't have to function as a genre or cater to an audience all their own. Interesting characters are interesting characters, and we realize that good people are just as engaging as bad. Films like this are so rare - where the worst person in this would be considered the most righteous in any other film. I’ll never get to return to my grandmother’s house with the way it use to be. That security and comfort may never return. Movies like this let me re-experience it for a couple hours. There aren’t too many like it. Leo McCarey blew it out of the water. I can’t wait to see Going My Way.
BELOW: You can't have a movie with Bing Crosby without a Bing Crosby song. Here's him singing "The Bell's of St. Mary's"
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