Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Going My Way (1944)

Director: Leo McCarey

Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay

Bing Crosby by 1944 had risen to the top of the entertainment world by way of his vocal talents as well as appearing in many well grossing motion pictures. As one of the most recognizable men in the world Crosby somehow still had yet to receive the respect of being considered a serious Hollywood actor as his résumé was predominantly filled with wacky comedies co-starring Bob Hope, and other fanciful musicals. All that changed with his overwhelmingly popular feature that dominated the 1944 motion picture world, Going My Way. A winner of seven Academy Awards, this film was a wild success and cemented Crosby as the highest grossing figure in Hollywood.

Going My Way is a musical comedy/drama of a young priest who must take over a parish form an older priest who is deeply established in his ways. Father Charles O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is put into an unconventional situation, appointed to turn around St. Monica’s, a New York City church struggling economically and communally under the veteran Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). Fitzgibbon is weary of O’Malley, while the young priest attempts to swings things around within the church and community. Discovering the reality of O’Malley’s appointment from the bishop Fitzgibbons struggles with his own place within the church. However his faith is renewed as O’Malley turns his talent for music to aid in the finances for the church reestablishing Fitzgibbon’s faith. Just as things appear to be at its brightest and Fitzgibbons making plans to visit family in Ireland a fires does great damage to the church and O’Malley is surprisingly issued reassignment to another parish. O’Malley reassures Fitzgibbon that the church will continue on under Fitzgibbon as he departs leaving his fellow clergyman a touching gift, a visit from his elderly mother, their first time seeing each other in 45 years, a moving moment from devoted man of faith.

The film is quite a beautiful tale of adjustment, faith, and respect. Although the story revolves around the Catholic faith this film can be enjoyed outside its religious tones and does more to touch the human spirit. Featuring the heartwarming performances of Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgibbon as two priests who see things a little differently we come to the conclusion that both are equally valuable to the parish while each gain from their experiences from each other. It makes for a simple motion picture, with no frills, but rather a touching story presented in a beautiful manner.

McCarey giving instruction to Crosby
Purely the creation of the director/producer Leo McCarey, this film falls in line with the heartfelt emotions coupled with moments of comedy we have been accustomed with in his previous works, such as Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth. A devoted Catholic, Leo McCarey penned this original story idea of two priests which was adapted for the screen. The story carries with it McCarey’s own convictions of how he felt people should act towards each other, presenting second chances when needed and having faith and respect in one another, traits sadly absent in the world we live in both then and now. The sweet story and coxing of some of the finest performances on the silver screen that year would land two Academy Awards for Leo McCarey, including Best Director, his second such honor, and Best Original Story.

Bing Crosby may have been the most popular crooner of his day, and one of the most recognizable men in show business, but his performance in Going My Way brought the man perhaps the single greatest piece of notoriety as an actor. In a serious role seemingly tailored for him with his soft baritone voice, matched up with moments of wonderful music that played well within the story, Crosby would demand the respect of the industry, earning him the Academy Award for Best Actor in the process.

His companion on screen was played by the long time Irish character actor Barry Fitzgerald. Playing the stubborn, but all around lovable Father Fitzgibbon, Fitzgerald becomes that Irish priest almost all think of in our heads. A bit stereotypical, but never close to offensive, Fitzgerald performs well alongside of Crosby as the elder two men of the cloth. Fitzgerald pulls at your heartstrings as the audience falls in love with this old man who has moments of troubled faith. The most touching moment of the film comes in its closing scene as he is rewarded with a touching visit from his mother, a moment that would make any proud male cry. His performance was so well received he would collect the distinct honor of being up for two Academy Awards for this singular role. Nominated for Best Actor as well as Best Supporting Actor, Fitzgerald came away with the later honor, losing to his co-star for Best Actor. Due to the circumstance of Fitzgerald’s dual nomination of leading and supporting roles for the same character, the Academy would immediately modify the rules to eliminate this from ever happening again, leaving Fitzgerald with this unique honor.

Risë Stevens sings with Bing Crosby
The feature is filled with recognizable faces known from many great points in American entertainment history. Risë Stevens, appears in a supporting role of as an opera singer and old friend of O’Malley’s. Being a highly featured star at the Metropolitan Opera at the time, this role was no stretch for her in this supporting musical role. Bit roles were filled in by the likes of Gene Lockhart as the banker, William Frawley (later known on television on I Love Lucy) as the music executive that buy O’Malley’s song, and even Carl Switzer (better known as “Alfalfa” from the series Our Gang) as teenage ne’er-do-well who comes into the church by the insistence of his friend played by “Bower Boy” Stanley Clements.

Father O'Malley leads his new boys choir.
As a Bing Crosby feature, the film would not be complete without a handful of musical numbers, and this film delivers. The music is blended into the fabric tastefully, never taking away form the story and core of the movie. At no point does the music divert the attention away from the plot, keeping the audience within the story instead of creating moments that feeling more along the lines of musical interludes featuring Bing Crosby. Of the five songs sung by the famed crooner the original tune of “Swinging on a Star,” a lightly swinging ballad, would become a hit popular song as well as win the Academy Award for Best Song.

The film is a real sweet picture that captures a corner of the heart of many that watch it. The film would appear to do the impossible and make the biggest star in entertainment even bigger, gaining him a new level of respect. Going My Way would be the highest grossing feature of 1944 and spawned a very rare distinction of a sequel in 1945 in The Bells of St. Mary’s, co-starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. As the most decorated film of 1944, winner of Best Picture from both the Academy and the Golden Globes, the film would prove culturally significant enough to find its way onto the National Film Registry in 2004. The film continues to reminder of the peak of Bing Crosby’s Hollywood career and one of the finer motion picture put out in America during World War II.

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