What's It All About?

What's It All About?

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Classic Movie Day -- "Going My Way"

What a movie ... what a cast!
This is my contribution to National Classic Movie Day, arranged by Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Click here to find all of the contributors.

In May of 1944 the United States was embroiled in the dark days of World War II. After 2 ½ years of war, grief and fear of the future, American audiences chose as their favorite movie a little film which helped them remember what life is ultimately about -- love of God, love of people, humor in the midst of difficulty, ordinary human beings living each day as it comes. Going My Way was a Paramount film directed by Leo McCarey. McCarey was known mostly for his comedies before the 1940’s, working with such greats as the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and Mae West. During the 40’s, McCarey became increasingly concerned about the needs of people struggling with wartime difficulties, as well as social injustice of the economically disadvantaged.

Going My Way is the story of two Catholic priests at St. Dominic parish in a poor neighborhood. Fr. O’Malley (Bing Crosby) arrives at the parish supposedly to assist the aging pastor, Fr. Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). In point of fact, the Bishop has plans to eventually replace Fr. Fitzgibbon, who is now in his 70’s and is reluctant to retire. Fr. Fitzgibbon has been a priest for 45 years, and it has been that long since he has seen Ireland or his now extremely elderly mother. Fr. O’Malley’s modern, easy-style personality rubs the fiery old pastor the wrong way, and Fr. O’Malley is kind to him, always careful to show respect and patience in their relationship. Throughout the movie, we meet people who cross paths with Fr. O’Malley – Carol (Jean Heather), a runaway whose future causes no end of concern for the priest; Ted Harris Jr. (James Brown), whose interest in Carol is a further cause for concern; Genevieve (Rise Stevens), whom Fr. O’Malley once loved; and a gang of neighborhood boys led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements). (You have to love that name, Tony Scaponi!) A third priest, Fr. O’Dowd (Frank McHugh), the same age and modern outlook as Fr. O’Malley, turns up to be another thorn in the old pastor’s side. Fr. O’Malley deals with each person in the same spiritually dedicated, yet firm feet-on-the-ground attitude which characterizes his moral makeup. There is great humor in this story, sorrow, and an ending that is quiet and intensely moving.

Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald

Going My Way is a slice-of-life movie, simply portraying the life of a church parish day to day. There is no hurry to McCarey’s direction, allowing each scene to unfold with rich personality and character-driven plot. The audience feels as if they know the people in this film, as proven by the fact that this was the highest-grossing film of 1944. In those days, without television or re-runs, that meant that there was a lot of repeat viewing and thus more theatre tickets sold. Going My Way swept the Oscars that year, winning best picture, best director, best actor for Crosby, best supporting actor for Fitzgerald, best screenplay, best song for “Swinging On A Star” written by Van Huesen and Burke. This was in a year where competition was stiff and the movie was up against such films as Cary Grant’s Arsenic and Old Lace, Olivier’s Henry V, Garland’s Meet Me In St. Louis and Ingrid Bergman’s Gaslight. Interestingly, Fitzgerald and Crosby were both nominated for best actor, as well as Fitzgerald’s nomination for best supporting actor, a double-nominee practice that was later disallowed.

Bing and the gang

The cast of Going My Way is one that shines in its individual parts. Bing Crosby is perfection as the younger priest who sings and plays piano, just as comfortable with boogie woogie as spiritual songs. His work with the neighborhood boys in turning them into a choir is beautifully portrayed. (One of the boys is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer who we remember from Our Gang serials.) They truly sing like angels when they perform the title song with real-life opera great Rise Stevens. But it’s their performance with the song “Swinging On A Star” that audiences really loved. The part of the old pastor, Fr. Fitzgibbon, seemed tailor made for Barry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was 56 at the time, only 15 years older than Crosby, yet he seemed and looked very old, a testament to his acting and good makeup. He is funny and sweet in his part, and you can’t help but love him.

Frank McHugh
Wonderful Frank McHugh as Fr. O’Dowd is the perfect comic relief with his distinctive way of speaking and his famous high breathy laugh. McHugh was a member of the Irish Mafia, a spoof name for a group of actors, mostly Irish, who met fairly regularly which included James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien. Stanley Clements (Tony Scaponi) eventually replaced Leo Gorcey in the Bowery Boys last seven movies. You may recognize James Brown as Ted Haines -- he starred in the Rin Tin Tin television series.  The rest of the supporting cast round out this wonderful ensemble with solid performances.

In the following year, 1945, Bing Crosby reprised his role as Fr. O'Malley in The Bells of St. Mary's, starring Ingrid Bergman as the Mother Superior.  It was also a huge hit, and in my opinion, Bergman still holds the gold medal for best and most beautiful nun in films.

Director McCarey and Bing Crosby were both devout Catholics and that shows in their dedication to the film and their love for the ideals of the Church. After the war, Crosby obtained permission to screen the movie for Pope Pius XII and meet with him personally. Some, particularly in our own time, pronounce this movie as saccharine and idealistic. I disagree completely. It set forth ideals and the efforts of ordinary people to live up to them. Now, when scandal has marred the image of the Catholic Church, this little movie is a timely reminder that the same ideals are still there, and that 99.9% of priests are as good and dedicated as Fr. O’Malley (although not many of them sing as well). That is a living legacy from Leo McCarey and Bing Crosby.

28 comments:

  1. I grew up when "Going My Way" was a TV Christmas tradition and a most welcome one. That its reputation takes a hit from the cynical disturbs me. The grace in the gentle storytelling, the knowing humor and Bing's naturalistic performance all stand the test of time beautifully.

    Thank you, Becky, for sharing "Going My Way" as a favourite.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, CW ... it's that very gentle grace that makes it such a pleasure to watch.

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  2. Lovely post on a great film. I love the leisurely pace of this movie, the look of the inner city parish, the boys' singing rehearsals. Two very small but very moving moments are when the miserly dad forms a bond with his sassy new daughter-in-law over the realization Ted is leaving them on a noble cause, possibly forever and all they have is each other now. The other is when Fitzgerald walks into his mum's outstretched arms at the end. Never fails to bring the tears. Thanks for reminding us what a great movie this is.

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    1. You are right on with those 2 scenes, Jacqueline. That ending tears my heart every time -- I love that it is done in such quiet. I'm glad you liked my article.

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  3. Great review, Becky, of a film that (like its star) is sometimes underrated. I'm glad that you showed some love for Frank McHugh as Father O’Dowd, who provides just the right comic touch alongside two strong lead performances. I might like THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S even better, but both are lovely movies. Too bad Bing never did a Father O'Malley TV series in later years.

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    1. Thanks Rick! I do indeed just love Frank McHugh -- he was a welcome presence in every film he did.

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  4. Bit of an odd question: In Frank McCourt's memoirs, people constantly tell him that his Irish accent is like Barry Fitzgerald's. Having never seen or heard him, is it a stereotypical Irish one or is there something more distinctive about it?

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    1. I always thought it was a typical Irish accent, Rich. I don't really know, but in every movie Fitzgerald made he always spoke the same. Interesting question -- one worth finding an answer for.

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  5. Great pick Becky and a wonderful review for this classic. Leo McCarey was a great director, and Bing Crosby could play a variety of roles with meaning and depth. This one is a great vehicle for him. Thanks for highlighting this film for the occasion.

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    1. Glad you liked it Christian. As Caftan Woman said above, it used to be a Christmas staple on TV, but I haven't seen it on regular TV in many years. And this was definitely the perfect vehicle for Crosby.

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  6. Great review on a wonderful film! Leo McCarey is a great director but he often gets lost while people discuss the brighter names like Hitchcock and Welles. He made a lot of great films, including both Love Affair and An Affair to Remember, but his best is probably Make Way for Tomorrow

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    1. Thanks Amanda! Make Way For Tomorrow just simply requires a couple of boxes of Kleenex to watch -- I do love McCarey's work.

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  7. Becky, it's been years since I have seen this, but I do remember it being on TV over and over again, and my family always watched it, along with The Bells of St. Mary. Fitzgerald always reminded me of a local priest we had. It's possible that was only because of his Irish accent. As a kid all the priests at my Church were Italian, so he would of stuck out for sure. Thanks for reviewing this, it brings back many memories.

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    1. I'm glad for evoking the memories, John. That's funny about your Italian priests -- Fitzgerald would stick out for sure!

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  8. Great post on a great movie. Will have to watch it again. Feel free to check out my entry. The link is below

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/my-favorite-classic-movie-blogathon-national-classic-movie-day-may-16th-the-spiral-staircase-1946/

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    1. Thanks so much for the compliment -- I will check out your entry!

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  9. I too like to dial "O" for O'Malley. Bing and Barry are cinema magic together. I also like "The Bells of St. Mary" and the gentleness of Ingrid Bergman's character. I don't know that movies like this could get made today and so delight that I can revisit them when rebroadcast. Thanks for your lovely post, Becky!

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    1. Hi Toto! It's been ages! You know, I don't think audiences of today, especially younger ones, would like the pacing of this little story -- they are too accustomed to fast, crash boom bah, frenetic pace of movies today. Thanks for your kind words!

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  10. Aww, you old softie you! I must admit I fell in love with Bing Crosby when I saw this many, many years ago (I know, falling in love with a priest.... next stop was the Thorn Birds - but never mind - that's another story). It is a slice of life of a world gone by, but so lovely to visit. Great job.

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    1. Yes, I admit -- I'm an old softie. Don't worry about falling for a priest -- we used to have a priest everybody called Father What-a-waste. He was gorgeous. I'm glad you liked my piece -- I love this little movie.

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  11. I love this movie for all the reasons you mentioned and, if I lived in the era when it was initially released, I bet I would see this film every week.

    Your post is a wonderful tribute to this sometimes underrated film.

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    1. Thanks, SS! I do feel the same way, obviously!

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  12. Great pick and a great post! Watching this used to be a yearly tradition, so reading this stirred up lots of nostalgia. Certainly think this is on of my favourite McHugh films, although I am a fan of The Roaring Twenties too!

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    1. Oh, I LOVE The Roaring Twenties, one of the best! Thanks for your kind words...

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  13. I haven't seen this film, but I've already heard very high praise. And it was the highest grossing film of 1944? That's saying something! I'll definitely have to check it out. Thanks for writing on this one!

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    1. Hi Kim! Oh you should see it -- it is really wonderful!

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  14. Beautiful post, Becky! About 6 or 7 years ago I remember there was a double bill of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary on TV, but I couldn't watch them because I was at school that time. I still haven't had the opportunity to finally see the film, but I nearly memorized Swinging on a Star because of one of Bing's CDs.
    Thanks for the kind comment on Facebook!
    Kisses!
    Le

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  15. Excellent post Becky. I hope your feeling better now.

    I would also like to invite you to participate in my upcoming blogathon in August. The link is below with more details

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/in-the-good-old-days-of-classic-hollywood-presents-the-barrymore-trilogy-blogathon/

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