Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going My Way (1944)

Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Gene Lockhart, Frank McHugh
Genre: Musical/Drama
Other Nominees: Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away, Wilson
“Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule…”
There are some songs that will last forever. While I am hazy on the lyrics to Swinging on a Star the song is immediately recognizable from my own past. I’m sure it was on one of the many compilation records I had as a kid, right next to High Hopes and Puff the Magic Dragon. I still remember the kid friendly, and by that I mean utterly indestructible, record player that I used to play these records on. So imagine my surprise when, while I sat through Going My Way, Bing Crosby’s singing priest and his youth choir perform this song that comes right out of my childhood.

The singing priest in question, Father Chuck O’Malley, is not your typical priest. He’s the problem solver of the New York City Catholic Church, a cunning thinker with a heart of gold. Even at his young age he has displayed a knack for turning “problem churches” into successful outfits and in Going My Way the young priest is assigned as a curate to an aging Irish priest at Saint Dominic’s, an inner city New York church that’s at risk of being closed down.

Barry Fitzgerald is excellent as the elderly priest, an aging Irish immigrant who build the church from the ground up, and whose pride is perhaps blinding him from the problems that grow around him. The mortgage payments are overdue and building up, church attendance is low, while the local youth appear to already be well practiced criminals. Enter Bing Crosby to set things right.

The inspirational thing about Father Chuck O’Malley is how he goes about setting things right. Throughout his efforts he displays an unceasing kindness to others. Chuck is excellent at manipulating people but it is always done with the best of intentions towards those being manipulated. His cunning only result in people doing what is best for them and never in him profiting. When confronted with a person of malicious intent he reacts with kindness. In one early scene he deals with an irate and self proclaimed atheist by lending him his rosary beads to cover an expense owed. Throughout the movie he displays only humility in his accomplishments and a constant desire to make others happy. In short, he makes for the perfect priest, one that is made all the more perfect as Bing Crosby adds his good natured smirk along with some great songs.

While Going My Way is classified as a musical I was surprised at how little music was involved. It is more a comedy/drama punctuated here and there with songs. In total there are only three original songs here: “Going My Way”, “The Day After Tomorrow”, and the aforementioned “Swinging on a Star”. Add to that a short scene from the opera Carmen, a spattering of catholic hymns, and the repeated singing/humming of an Irish lullaby, and you will find that music takes a backseat in this “musical”. It is the characters that take center stage in this film and in my opinion Father O’Malley may be one of the better examples of a human being portrayed on screen.

Up Next: The Lost Weekend

1 comment:

  1. The film is a classic, which should see the holidays, because it brings joy and hope for all the good fortune to take over at Christmas.