My final holiday sickbed movie was Going My Way starring Bing Crosby. Thankfully, I’m starting to feel much better and should be able to do more than watch and blog about movies.
I had recently rewatched White Christmas and was really feeling that I needed a little more Bing in my life this holiday season. I love Bing, I really do, but truth be told, he doesn’t really do a lot for me as a romantic lead so I was excited to see him play a priest where he would have little chance of romance.
In this film Bing plays a young, forward-thinking Catholic priest named Father O’Malley. These days hip young priests who like modern music and play sports are more common than not, but this would have been a slightly revolutionary way to play a priest in these days. Bing Crosby, who was a devout Roman Catholic, even had some doubts about playing the role. Anyway, O’Malley arrives at St. Dominic’s to help the struggling parish. Elderly and deeply traditional Father Fitzgibbon is the current head of the church. O’Malley makes a bad initial impression on Fitzgibbon with his relaxed attitude and (accidental) casual appearance. O’Malley must not only solve the parish’s many problems (financial and otherwise), but also find a way to earn the respect and trust of Fitzgibbon.
It’s a sweet, if not super ground-breaking, movie. Although I’m not at all a religious person, I can still relate to and appreciate the film’s message of finding the fun in spirituality/life versus blindly following tradition and dogma. The best moments of the film are watching the relationship between the two very different men shift from wariness and mistrust to true warmth and affection. Initially Father Fitzgibbon is both suspicious and a little threatened by the new young priest. O’Malley for his part must learn to see through Fitzgibbon’s crusty exterior to see the kind heart within.
And, of course, because this is a Bing Crosby flick, we gotta have music. One of the problems the parish has is a roving band of juvenile delinquents who terrorize the neighborhood. One of whom is none other than an adolescent Carl Switzer (of Alfalfa/Our Gang fame)*. Anyway, this gang of boys is becoming a real nuisance and many of them are in danger of heading down a criminal path. Father O’Malley knows just what to do – start a boys choir! Ha! Yes, it’s fairly improbable that even Bing Crosby could pull this one off, but let’s just go with it shall we? Father O’Malley’s humor and relaxed leadership style soon win the boys over and, what do you know!, St. Dominic’s now has a world class choir!
*Funny side note – Switzer also pops up in It’s A Wonderful Life (as the jealous suitor who’s behind the pool fiasco at the graduation dance) *and* in White Christmas as the brother of the female leads (although he’s only seen in a photograph).
And even though it’s really a tale of male friendship, what’s a feel-good/WW II era movie without a little romance? One day O’Malley runs into an old flame, a now successful opera singer playing Carmen at the Met (played by real-life opera star Risë Stevens). She has no idea why he stopped answering her letters way back when, but gets her answer when he takes off his coat and she sees his clerical collar. She actually takes it pretty well and spends the rest of the film as his staunch ally in his attempt to save St. Dominic’s. I really like how this plays out and I *really* like this actress.
The other little romance of the film involves some supporting characters – a runaway teen (she’s 18) and the banker’s son. It’s a fairly inconsequential side story, but it’s sweet and I really liked the two young actors who played them – particularly the girl played by Jane Heather whom I’ve never seen or heard of before.
There was no great fashion or set design to speak of in this film – although I do have a lifelong fascination with religious garb so that was fun. I also enjoyed the interior shots of the rectory where O’Malley and Fitzgibbon have most of their interactions.
I definitely recommend this fun, feel-good movie that can easily be enjoyed and appreciated on a secular level. These kind of movies were in high demand during the troubled times of WW II and I’d say they’re pretty well suited to our current times too! I absolutely liked this well enough to see its sequel The Bells of St. Mary starring Bing opposite Ingrid Bergman.