A story of a priest (Barry Fitzgerald) getting on in years and his trials and tribulations with his new assistant (Bing Crosby), a young, progressive upstart that seems to him to be tearing up every bit of the church he had built over 45 years prior.
Father O’Malley’s philosophy of how life should be is lovely. The lighter side of religion, the side this film covers, makes a heathen like me want to Hail Mary and carry a Rosary. The film is so infectious and positive, that until reviewing the film again tonight, I completely forgot O’Malley’s cracks to the atheist in the beginning. These make me sad, but director and writer of Going My Way, Leo McCarey, like Bing Crosby was a devout Catholic. He clearly had a good time of it to be able to create a character like Father O’Malley.
The songs are beautiful. Crosby sings “Hail Alma Mater,” “The Day After Forever,” “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra,” “Ave Maria,” “Going My Way,” “Swingin’ On A Star,” and “Silent Night.” Risë Stevens also makes her second film appearance singing “Habanera,” “Ave Maria,” and “Going My Way.” Everything about these numbers, except perhaps “Habanera” is simple and heartfelt. “Habanera” is stunningly dressed for the screen with Risë Stevens in her most famous operatic role. It’s a gift that her “Habanera” was preserved on the screen for generations to come.
I always thought the subplot with the young couple a little awkward though, even though we get “The Day After Forever” with goofy hand motions with Bing doing a bit of mocking. That’s pure loveliness, but all the same the subplot sometimes bogs down the speed of the film a bit. I would have rather seen a little more Risë Stevens, only because there could never be enough of her. It’s interesting that she is clearly in love with Father O’Malley and McCarey (I presume) was a little coy and sensitive in approaching their relationship.
Another heartwarming subplot in the film is Father O’Malley’s attempt to get a rowdy group of boys off the streets and into the church choir. The boys are skeptical of the plan at first until they hear themselves sing as a group and become completely engaged and willing to help Father O’Malley any way they can. As a choir they can do no wrong.
Father O’Malley is persuasive though, not only to the audience, and to the boys he brings into the choir, but to Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald). He gets the old man out and about–in the rain, on the golf course. While trying to figure out his new place within his own church, Father Fitzgibbon is certainly
taken out of his element. His character arc takes us for a 180 degree turn.
Father O’Malley, on the other hand, seems to end up drifting and being put on a sort of Groundhog Day routine where he has to wake up every few months and start all over again. It’s interesting that the film ends with him leaving Father Fitzgibbon and there’s a definite sadness as Father O’Malley steps out of frame. Will he be lonely or will he find some sort of happiness? We learn a bit more in the sequel to the film, The Bells of St. Marys, where Father O’Malley saves a school from closing down.
Whether you’re religious or not, the spirit of the film will capture your heart. A tear or two may be shed by a surprise visit at the end of the film. A lot of spirits were raised in 1944 when this film was released. War was raging in Europe and this was the biggest box office draw of 1944. Crosby was the biggest drawing star of the year. Everything was going Bing Crosby’s way for certain, especially when he took home Oscar for Best Actor. A beautiful film, deserving of it’s ten Oscar nominations and seven Oscar wins: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Original Song, Best Writing, Best Screenplay.