Going My Way (1944) Director: Leo McCarey
Winner of the Best Picture award in 1944, Going My Way is the product of Writer/Director/Producer Leo McCarey who is also the director of the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup. Going My Way is a sobering comedy about two priests in New York: an elder curmudgeonly priest, Father Fitzgibbons (Barry Fitzgerald) and a young and suave priest named Father O’Malley (played by the up-and-coming crooner Bing Crosby). In the film, St. Dominic’s Church has fallen on hard times, with its very survival threatened, thus Father O’Malley decides to raise money to save the church by writing and performing music. However, this is only one part of the narrative. There are also a number of sides characters and side plots and in the end the church seems to be rescued when Father O’Malley sells one of his original songs to a music executive, but then the church tragically burns down in a fire. A farewell gathering for Father Fitzgibbons is orchestrated while Father O’Malley is transferred to a new assignment. I almost expected Father O’Malley to renounce his religion in the end in order to pursue a love interest (there are several female counterparts in the film) but he merely slips away to his next pastoral assignment. This story has a lot of heart, it contains more than a few echoes of Frank Capra, and contains several charming musical numbers though it is not a musical per se: “Going My Way,” “Swinging on a Star,” “The Day After Forever,” and others.
In my view, Going My Way is a bit wandering, albeit leisurely, and it lacks substance though it is surely not a poor film. While this was an odd choice for Best Picture, I do find myself smiling when reflecting on a time when Hollywood was capable of releasing celebrated simple stories with optimism and hope for ordinary people (Going My Way was released during World War II). All too often it feels like present-day Hollywood writers generally view the average American moviegoer as little more than a mindless imbecile hence why so many films cranked out of Hollywood today are superficial in the extreme. Surprisingly, Going My Way won seven Academy Awards in its day –Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (making Barry Fitzgerald the only actor to ever be nominated for two acting awards at the same time), Best Screenplay, Best Original Motion Picture Story, and Best song for “Swinging on a Star” –my personal favorite number in the film. Going My Way was the box office leader for 1944 and it led to a sequel released the following year which was also nominated for Best Picture the following year —The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.