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Film Review: Going My Way
In 1944, Leo McCarey released Going My Way, based on a story that McCarey had written previously. Starring Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, James Brown, Gene Lockhart, Rise Stevens, Jean Heather, Porter Hall, Fortunio Bonanova, Eily Maylon, Stanley Clements, William Frawley, and Carl Switzer, the film grossed $6.5 million at the box office and for rentals. Winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Original Motion Picture Story, and Best Music, Song, it was also nominated for a second Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Black and White, and Best Film Editing. The film also inspired an hour-long television comedy-drama as well as a sequel known as The Bells of St. Mary’s.
Father Charles O’Malley is an incoming priest to St. Dominic’s Church in New York City, sent in to take charge of the parish’s affairs, but keep the elder pastor, Father Fitzgibbon, on board. However, O’Malley and Fitzgibbon disagree in methods, causing conflict.
Going My Way is quite good, especially in the stark contrast between the characters of Father O’Malley and Father Fitzgibbon, especially at the beginning of the film. The former is incredibly idealistic and believes that he can help the church with its problems for sure and his methods of helping people show him getting involved directly. Take how he acts with the gang of boys led by Tony, he seeks to befriend them and get on their good side before convincing them to become a church choir. He also seeks to try and make sure Carol is able to get home rather than just sending her away with nothing. And when the church burns down late into the film, he’s quite confident that they will be able to rebuild.
Contrast all of this with Father Fitzgibbon, who throughout most of the film is cynical and quite staunch in his belief that things are just fine the way they are. His methods of helping people are more indirect, which can be seen in how he interacts with Tony’s gang. Rather than seeing to change their ways, he looks the other way citing their frequent church attendance as the reason that he doesn’t need to get involved. And when it comes to Carol, he’d rather send her away with a stern lecture rather than give her any help in getting home. And when it comes to the choir, he sees them as an annoyance and as the means for complaining to the bishop to have Father O’Malley removed.
But these conflicting characterizations are what lead to some good character development. After Fitzgibbons leaves the church because he’s afraid of losing control, he runs away. However, after he’s found, he and O’Malley begin to bond, talking about Ireland and the former’s mother. And throughout the film, the two priests are a little friendlier with each other and before the close of the film, it shows just how close the two have gotten by going out on the golf course together. This would never have happened earlier in the film when Fitzgibbons likened a golf course to an outdoor pool hall. The development is interesting because it can be seen as the older priest realizing that he and the younger aren’t so different and that O’Malley has some ideas that could actually work, such as selling the song “Swinging on a Star,” sung by the choir which provides enough money to pay off the church’s mortgage.
However, this film is very much a product of its time and really doesn’t age well, mainly in the way the church and the priests are portrayed. Every person, including the staunch atheist, actually shows quite a bit of respect towards the priests and the church as a vocation seen as honorable. However, these days the way the church is viewed by the public is the opposite and priests today aren’t seen as having the integrity that priests seen in the film possessed. However, this doesn’t stop it from being a decent film, it just shows that context is also an important factor in filmmaking.
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