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Youthful Father Chuck O'Malley led a colorful life of sports, song, and romance before joining the Roman Catholic clergy, but his level gaze and twinkling eyes make it clear that he knows he made the right choice. After joining a parish, O'Malley's worldly knowledge helps him connect with a gang of kids looking for direction and handle the business details of the church-building fund, winning over his aging, conventional superior, Father Fitzgibbon. Written by
In `Going My Way,' director Leo McCarey taps into one of the basic tenets of human nature, that being the fact that even the most selfless individual has wants and needs that often go unrecognized or unexpressed. It's a matter of understanding the human condition, being sensitive to what drives our fellow man and responding to it. A young woman of eighteen leaves home because of a conflict with her parents, yet has nowhere to go; a man with a touch of `Scrooge' in him, who runs a Savings & Loan has trouble setting his priorities; a gang of street-wise kids need some direction; an elderly priest after forty-five years has allowed his parish to slip into financial straits. All circumstances that are affecting in their innate humanity, and it's into this that McCarey taps directly with his story, and it's the reason for the success of his film. Simply put, it has heart-- and it makes it timeless.
Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) has been at St. Dominic's in New York since it was built, but the financially strapped parish is in arrears on the mortgage payment, and Mr. Ted Haines Sr. (Gene Lockhart), of the S&L that holds the note, would like nothing better than to be able to foreclose on the church, because then he could raze the building and turn it into a parking lot. Meanwhile, the Bishop has sent a young priest, Father Chuck O'Malley (Bing Crosby) to St. Dominic's to look into the situation, and very quickly the good Father finds that he has his hands more than full.
Sent to take charge without `taking charge,' in deference to Father Fitzgibbon's tenure, Father O'Malley has his work cut out just trying to save the church; but that's not all he has to contend with. Found alone on the street by a local policeman, a girl named Carol James (Jean Heather) is brought to St. Dominic's, and Father O'Malley realizes that without some help, she's headed for nothing but trouble. He also encounters a lad named Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements), the leader of the gang that has been terrorizing the neighborhood, and turning that situation around becomes a priority on Father O'Malley's `to-do' list. Then there is Mr. Haines Sr. to deal with. But most especially in need of all (though he doesn't realize it himself) is Father Fitzgibbon, and this, too, Father O'Malley recognizes. Now it's just a matter of addressing all of these needs at once; and as Father O'Malley finds out, it's no easy task.
There's something of the Angel, Dudley (played by Cary Grant in `The Bishop's Wife'), in Father O'Malley, as he is not only sensitive to the needs of those he encounters, but knows how to resolve their conflicts in a way that suits the best interests of all concerned. His solutions may be those of a perfect, pie-in-the-sky world and not necessarily a reflection of reality, but it works because it captures the spirit of what this movie is all about: caring and lending a helping hand to those who need it. The solutions may be unrealistic and overly simplified, but the feelings and emotions of the characters are very real, and McCarey's ability to capture that essence of humanity is what earned this film the Oscar for Best Movie of 1944 (McCarey received Oscars, as well, for Best Director and Original Story).
As Father O'Malley, Bing Crosby gives one of his best performances, which earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. But as good as he is in this part, the award is something of a surprise; the Father O'Malley Crosby presents has the patience of a Saint and insight to match, and his mild mannered approach to the character makes his portrayal the kind that are usually overlooked and under-appreciated because of the apparent facility of the delivery. And Crosby does make it look easy-- which also makes it very real, striking a chord as perfect as the solutions to the problems he solves along the way. It's interesting to note that when Crosby recreated the role a year later in `The Bells of St. Mary's,' though he slipped back into the character readily enough, it didn't seem to have that same depth or impact as in this one, but more of a `been there, done that' feel. Then again, this story and the characters with which he is surrounded here are much richer and have much more definition than those of the sequel, and this film is much more emotionally involving.
Barry Fitzgerald received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Father Fitzgibbon, and well deserved it was. Father O'Malley may be the anchor of this film, but Father Fitzgibbon is it's soul. And the final scene-- unexpected and extremely moving-- leaves no doubt about it. That scene, in fact, so powerful in it's simplicity, veritably sums up the sentiment of the entire movie. It's a triumph for Fitzgerald, as well as McCarey, but the one who really comes out the winner is the viewer.
The supporting cast includes Frank McHugh (Father Timothy), William Frawley (Max), James Brown (Ted Haines, Jr.), Rise Stevens (Genevieve Linden), Eily Malyon (Mrs. Carmody), Carl `Alfalfa' Switzer (Herman) and Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Mrs. Molly Fitzgibbon). A heart-felt and uplifting discourse on the brighter side of the human condition, `Going My Way' reflects the good there is to be found in humanity if we but take the time to seek it out. An entertaining, feel-good film, this is what the magic of the movies is all about. I rate this one 9/10.
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