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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
It's an easily underrated movie, particularly because it flatly refuses to do most of the things that people expect movies to do today; there's a defiant unwillingness to slip into easy melodrama (though I often like melodrama), or to spend too much time on comedy, etc. The movie won't pigeonhole itself, and I think this leads to its secret - at heart, it really intends to be about what it's like to be a priest. You CAN'T pigeonhole yourself in that role, because you can't possibly know what's coming up, or really keep perfect track of all the different threads of a community at the same time. You have to take things as they come, and this movie really does that all the way through.
And there's also a sense of the wistfulness that comes from giving up that "plot-driven" style of living - in the scenes where Crosby visits his old girlfriend, there's a tangible awareness on both sides that they don't really know what happened to the "plot" of their relationship - they just took things as they came, and it really turned out OK for both of them. Most of the movie's separate narrative threads are left off, and returned to, almost at random - and the main focus on the relationships between the characters is what ends up shining through as intended.
A lot of the film is spent on scenes that seem kind of inconsequential at the time (like most of everyday life), but they invariably lead to a payoff later in the film. There's a shot of Gene Lockhart watching his son leave - a silent shot that just holds on a medium shot of the father, watching his expression for about 10 seconds - that I found absolutely sublime in its effectiveness. To me, that single shot justifies the half dozen scenes that led to it. Ultimately, the movie is almost happy to laugh at the audience for being so eager to expect more of a story. As one character aptly says,"Schmaltz is in this year"; the people behind this movie KNOW that a lot of people will want to dismiss it, but won't let them off the hook so easily. It's looks deceptively simple to make a film this easygoing and yet moving. (Capra tried it later in his career, sometimes with Crosby, and yet he couldn't pull it off.)
The Oscar win is OK, though I think Double Indemnity should have won, and I also like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek a lot more as well (THE SPOTS!!!); but Going My Way belonged in the top 5 that year, along with Laura and I'm-not-sure-what-else. (Gaslight, maybe?) And I'll note that I do like the "sequel," The Bells of St. Mary's (actually written first), a little better, too.
But as I wrote in the summary, this one really sneaks up on you; the last scenes prove much more moving than you expect, and the ending of the film - while initially seeming abrupt - leaves you suddenly saying, "Of course - it's perfect." Just moving on.......
9 of 10
P.S. Is it really set in New York? That's never said, and there's so much talk of St. Louis that I think that more accurate a guess. The "Metropolitan Opera House" is mentioned, but that's a generic-sounding name. Honestly, I think they went to great effort to make it as unrooted in a single locale as possible.
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