Title: Going My Way
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Director: Leo McCarey
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer
It is galling that this vintage Oscar BEST PICTURE winner (7 wins, including BEST DIRECTOR, BEST LEADING and SUPPORTING ACTORs) might be best remembered for the sole happenstance in the Oscar history when Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both LEADING ACTOR and SUPPORTING ACTOR categories for the same performance (which he won the latter), although the Academy speedily changed the rules to stave off any future embarrassment, nevertheless, it belies the perpetually ongoing category placement controversy which has been widespread until today.
Directed by the prominent comedy maestro Leo McCarey, and green-lit as a Bing Crosby showcase, GOING MY WAY tells the story of a young and forthcoming priest Father Charles O’Malley (Crosby), aka. Chuck, who is commissioned by the bishop to take over the parish in NYC from an elder pastor Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald), who has presided over the church since day one, for almost 45 years, only now, the church has been in the mire of financial difficulties, and Father Charles is sent to straighten out the problem and make the transition as smooth as possible.
So, a major plot device is that Father Fitzgibbon has no inkling of the function transference in the first place, Chuck is introduced simply as his assistant, so when the lid is blown off, a dramatic collision is what viewers would expect. However, against the hype, in McCarey’s staunch execution, the revelation comes quite early in the storyline, and is rendered with utter aplomb and mutual understanding, as two mature clergymen, there is no need of making a scene, albeit their different approaches (the blasé traditional vs. unorthodox tug-of-war, only milder), they are fighting for the same honourable cause, it may sound like church propaganda on paper, yet in the film, the cordial atmosphere and contagious compassion is superbly tangible.
There are no villain or whatsoever in the story, the parishioners, from a juvenile street gang lead by Tony (Clements) to a young maiden Carol (Heather), who has run away from home and resolves to find her footing in one way or another, music is wielded as the ultimate gospel, Chuck forms a boy choir and hones up their skills, eventually it will pay back lucratively to save the church from its dire situation. The romance between Carol and Ted Haines Jr. (Brown), the son of the church’s mortgage-holder, Ted Haines Sr. (Lockhart), has also keenly and timely goaded through Chuck’s music, the titular tune GOING MY WAY, into marriage instead of living in a sinful status. And a completely platonic friendship between Chuck and his old-time girlfriend Jenny (the mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens), never risks betraying any carnal attachment and Jenny’s one-sided munificence can be only justified by her hail-fellow-well-met good nature.
For my money, Fitzgerald and Crosby are the two co-leads here, and the former doesn’t has recourse to singing bent to win over audience, on the contrary, Fitzgerald’s performance is decidedly more evocative of sympathy, laughter and esteem than Crosby’s pristine, but comparatively stale apotheosis of a stand-up guy who is aggravatingly flawless and is tailor-made to elicit nonjudgemental bonhomie, but the truth is, Crosby is such a nonpareil crooner, that’s where lies the abiding charm of the picture if its gently preachy modus operandi tends to be rather impertinent and spoon-feeding by today’s yardstick.
In sum, GONIG MY WAY is a beatific but regressively antiseptic tribute of Catholic church’s noble vocation and suggests a more liberal viewpoint in its progress, as though it were the cure-all for all our mundane problems, indeed, the biggest accomplishment of the movie is that it makes us wish only if it were true!