Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
By the mid-40s there was no bigger star in the world than Bing Crosby. He was a triple threat; the most popular performer on radio, in record sales and, of course, at the movies. It was easy to see why; Crosby was likable, funny, and talented and had a soothing voice that I have often compared to dipping your feet into warm water. His easy-going charm made him popular wherever he went, doing whatever he did. It was infectious, there’s no doubt about it.
Crosby made a hundred movies in his career but he never strayed far from the persona that made him famous. His most popular role won him 1944’s Best Actor Oscar for his first of two appearances as Father Chuck O’Malley in Leo McCarey’s Going My Way – he played the part again a year later in the much more effective The Bells of St. Mary’s.
The story centers around the good-natured young priest (Crosby) arriving in New York from East St. Louis to take over St. Dominic’s Church from the aged Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) who is getting along in years. Father Chuck’s unconventional approach to parish life doesn’t cotton to the elders particularly his plans for restructuring the church finances and his approach to a local gang of wayward boys (led by Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer).
I don’t hate Going My Way but I don’t love it either. Nor can I dismiss the reasons why it won Best Picture. I really cannot fault the Academy voters for being charmed by this film in light of Crosby’s enormous popularity. Yet, for me, the movie is a bit too laid back. Writer-Director Leo McCarey is working hard here to match the pace of the film with Crosby’s laid-back performance, which works fine for Crosby but it drives the movie to a snail’s pace. I don’t expect this to be rip-roaring comedy but it’s so lackadaisical that I find it dull for long periods of time.
Yet, I find it hard to complain about Going My Way when the Academy has selected so few comedies for its Best Picture award. In this case, I wish they had waited a year and possibly picked this film’s follow-up The Bells of St. Mary’s.
Plus, there’s the historical element. The decade needed a comedy – the other nine films selected as Best Picture were a pretty grim lot. They dealt with family secrets (Rebecca), issue of social class (How Green Was my Valley), family safety (Mrs. Miniver), Nazi troubles (Casablanca), alcoholism (The Lost Weekend), returning vets (The Best Years of Our Lives), anti-Semitism (Gentleman’s Agreement), political corruption (All the King’s Men) and of course all the slings and arrows of the lonely Dane Hamlet. In that lot Going My Way looks like a little ray of sunshine.