Even by 1944 standards, Going My Way seemed a bit sappy. This sentimental Bing Crosby vehicle about a happy-go-lucky priest was a far cry from a growing edginess in American cinema exemplified by the noir likes of Double Indemnity, Laura and Murder, My Sweet. Even Frank Capra had nudged in on the action with Arsenic and Old Lace, a black comedy about homicidal old ladies.
But Going My Way proved irresistible. Audiences exhausted by World War II loved it, and the movie cleaned up at the Academy Awards. When Going My Way director Leo McCarey headed to the stage to pick up his Best Director Oscar, he was famously tripped by Double Indemnity director Billy Wilder.
Sentimentality that earns its emotion is a rare and wonderful thing -- and Going My Way earns it. Crosby was at the height of his movie career as Father Chuck O'Malley, a progressive young priest sent to quietly take over St. Dominic's Church in a rough-and-tumble section of New York City. It proves to be a sticky transition of power. For 45 years, the parish has been headed by Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Firtzgerald), a curmudgeonly Irish priest who has let the church sink further and further into debt. Still, O'Malley ultimately manages to finesse the situation with his easygoing charm, dry wit and way with a song (from "Ave Maria" to the delightful "Swing on a Star," Bing is quite the crooning clergyman).
Going My Way tosses in oodles of plot, what with a mortgage looming over St. Dominic's and Father O'Malley's gallant efforts to rehabilitate a bunch of mischievous boys by transforming them into a choir. Viewers are well-advised not to take any of it very seriously. With its ambling pace and episodic structure, the storyline is a means by which to showcase the ample charm and chemistry of Crosby and Fitzgerald. Both stars earned Academy Awards for their performances, Crosby snagging Best Actor and Fitzgerald winning Best Supporting Actor (Fitzgerald had actually been nominated in both acting categories in 1944, a curiosity that prompted the Academy to change the rules the following year).
The warmth of Going My Way comes in its nicely observed moments of humor and humanity. An example of the former occurs when the parish priests are eating a turkey that one of the neighborhood boys had given as a gift to Father Fitzgibbon. Halfway through dinner, the old man discovers that the bird was likely stolen from a poultry truck. Father Fitzgibbon grimly stares at the turkey leg on which he's been happily feasting, suddenly finding himself to be an accomplice to crime.
For humanity, pay attention to the scene where Father O'Malley goes to the Metropolitan Opera to see Genevieve (Risë Stevens), an old friend he hasn't seen in years. It is clear that Genevieve, an opera singer, once carried a torch for Chuck, as she bubbles with excitement upon learning that her dear old friend is there to pay her a visit. But then Genevieve spies Chuck's priestly collar. She smiles bittersweetly, an expression that conveys disappointment, understanding and acceptance. Over the years, Going My Way has fallen in disfavor by some, dismissed as treacly and sappy. But it is moments such as the aforementioned that led the great Jean Renoir to suggest that Leo McCarey understood people better than did anyone else in Hollywood.
Oh, and I defy all but the most hard-hearted not to be moved when Father Fitzgibbon and his elderly mother reunite amid the dulcet strains of "An Irish Lullaby." I dare yah.
Black-and-white and presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the picture is surprisingly fine condition -- clear, with good light-dark contrasting and minimal grain.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is representative of the time in which Going My Way was made. The sound is crisp and clear, with no distortion or drop-off.
Disappointingly, the only extras are a theatrical trailer and an introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne (2:16), who provides a few helpful facts about the flick.
Going My Way is no masterpiece, but neither does it deserve the jaded, postmodernist snub that it so often receives for its sentimentality. In the film, a music publisher passes up buying Father O'Malley's song with the explanation that "schmaltz isn't selling this season." In an inadvertent show of hip irony, Going My Way proved without a doubt that schmaltz most certainly was selling -- at least in 1944.