81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Going My Way

September 5th, 2009 · No Comments · 1944, Bing Crosby, Black and White, Going My Way, Leo McCarey, Musical, Original Screenplay, Paramount Studios

Going My Way I was tempted to write a three-word assessment of the movie:

No, I’m not.

Casablanca this isn’t. It’s not even The Broadway Melody.

I’m sitting here watching this film with my wife and a college buddy of mine. About an hour and a half into it I asked, “What is this movie about?” My buddy said, “I’ve been wondering that since you popped it into the DVD player.”

Okay. It’s time to turn to the Wikipedia entry for a description of what this movie is about:

Going My Way, a 1944 film directed by Leo McCarey. It is a light-hearted musical comedy/drama about a new young priest (Bing Crosby) taking over a parish from an established old veteran (Barry Fitzgerald). Crosby sings five songs in the film. It was followed the next year by a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s. This picture was the highest-grossing picture of 1944. Its success helped to make movie exhibitors choose Crosby as the biggest box-office draw of the year, a record he would hold for the remainder of the 1940s.

Light-hearted? Perhaps. But light-weight for sure. Going My Way doesn’t seem to be much more than a vehicle for jug-eared Bing Crosby to croon his way through a movie (“Swinging On a Star” is one of the songs he belts out), aided and abetted by the jowly Gene Lockhart (perfect as the judge in Miracle On 34th Street), a crotchety old Irish priest (Barry Fitzgerald), and a gang of ragamuffin street urchins Crosby transforms through sheer charm into a note-perfect boys choir (played by The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir). Frankly, the story of a kind priest and street tough kids was done better in Boys Town, the great Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney film released in 1938.

It’s hard to believe (a) this movie won a seven Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Original Motion Picture Story, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Music, Song – “Swinging On a Star”), and (b) this movie spawned a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s released the following year.

Here are the particulars:

Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Barry Fitzgerald (1888-1961), Gene Lockhart (1891-1957), Jean Heather (1921-1995), William Frawley (1887-1966), Porter Hall (1888-1953), Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (1927-1959, famous as “Alfalfa” in the Our Gang comedies, he was shot to death in an argument. He was only 31), William Smith (1933- , who later starred in the TV Western series Laredo in the 1960s), Risë Stevens (1913- , from her entry on IMDB: “One of the great voices of the Metropolitan Opera, New York-born mezzo-soprano Rise (pronounced REE-za) Stevens made her debut with the company in 1939 as Octavian in Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” in a tour performance in Philadelphia…Since her retirement from opera in 1960, she has continued to play a very active role in the New York fine arts scene”).

Director Leo McCarey (1896-1969) from his entry on IMDB: “He is the first director to win three major categories at the Academy Awards–Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing, Original Story, for Going My Way (1944)” and, also, this: “He accused Cary Grant of ripping off his persona while shooting The Awful Truth (1937), saying that the star’s style and personality was just like his. McCarey and Grant worked together several times after that [the last time being in the tear-jerker movie An Affair to Remember in 1957] but never fully extinguished their long-standing antagonism resulting from McCarey’s comments” and this: “Directed 6 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Ralph Bellamy, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya , Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald and Ingrid Bergman. Crosby and Fitzgerald won for their performances in Going My Way (1944)” and, finally, this: “Had the highest reported income in the United States in 1944.”

The screenwriters were Frank Butler (1890-1967) and Frank Cavett (1905-1973). Cavett is one of six (!) writers credited with creating another Oscar-winning move, the abysmally awful The Greatest Show On Earth, 1952.

It’s interesting to note that three of the actors in this 1944 movie (Gene Lockhart, William Frawley, and Porter Hall) appeared together again in another movie: Miracle On 34th Street, 1947. Porter Hall co-starred in the movie Leo McCary reportedly calls his finest: Make Way For Tomorrow in 1937.

It’s sad when the most interesting things about a movie are the tidbits one discovers about the cast and crew. Watching Going My Way was akin to watching paint dry in a parish rectory. (Incidentally, the song “Going My Way” was metaphorical. The cover of the DVD – Bing wearing a straw hat and sticking his thumb out to hitch a ride – is literal. In the movie, Bing never wears a straw hat. Never thumbs a ride. The marketing folks who created the image obviously didn’t understand the movie, either.)

I understand the world needed respite from World War II. But Double Indemnity and Gaslight were also nominated for Best Picture. And yet the Academy gave the nod to Going My Way.

Okay. I’ll write it:

No, I’m not.

I’ll take the next bus.

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