Musical Monday: Going My Way (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Going My Way (1944) – Musical #595

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Leo McCarey

Starring:
Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, Risë Stevens, Gene Lockhart, Jean Heather, James Brown, Porter Hall, Fortunio Bonanova, Eily Malyon, Stanley Clements, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Adeline De Walt Reynolds, William Frawley (uncredited), Anita Sharp-Bolster (uncredited)
The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir

Plot:
Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald) is the head of a church that is facing financial troubles. Father Chuck O’Malley (Crosby) is assigned to help get the church back on its feet. Father O’Malley has new, unconventional ideas of how to help the community and raise money for the church. O’Malley and Fitzgibbon face differences of opinions, while they both try to do what’s best.

Trivia:
– Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for an Academy Award for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards for the same performance, for the same film. This is the only time this has happened.
Bing Crosby, Leo McCarey and Buddy DeSylva arranged for 16mm prints of “Going My Way” to be sent to 65 combat area during World War II. The film was to “premiere” in these areas all on April 27.
– The Williams Brothers (including Andy Williams) performed in the “Swinging on a Star” record with Bing Crosby, according to Andy Williams’ obituary.
– Highest grossing film of 1944
– Risë Stevens’ second film
– Followed by The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby in “Going My Way”

Notable Songs:
-“Going My Way” performed by Bing Crosby and Risë Stevens with The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir
-“Swing on a Star” performed by Bing Crosby with The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir
-“Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral” performed by Bing Crosby and the Robert Mitchell Boy Choir
-“The Day After Forever” performed by Jean Heather and Bing Crosby
-“Silent Night, Holy Night” performed by Bing Crosby with The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir
-“Ave Maria” performed by The Robert Mitchell Boy Choir

Bing Crosby, Frank McHugh, Risë Stevens, Fortunio Bonanova and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir in “Going My Way”

Awards and Nominations:
Won:
– Best Picture
– Bing Crosby won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
– Barry Fitzgerald won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
– Leo McCarey won the Academy Award for Best Director
– Leo McCarey won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story
– Frank Butler and Frank Cavett won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay
– Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song “Swinging on a Star.”
Nominations:
– Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
– Lionel Lindon was nominated for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
– LeRoy Stone was nominated for Best Film Editing

My review:
A few weeks ago, I debated if I could call “Going My Way” a musical. It had been years since I watched the film, so I polled followers on Twitter to see what they thought. Most said no, but one person made a convincing argument: along with singer Bing Crosby, Risë Stevens was cast, who was a top opera performer at this time.

Still not sure, I revisited the film myself. It took 30 minutes for any singing to start, but more than six songs are performed in “Going My Way.” I also decided if 1944 reviews, like the New York Times, were going to call this a musical, so was I. I categorize this in the same department as Irene (1940) or The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) when it comes to musical or not.

Now that I got that out of the way, I’ll get to reviewing the film. “Going My Way” is one of those films that makes you feel like you are wrapped in a fuzzy blanket while sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate. It is the coziest and heartwarming film, and I just really like this film.

Bing Crosby is his usual character – cool, chipper and wants to help people do what’s right. It’s almost humorous because he is so much his usual Crosby persona, that he plays golf in the film. Crosby’s character of a priest has unconventional practices, such as helping local kids who often get into trouble, rather than punishing them and giving them no reason to improve their behavior.

Barry Fitzgerald is rather adorable as a grumpy elderly priest. Fitzgerald clashes with Crosby, but of course, they end up admiring each other at the end. Fitzgerald realizes that everything Crosby is doing to help him out. The end of this film (which I won’t spoil) is especially heartwarming because of Fitzgerald’s character.

There is the added bonus of Frank McHugh as Crosby’s buddy. Character actor McHugh doesn’t have a large role in this film, not the size of the roles he had when he was under contract at Warner Bros., but we still hear his signature “ha ha” sing-song laugh. McHugh also plays a priest, which is a departure from the pre-code character we know him as. But he does a great job as a warm, but comedic prescience.

One cast member who is unique is Metropolitan Opera singer, Risë Stevens in her second film role. Stevens plays an old flame of Father O’Malley’s that didn’t know he became a priest until she happens to run into him in New York. Stevens performs a portion of “Carmen” and some of the songs in the film. Her casting alone tells me that this film was intended to be a musical. Why else would a famous opera star be cast? While Stevens was in other films, “Going My Way” is her most memorable, though she is more known for her career as an opera singer than in films.

Other supporting characters include Jean Heather, who many people know from “Double Indemnity” (1944), as a young lady that Father O’Malley steers right. She has fled her family and come to the city to become a singer, but Father O’Malley makes sure she doesn’t fall into the wrong crowd. As a subplot, Heather falls in love with James Brown, the son of Gene Lockhart, who is a slum lord in the area.

The songs in this film are all great, though I admit I have a sentimental spot for “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral,” a lullaby both my mother and grandmama used to sing to me.

“Going My Way” is often cited as a Christmas film, though Christmas isn’t highlighted until the tearjerker ending. This film is actually more a musical than a Christmas film.

While “Going My Way” is just plain a feel-good movie, it also is interesting as far as Academy Award history. Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the same role as Father Fitzgibbons. This is the only time this has happened, and voting rules were changed later after this to avoid it, but I would love to know how this happened. Fitzgerald did win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Role and Bing Crosby won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role – the only Oscar either actor won. The film also won Best Picture, Best Song for “Swinging on a Star,” Best Story, Best Screenplay and Leo McCarey won Best Director. A film like “Going My Way” probably wouldn’t sweep the Academy Awards today, but I think this also reflected the war-time era when a hopeful story was needed.

If I were making a list of “must-see” films starring Bing Crosby, this would be on it. And you probably will feel good just for watching it.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

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