Going My Way (1944): Leo McCarey’s Award-Winning Comedy, Starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Oscar Winning Performances

In the 1940s, the only Oscar-winning comedy was Going My Way, directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby, as a progressive priest who turns a group of young delinquents into a choir, and Barry Fitzgerald, as the old and irascible priest, still attached to his 90-year old mother.

A light, moving sleeper hit, Going My Way was the highest-grossing picture of 1944.

Both Crosby and Fitzgerald won acting awards, the former in the lead and the latter in the supporting category.

Going My Way was the only nominated comedy in 1944; the other nominees were two noir pictures, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and George Cukor’s Gaslight, and two patriotic fares, Since You Went Away and Wilson.


going_my_way_posterNominated for 10 Oscars, the movie won 7: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Story (Leo McCarey), Screenplay (Frank Butler and Frank Cavett), and Song, “Swimming on a Star,” music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke.

The picture lost Actor (in bizarre and unique circumstances, Fitzgerald was nominated for both Actor and Supporting Actor for the same role), B/W Cinematography (Lionel Lindon), and Editing (Leroy Stone).

Going My Way proved to be the sentimental favorite of the public too, ranking as the top grossing film of the year, leading to a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s.

Earlier, the film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award and the Golden Globe for Best Picture.

After WWII, Bing Crosby and Leo McCarey presented the picture to Pope Pius XII at the Vatican and got his blesssing for the positive portrait of the church.

Detailed Plot

going_my_way_4_fitzgeraldFather Charles “Chuck” O’Malley (Crosby) is the new priest from St. Louis whose unconventional style aims to transform the parish life of St. Dominic’s Church in New York City. O’Malley’s informal appearance and attitude make a poor impression on the older and conservative pastor, Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald). The traditional Fitzgibbon is put off by O’Malley’s leisure habits–particularly golf-playing–and friendship with the more casual Father Timmy O’Dowd (Frank McHugh).

We learn that O’Malley was sent by the bishop to take charge of the affairs of the parish, but that Fitzgibbon is to remain as pastor. To spare Fitzgibbon’s feelings, the older pastor is kept unaware of this arrangement and believes that O’Malley is his assistant.

There are significant differences between O’Malley and Fitzgibbon’s styles as they deal with a parishioner being evicted and a young woman named Carol James (Jean Heather) coming to church after running away from home. They also differ in handling the youth of the church when they get into trouble with the law in a gang led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements). Fitzgibbon tend to side with the boys because of their frequent church attendance, but O’Malley seeks to befriend the boys and Scaponi, using the latter’s connection to convince the boys to join the church choir.

going_my_way_3_fitzgeralditzgibbon decides to ask for O’Malley’s transfer, but he realizes that the bishop intends to put O’Malley in charge. Resigned to his fate of losing control over the church, he informs O’Malley of his new role. Distressed, Fitzgibbon runs away from the parish, but returns later that night. The two begin to bond: They talk about Fitzgibbon’s desire to visit his mother, who is 90, whom he’s not seen in 45 years, since he left Ireland as a young priest. O’Malley puts Fitzgibbon to sleep with an Irish lullaby, “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral”.

Enters Jenny Tuffel (Rise Stevens), an old girlfriend of O’Malley’s who has pursued a successful acting career. O’Malley watches her performs a song for her starring role as Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera. O’Malley pays a visit to Carol, who is living in sin with Ted Haines Jr. (James Brown), the son of the church’s mortgage-holder, Ted Haines Sr. (Gene Lockhart). O’Malley describes his calling in life as “going my way”, which means follow the joyous side of religion and lead others to do the same. He performs for them the song “Going My Way,” which he wrote.

going_my_way_2_fitzgeraldJenny visits O’Malley at the church, sees the boys’ choir, and reads the sheet music of “Going My Way.” She, O’Malley, and Father O’Dowd devise a plan to rent out the Metropolitan, perform “Going My Way” with the choir and orchestra, and sell the rights to the song, thereby saving the church from closure. The plan fails, as the music exec does not believe it will sell. As the executive (William Frawley) is leaving, the choir decides to make the most of its opportunity on the grand stage, and sings another song, “Swinging on a Star.”  The exec overhears the song and decides to buy it, providing money to pay off the church mortgage.

going_my_way_5Just as life seems normal, the church is damaged in a massive fire. O’Malley prepares to move on to a new assignment from the bishop. He leaves O’Dowd as Fitzgibbon’s new assistant, and puts Tony Scaponi in charge of the choir. On Christmas Eve the people gather in a temporary church for service. O’Malley brings Fitzgibbon’s mother from Ireland, and mother and son embrace, while the choir sings “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,” during which O’Malley, pleased and happy,  quietly slips away.