Oscar: Best Picture–Going My Way (1944), Starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Oscar-Winning Performances

going_my_way_posterIn the 1940s, the only comedy that won the Best Picture Oscar was Going My Way, directed by Leo McCarey.

The film benefited from the casting and strong chemistry between 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.

Crosby plays Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley, a priest from East St. Louis whose personal style transforms the parish life of St. Dominic’s Church in New York. His work is not without obstacles and conflicts. On his first day, his informal appearance and attitude make a poor impression on elder pastor Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). The traditional Fitzgibbon is put off by O’Malley’s leisure activities, his golf-playing, and friendship with Father Timmy O’Dowd.

 

going_my_way_5O’Malley was sent by the bishop to take charge of the affairs of the parish, with Fitzgibbon functioning as pastor. To spare his feelings, the older pastor is kept unaware of the arrangement, holding that O’Malley is simply his assistant.

The differences between O’Malley and Fitzgibbon are reflected in the ways they deal with events like a parishioner being evicted and a runaway young woman. They also differ in their approach to handling the youth of the church, who get into trouble with the law in a gang led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements). Fitzgibbon sides with the boys due to their frequent church attendance, but O’Malley wants to make inroads into the boys’ lives, befriending Scaponi and convincing the boys to become a church choir.

going_my_way_4The annoyed Fitzgibbon decides to go to the bishop and ask for O’Malley to be transferred. Fitzgibbon infers the bishop’s intent to put O’Malley in charge of the parish. But to avoid conflict, Fitzgibbon then asks the bishop to put O’Malley in charge, and then informs O’Malley of his new role.

 

 

going_my_way_3Fitzgibbon then runs away from the parish, leading to a search. He returns late at night, and the two begin to bond, discussing Fitzgibbon’s long desire to go to Ireland and see his old mother, after 45 years, ever since he left Ireland as young priest. O’Malley puts Fitzgibbon to sleep with an Irish lullaby, “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral”.

Jenny Tuffel, an old girlfriend of O’Malley’s whom he left in order to join the priesthood, reenters the scene. O’Malley and Jenny discuss their past.  He watches as she performs a number for her starring role as Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera.

going_my_way_2O’Malley visits the young woman who had run away from home, now living in sin with the son of the church’s mortgage-holder. O’Malley describes his calling in life to “go his way,” which means to pursue the joyous side of religion, performing for them the song “Going My Way,” which he wrote.

 

 

going_my_way_1Jenny visits O’Malley at the church, sees the boys’ choir, and reads the music of “Going My Way.” She, O’Malley, and Father O’Dowd plan to rent out the Metropolitan to perform “Going My Way” with the choir and full orchestra, and sell the rights to the song, so that they can save the church from financial troubles. The plan fails,, but as the executive (William Frawley) is leaving, the choir sings another song, “Swinging on a Star.” The executive decides to buy it, providing money to pay off the church mortgage.

O’Malley and Fitzgibbon’s friendship continues to blossom. But unfortunately, the church is damaged in a fire. O’Malley, preparing to move on to new assignments,  leaves O’Dowd as Fitzgibbon’s new assistant, and puts Tony Scaponi in charge of the choir.

On Christmas Eve, the gathering in a temporary church celebrates O’Malley’s farewell. As a going away present to Fitzgibbon, O’Malley flies Fitzgibbon’s mother in from Ireland. Mother and son embrace for the first time in 45 years, and while the choir sings “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,” Father O’Malley slips away.

Oscar Context

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.

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

CAST

Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley

Barry Fitzgerald as Father Fitzgibbon

Frank McHugh as Father Timothy O’Dowd

James Brown as Ted Haines, Jr.

Gene Lockhart as Ted Haines, Sr.

Risë Stevens as Genevieve Linden

Jean Heather as Carol James/Haines

Porter Hall as Mr. Belknap

Fortunio Bonanova as Tomaso Bozanni

Eily Malyon as Mrs. Carmody

Stanley Clements as Tony Scaponi

William  Frawley as Max Dolan