6/4/10

Old Movie Week: Going My Way (1944)

Bing Crosby (Father Chuck O'Malley), Barry Fitzgerald (Father Fitzgibbon), Frank McHugh (Father Timothy O'Dowd), Jean Heather (Carol)

Directed by Leo McCarey (An Affair to Remember)

IMDB: After joining a parish, youthful Father Chuck O'Malley's worldly knowledge helps him connect with a gang of kids looking for direction, handle the business details of the church-building fund, and win over his aging, conventional superior, Father Fitzgibbon.

Because I spend so much time thinking about character arcs and plotting, I find some old movies particularly puzzling. Going My Way is one of them. I came away from watching this film asking, "What exactly are you trying to say?" None of the protagonists' arcs are strong enough to make a forceful point, to the extent where the picture comes across as nothing more than a slice of life. It's like literary fiction on screen--a bit random, a little ambitious, but too ultimately bizarre to relate to.

Ostensibly, the main plot arc was Father Chuck must win over his superior, Father Fitzgibbon, and convince him that a new, hip attitude is all the Church needs to win over local ruffians. He is also responsible for keeping the parish solvent. Ok, fine. But the character of Father Chuck remains incredibly static. He weathers no crisis of faith, nor do we ever get the impression that he questions his choice in joining the priesthood--not even when hot babes show up. Everything that must be resolved hinges on the plot.

I could get behind this more enthusiastically had Father Chuck's opera-singing female friend, Genevieve Linden (played by real-life opera star Risë Stevens), not been introduced. Until Genevieve's arrival on screen, the plot centered around the parish, the priests, and the choir Father Chuck led. But then two thirds of the way through...an old flame? The matter of Chuck's past relationship with Genevieve is never explores. They simply reunite and proceed to save the parish.

Point?

Oh, and then Genevieve sings "Habanera" from Carmen for no reason other than Father Chuck wants to see her perform. When he manages to save the parish by writing a hit single, he expressed to doubts about using a passel of little kids and pop music's filthy lucre to make ends meet. I give up.

What's even more astounding is that Going My Way won best picture in 1944, as well as best director, best lead actor, best song for "Swinging on a Star," best original story, best screenplay, and best supporting actor. It was the blockbuster of its day. And still...nope, I got nothing.

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