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Going My Way

In 1944 the St. Louis Browns won the American League pennant. That same year Going My Way, featuring many scenes of Bing Crosby wearing a Browns jacket and sweatshirt, won the Oscar for Best Picture. Coincidence? Well, Bing did have some serious juice, so he may have paid off some umpires, but I really have no proof of this. Of course it could also have something to do with Hank Greenberg being off at war, seeing as how once he came back the following year the Tigers pretty much dominated, but I digress.

Crosby plays Father Chuck O’Malley, a man of many talents who despite being able to write showtunes and workout with the Browns, chose the priesthood. He takes over a struggling parrish where an evil banker is about to foreclose. Chuck imediately begins to rub the old priest, Father Fitzgibbon, played by Barry Fitzgerald, the wrong way. The older priest is set in his ways, and does not approve of Chuck’s newfangled ideas, such as spending his free time playing golf with an old friend.

Chuck sets to work being charitable, giving ten bucks to an 18 year old woman who ran away from home and taking a ragtag group of street toughs to a baseball game (the Browns of course), then convincing them all to join the church choir. Eventually he has to deal with the financial issues facing the church, and his way of dealing with it is to try to sell a show tune to a guy he knows in the music business. It takes a while for the deal to come through, and in the meantime the son of the banker trying to foreclose on the church falls in love with the 18 year old runaway Chuck set up. The bank wants to foreclose on her too, but the banker’s son drags his heels on it and eventually the two are shacking up together. Chuck gets help from an old friend with a steady gig at the Met to finally publish the song, and the financial status of the church is no longer in doubt. The banker finds out about his son’s relationship and goes to the apartment to voice his concern, only to find his son in uniform, having just joined up. Chuck heads back to the church victoriously, but the joy does not last long as a fire destroys the church.

This is certainly a nice movie, but nothing all that great. The story line skips around from one subplot to another without spending too much time on any one thing, luckily there aren’t too many subplots so the viewer doesn’t get lost in all of it. The movie seems to exist solely to allow Bing Crosby to sing on camera, and he does at every turn, asking the young woman to sing when she tells him she is quite good at it, and teaching the gang members music. It does seem kind of strange that there would be a piano sitting around when the old priest seems so dead set against anything modern, like music, but I guess there wouldn’t be much of a movie if ol’ Bing couldn’t break into song every now and then.

Most of these characters seem to be little more than caricatures especially the unquestionably capitalistic banker and the impossibly good Chuck. Even the gang is little more than a stereotype with some criminal activity at the start and singing in full voice by the end. None of the individual gang members has any identity apart from the gang’s, but it is refreshing that none of them get molested when spending so much time with a priest.

There was one major rival for the big prize that year, one of the great film noirs of all-time, Double Indemnity, by Billy Wilder. Not nominated were Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace. The latter is the better of the two, with the madcap fun of two murderous old women and their son who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and goes charging up the stairs. Double Indemnity is better than all of them, however, and Wilder shows that he can succeed on Hitchcock’s turf. Fred MacMurray gained greater fame by playing a sitcom dad in My Three Sons, but he is far better here as an average man who becomes seduced by the chance at a quick buck. Going My Way is a nice, fun little movie, but it never raises to the heights of Double Indemnity. Meanwhile nine years later the Browns would move to Baltimore. The Orioles haven’t been featured in any best picture winners since, but they have won the World Series three times since then, which is a tradeoff I think they would take.

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