Okay so turns out “Let’s all see war pictures to support the troops” didn’t take as a trend, because we’re about to take a hard left away from war messaging. Apparently the audiences of 1944 needed a break for something a little more saccharine.
The Joint Champion
Bing Crosby, everybody. Playing hip, young, cool priest Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley. Father Chuck arrives in a New York parish whose church is in danger of foreclosure, which is a bad thing in this case, let’s not get into dissecting the goods and evils of Catholicism, we’re only halfway through the 40s, there isn’t time. Father Chuck is a loose cannon, a maverick who plays by his own rules… in that he’s affable, playful, and friendly in a way that makes local grumps do whatever the middle-class equivalent of dropping a monocle in shock is.
Father Chuck (They call him Father O’Malley but that feels like a waste) is assigned to take over St. Dominic’s church, which is struggling and in danger of foreclosure. He attempts to do this in a way that doesn’t shame the current head priest, then sets out to improve every life he comes across. He turns a youth gang away from crime and into being a choir; helps a wayward young woman find her blue heaven despite accusations from a cop and busybody that maybe she’s a streetwalker; he turns the banker holding the mortgage’s son onto a happier path (well, and into the air force, but it’s 1944, he’ll be fine maybe); and saves the church. Twice. He’s like a soft-spoken, non-violent Yancey Cravat. He doesn’t fight, or yell, or even shame, he just envelops you in prescription-strength Mr. Rogers-esque belief in your best self until you can’t help but want him to be right.
Naturally they find a few excuses for Bing Crosby to sing a few songs, because that’s what you did back then when you had a singer in the cast. Not sure when that stopped, but it did. Will Smith hasn’t rapped the plot of the movie under the credits since Wild Wild West, Oceans 8 did not grind to a halt so that Rihanna and Awkwafina could have karaoke night. That said, I still don’t consider this a proper musical. In musicals, characters burst into song to explore their feelings or advance the plot. In Going My Way, and many other movies we’ve discussed, the story pauses so someone can sing. It’s not stylistic like West Side Story or Chicago, it’s diegetic, happening in the world of the story. Same as Great Ziegfeld, same as The Broadway Melody, same as This Is The Army, same as (probably) The Singing Fool. The only true musicals I’ve come across so far came from… [sighs, swigs deeply from bottle] Eddie Cantor.
There is one irony. Father Chuck’s big plan to save the church is to sell a song, a song that happens to be called “Going My Way.” But the publishers he contacts aren’t interested, saying “Schmaltz doesn’t sell,” and they stand by that. A lucky break means they buy “Swinging on a Star” instead. But the fact that this movie ruled the box office, got nominated for ten Oscars, won seven including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Song (for “Swinging on Star,” so the Academy agrees with the publisher in the movie), and had a sequel out in under two years (more on that in a moment) says that yes, schmaltz sells. Because while this movie is thoroughly pleasant, calming, and relaxing, it is on the schmaltzy side. But maybe, in year three of America’s involvement in WWII, schmaltzy is what US audiences needed. Hell, maybe the US needs Father Chuck now more than ever.
How Green Was Their Valley? Valleys only get Greener when Father O’Malley rolls into town.
And Rotten Tomatoes Says: RT finds it slightly too schmaltzy, ranking it all the way down at 78/93.
Other Events in Film
Kicking off their film careers: Lauren Becall, Gregory Peck, and Angela Lansbury. Angela was in Gaslight, which won Ingrid Bergman her first Oscar.