Going My Way is the prequel to The Bells of St. Mary’s, which I have already reviewed here. From experience, I can say that it makes no difference if you see them in the correct order, in fact they were not even written in the order of their theatrical appearance. However, if you enjoy one you will most likely enjoy them both.
Bing Crosby plays Father Chuck O’Malley, who once led a colorful lifestyle before becoming a priest, has just been assigned to take over at St. Dominic’s. But the very conventional Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) has been the head priest at St. Dominic’s for the past forty-five years, and O’Malley does not want to hurt the old man’s pride by taking that away from him. So O’Malley finds ways to help by working on the church’s financial struggles and reforming the straggling gang of boys into a choir. It becomes a very positive outlet for the boys who were once known for stealing turkeys. Meanwhile, Fitzgibbon is still seen as the head of the church, but when he finds out that O’Malley was sent to replace him the news is heartbreaking and he runs away for a while. Thankfully, when he returns, O’Malley is able to show him how he is still most important to the church and they work together.
A key scene in this film is when Father Fitzgibbon returns from his juvenile attempt to run away in the pouring rain. The poor old man was actually brought home by a police officer that O’Malley recruited in his search, but Fitzgibbon asks the officer to let him go in alone. Rather than look like a disobedient child, he wants to muster as much dignity as possible after such a foolish stunt. He’s welcomed warmly by O’Malley with a sense of forgive and forget, no need to dwell too much on dopey stunts and the two bond over a drink to their mothers.
Barry Fitzgerald made Oscar history by being the first and only person to be nominated in both leading and supporting actor categories for the same role. Crosby won in the lead category and Fitzgerald won for supporting actor, but because of the metal shortage during WWII he was given a plaster statuette that he accidentally beheaded while practicing his golf swing. Since the Academy Awards of 1945 rules have been made that prevent an actor from being in multiple categories for the same performance. Otherwise, we might have Christian Bale or young Hailee Steinfeld in the same situation today.
Both Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s are wonderful films that brings ideas of faith alongside real world problems and modern people. In the end, it’s only Father Fitzgibbon who ever lectures about the importance of going to church. O’Malley has a broader view of enlightenment that can take place anywhere just by doing good things and encouraging that within others. The film shows that everyone has their faults and that everyone can make a positive difference as well. You don’t need to be Catholic or affiliate yourself with any religion to appreciate and understand the message of either film and I recommend both equaly.
“-You’ve been a bad boy who ran away from home.
–And you should go to church!”