Going My Way (1944)
Finally, after five years of war-time gloom we’re offered a smidgeon of light relief in the form of Bing Crosby, who stars in Going My Way. Only a smidgeon of relief, mind – there is still of plenty of human drama here to remind us that the ‘real world’ is close to home.
The film is about a spunky young priest who arrives at a failing New York parish to help rescue it from financial doom. Played by Crosby, Father O’Malley finds himself at odds with the stuffy older priest, Father Fitzgibbons, played with utter alacrity by Barry Fitzgerald. Across the course of the film we will watch the old and the new attempt to connect, all the while observing the dramas of the parish and the people about it.
Touted today as a musical, all of the songs in Going My Way appear within the context of the story. For instance, Father O’Malley plays the piano while his choir sing, or he accompanies a young lady while she demonstates for him her musical talent. This is far removed from the outlandish spectacle of The Great Ziegfeld. Avoiding the fantastic and the surreal, Going My Way instead opts to keep itself ‘of the world’ rather than taking us out of it. From what I have read, this film was big with the soldiers and I suppose that this method helped them feel more at home and in touch with both the film and their own place in the world.
To be honest though I found this film pretty bland, yet there was one moment which touched me quite deeply. I think that the film is meant to be an escape from the war, and there is scarcely any mention of the war bar one moment; Haines Jnr emerges from his bedroom in his new army outfit completely out of the blue, and heads straight out the door to join the front line. This was a poignant, surprising and very real moment.
At first there’s something a little unnatural, even forced, about Going My Way, and it feels a bit like a series of scenes rather than a fully immersive experience like How Green Was My Valley or Mrs Miniver. I then remember to pay tribute to the year that this was made: 1944. America is at the tail end of an intense war. Money and resources for actors and production teams are scarce. Like it’s characters who must find a way to survive off little money and huge debt, so too does Going My Way represent the financial hardships of the people of it’s era. Times were tough, yet Hollywood still managed to make films which helped people see the days through. I think that this is admirable.