The Good: Decent acting and singing
The Bad: Predictable plot and character arcs, Obvious in the exploitation of singers, No DVD bonus features
The Basics: A shocking winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this simple movie mortgages narrative flow and character development for random musical interludes.
People tend to talk about the early years of cinema as a simpler time, but I think this is an oversimplification. The times were just as complex as today, though the technology was far less sophisticated, but the movies treated audiences as if they were simpler. Celebrities of the time seemed to have an easier time with diversifying into films, but a lot of those films were just plain rotten. After all, no one is surprised that something like Elvis's Harum Scarum was never nominated for any big awards. And yet, for some reason, the films that star singer and dancer Bing Crosby are somehow treated as something more than the same celebrity exploitative pieces that they are. I mention this at the outset of my review of Going My Way because the film is pretty obvious in the way it uses Crosby's musical talents.
Crosby's character is a priest who conveniently sings his way through most of his problems. Going My Way is not a traditional musical, but it is rather ridiculously broken up by musical interludes where children, Crosby or other performers sing musical numbers for the purpose of singing. And while there is something to the idea that the church that is exceptionally poor needs the gift of song, which Crosby's Father O'Malley brings back to the community, the film is predictable, obvious and little more than an excuse for actors to sing.
The Church of Saint Dominic has fallen on hard times as the Kickenbocker Bank works to foreclose on the church's mortgage. When Father O'Malley arrives in New York to take over St. Dominic's, the bank is breathing down the neck of the church and some of its most loyal parishioners. Meeting the crusty old Father Fitzgibbon, O'Malley keeps his true nature as the new head preacher of the church a secret in order to respect the older priest. Still, O'Malley begins some unorthodox methods of turning around the neighborhood, like getting the local gang of hooligans to fly right by impressing them into a choir for the church.
When Fitzgibbon learns of the actual order of things, Father O'Malley sings with his friends and the priests bond. O'Malley is reunited with an old flame who did not k now he became a priest (which offers an excuse for more music) and O'Malley focuses his efforts on revitalizing the neighborhood. As the bank menaces, the community comes together to save the Church and each other.
I almost asked the question, "But will Father O'Malley be able to save Saint Dominic's and the neighborhood tenants who are in arrears on their rent to the menacing Bank?" but just as I didn't care as the movie was going on, now that it is over, I find myself remarkably unable to muster up the energy to care to write with any suspension of tension or disbelief. Going My Way is That Kind Of Film where everything is wholesome in an obvious way. It's about the way a community comes together and grows . . .
. . . only it's not. It's truly about Paramount exploiting the talents of Bing Crosby to croon to audiences and portray the idea that everything can be solved in the world by people just singing. There is such a disconnect with reality that the dire conversations about the bank and its role seem so incredibly incongruent with the random musical interludes. Unlike a traditional musical where characters sing about their feelings or plot points or reveal something about themselves through song, the music in Going My Way is not connected to the rest of the film. O'Malley sings "Silent Night" with the choir, but the choir just provides accompaniment, so this is a rather obvious use of Crosby as Crosby.
Similarly, the entire character of Carol, the lost waif, is just an excuse to have Jean Heather sing. After a contrived entrance into the movie when a police officer explains how he found the young woman lost, each scene that follows that she appears in affords her an opportunity to sing at least one song, sometimes with Bing Crosby. The way that this becomes problematic is that the flow of the movie is choppier than it ought to be. Any sense of dramatic tension is lost when the movie is broken up for a song.
And while some of the songs, like "Going My Way" or "Silent Night" are well-performed or even decent songs, some of the music just fills in and wastes the viewer's time. For example, when O'Malley talks to his old friend who works at a parish down the street, the two break into their alma mater's song. The only thing worse than the song (and the hammy acting that accompanies it) is the fact that it is repeated twice in the first few minutes of the film.
Throughout Going My Way, Father O'Malley tries to make religion appear less square to the kids, but this is exceptionally dated and outright corny now. The problems are not dealt with head on, rather through distracting the people involved with things like random renditions of "Ave Marie." When the tough, turkey-stealing kids form a youth choir, the viewer is tempted to laugh from the simplicity of it. And when O'Malley tries to solve the church's problems through selling a song of his to a publisher, it seems like the type of play that only works in, well, That Type Of Movie.
Fundamentally, the problem with Going My Way is that it puts all its eggs in the style basket. There is no real character development and the plot is so predictable that it is hard to believe audiences at the time were entertained by it. The lack of character development and narrative flow is more troubling than it is entertaining.
On DVD, Going My Way includes only the theatrical trailer and production notes. The notes are simple text notes and there are no other featurettes or things like commentary tracks. As it is, this is a simple movie that treats the audience as if it were simple and dim. We all deserve better than that.
[As winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this is part of my Best Picture Project available by clicking here!]
For other musicals, please check out my reviews of:
The Little Mermaid
For other film reviews, please be sure to check out my index page here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.