Written by: Frank Butler & Frank Cavett
Starring: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Risë Stevens, Frank McHugh, James Brown
Foundational looks at religion demonstrate the beauty of believing in something bigger than the individuals allowing people to unite. In its purest form, it makes a positive impact in people’s lives but the institutions at play in their search for money and power have created an ugly monster, which has, in turn, pushes away the very people they want as part of their congregation. This side of the coin receives plenty of attention in films, but Going My Way takes a smaller and more intimate approach in displaying the impact one priest could have in a community where love reigns supreme and striking fear does not become his main objective.
Joining St. Dominic’s Church in New York, Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) stands in line to take over the church and have it under his direction. As he deals with an older priest taking umbrage with his methods, O’Malley goes out of his way to befriend the local community members and help build a group based on joy.
The actions taken by O’Malley throughout this feature could be seen as borderline propaganda for the Catholic Church with good reason. The message flowing throughout this film shows the potential of the church rather than the reality. Almost like a piece of fantasy but it demonstrates the impact one priest can have on an entire community. Respect for religious figures runs deep in cultures typically following the Catholic faith, which made it easy for abuse to run rampant and members of the congregation refusing to acknowledge it. These men carry so much power and on most occasions, they sit upon their pulpit and yell about what actions either get you in or out of hell. O’Malley has a different impact, one led by actually building a community amongst the people within his parish rather than playing on people’s guilt.
Set in a rough part of New York, O’Malley’s presence becomes a welcome one in the way he injects music into the community seeing as this is a musical. Bing Crosby brings his own spark to these moments with him being the triple threat we’ve known him to be. He carries all of the scenes well and remains this infectious character bringing joy and happiness to the people around him. Each musical sequence contains very enjoyable singing and dancing numbers as one would expect in any Bing project and it works well enough for all intents and purposes to make this as successful as possible.
As an actor, Bing uses his positivity to keep everything uplifting and succeeds in distracting the audience from the reality of this being quite the fantasy. This demeanor and personality perfectly fit this role and ensures to uphold up this dream as much as possible seeing as a priest gathered amongst other boys has garnered such a negative perception rightly through the years. This film asks to believe what would occur if a priest actually cared for their community and Bing proves to be a perfect casting choice in order to bring the whole narrative together.
The kindness displayed by O’Malley does not come solely from his interaction with the children, but also the other women within the community. From individuals who live in sin and cannot afford to live a basic lifestyle, O’Malley shows a level of compassion one can only dream a priest would provide to the community members. Seeing as women are typically the ones put down the most by the institution of the Catholic Church, the inclusion of his kindness towards them felt somewhat a radical approach, which only speaks badly of the real priests we have. He approaches them not through a way of shaming them for their actions but through actual compassion. Again, this is a level of kindness that further supports the idea of this feature being a complete fantasy, but it makes for an entertaining film in how it brings everything to life for the story.
Wonderfully fun in its presentation and ultimately satisfying when it reaches the end, Going My Way almost feels like a western in the way an outsider enters a town, makes a positive impact, and then leaves at the end. The actions come in the form of good deeds and fulfilling the role of a priest in the way Jesus probably would have wished unlike what the current crop of individuals display on a daily basis. I do not blame anyone for seeing this as propaganda in order to make the church look better than they deserve, but this make-believe perhaps lends to more connection from optimists who see what good can be done if a basic level of care existed.