A Look Back At "Going My Way": The Classic 1944 Film Starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald

Herbie J Pilato

[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

The movie's plot was simple and to the point:

A young priest replaces a senior colleague in a parish.

The senior clergyman was played by Barry Fitzgerald. The young priest was portrayed by legendary crooner Bing Crosby.

That meant the 1944 feature film classic, Going My Way, would be a musical.

Film historian Lou Sabini is the author of several books about classic cinema, including, Behind the Scenes of They Were Expendable. In a recent post on social media, Sabini shared his expert insight and "very fond memories" about Going My Way, and its sequel, The Bells Of St. Mary, which was released in 1945 (and both directed by Leo McCarey).

As Sabini explained, for nine years in his youth, he attended parochial school, where his first-grade teacher, "Sister Ann Regina, was a huge film buff."

"So, we bonded after a while," Sabini wrote. "She was a die-hard Shirley Temple fan and I was hooked on Laurel & Hardy. Every weekend, we would call each other after agreeing to watch each other's favorites on television and talk about them. One film that she was particularly fond of was Going My Way (am I surprised?).."

Sabini continued: "The film would be nominated for 9 Academy Awards and won Best Picture, Best Actor (Crosby), Best Supporting Actor (Fitzgerald), Best Director and Best Original Story (Leo McCarey), Best Screenplay (Frank Butler and Frank Cavett), and Best Song "Swingin' on a Star" by James Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. So many little vignettes brought back some happy memories for me by watching this film, although I wonder how non-Catholics feel about it. Going My Way was an incredible hit for Paramount Pictures and I suppose that World War II audiences wanted something light and uplifting as well as some spiritual enlightenment.

"Leo McCarey, whose roots began at the Hal Roach Studio, where he directed and supervised some of the best comedy shorts starring Laurel & Hardy and Charley Chase, has always been a master of tugging at our heartstrings, no matter how corny the proceedings might be (check out Make Way For Tomorrow...it can make the coldest person break down in tears) and he really succeeds here. Bing gets to warble a few songs including the title tune and once again convinces me that he possessed one of the greatest voices ever...and how effortlessly he delivers!"

"While Going My Way might be considered nothing more than 'schmaltz, it's a good family film nevertheless," Sabini concluded.

As documented on IMDB.com, Fitzerald was not only nominated and won for Best Supporting Actor but he was also nominated by the Academy for Best Actor. And that meant two nominations for "the same performance, for the same film, the only time this has happened." (Al Pacino received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and a Best Actor nomination for his role as Michael Corleone, but his nominations were for the first and second Godfather films, respectively.).

As Sabini mentioned, and as IMDB.com also noted, Fitzgerald lost in the Oscar leading actor category to Bing Crosby. (This is no longer possible under Academy guidelines.)

"Due to wartime metal shortages," IMDB.com clarified, "Fitzgerald received a plaster Oscar (instead of a gold-plated britannium one) for his performance. A few weeks after he won, he broke the head off his plaster Oscar while practicing his golf swing."

IMDB.com also mentions how the Going My Way was "banned in several Latin American countries because Bing Crosby wore a white shirt as a priest."

Read more trivia about the film here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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