Friday, December 4, 2009

1944 - Going My Way

I've talked previously about the small differences in Australian and American language. Yesterday, however, I came across another difference that has me somewhat baffled. Backstage after my show, I witnessed a cast member grab his fellow performer by the arm, twisting his hands in opposite directions in a display of pretend torture. He referred to the prank as an Indian Burn, which was clearly a term comprehended by everyone in the room. An Indian Burn? In Australia, it is commonly known as a Chinese Burn. How on earth does that happen?

I've also discovered that the popular children's game in which a secret is whispered from one participant to the next down the line is known in the US as Telephone. Back home, we refer to it as Chinese Whispers. Either Australians are racist or the Chinese-American community is very good at damage control.

Today, I completed the Best Picture round of 1944 with...

Going My Way
Leo McCarey
Frank Butler and Frank Cavett; story by Leo McCarey
Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Frank McHugh, Risë Stevens
Academy Awards:
10 nominations
7 wins, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor

Father O'Malley (Crosby) is sent to St. Dominic's parish to help steer the church out of financial trouble. The only catch is the current pastor, Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald), is unaware that he is no longer in charge. The gruff old veteran has been with the church since its construction 45 years ago and, therefore, is not easily accepting of change. In order to raise the funds to clear the church's debt, O'Malley uses his musical talents to form a boys' choir.

Going My Way is a pleasant and charming family film that has 'feel-good' written all over it. Almost everything about the picture exudes a sense of niceness. Nice story. Nice songs. Nice characters. Even the nasty characters turn out to be nice deep down. And so do the wayward characters. Oddly enough, though, I didn't pick up an overly sweet tone from the film. It wasn't over-the-top in its sentimentality at all. It was just ... nice.

The scenes trundle along with only rare moments of excitement. A number of seemingly irrelevant digressions give the rambling storyline a slow feeling. The extremely sparse score may also have something to do with that. Its absence is especially noticeable during the scene transitions. Conversely, the film contains several pleasant songs scattered throughout. No showstoppers, but plenty of songs that are ... nice.

The characters don't burst into song randomly as in a traditional musical, but instead the numbers are naturalistically incorporated into the story. It's sort of a non-musical musical. The film won a Best Song Oscar for Swinging On A Star, which is very cute and, well ... nice.

Director Leo McCarey assembled a very enchanting cast, each amiable for their own reasons. Frank McHugh as the neighbouring priest has a most infectious laugh. Stanley Clements as the young ruffian with a soft side is very entertaining, especially due to his serious face-slapping ability. Jean Heather (who also appeared in another 1944 Best Picture nominee Double Indemnity) as a rebellious teenager turned good is sweet and winsome. William Frawley (a.k.a. Fred Mertz) shows up as a music publisher. And, of course, the great Bing Crosby croons his way delightfully through the film. His naturally genial persona is just so ... nice.

Then there's Barry Fitzgerald as the irascible Father Fitzgibbon. Another delightfully pleasing performance. Incidentally, he is the only person to have been nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same performance. He won the latter, and then the Academy amended the rules so that couldn't happen again. Nice.


  1. The next time you see your fellow cast member, give him a "noogie" or as it is otherwise known (perhaps in Australia) a Russian haircut.

    Watching "Going My Way" today, it is hard to believe that it dominated the 1944 Awards as it did. It feels more like a 30s film to me than a 40s film. Still, it's intentions are amicable, and who can watch that ending without getting a lump in the throat.

    It was such a success for Bing Crosby, that he reprised his role the next year in "The Bells of Saint Mary's," and became the first actor to receive Best Actor nominations for the same role in two different films (unlike the special fete of his co-star Barry Fitzgerald.)

    Oscar Quiz Break: After Crosby's double nomination, three other actors and one actress matched this accomplishment (two nominations for the same role in two different pictures) Who can name them?

    Nothing much more to add to your 'nice' review, Matt. Apparently, character actor William Smith and singer Andy Williams appeared as two of the singing choir boys. I couldn't tell if they did, unless the kid that kept wanting to sing "Moon River" was Williams :)

  2. Hmm, I like quizzes. Let me think...

    I could, of course, easily look it up and pretend I'm doing this off the top of my head ... but I won't.

    Without resorting to a google search, all I can think of is Pacino as Michael Corleone. I also want to say Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, but I'm not entirely certain he was nominated for The Hustler.

    Okay, now I need to look it up. But I'll keep it to myself, in case anyone else wants to take a stab at it.