(Originally published November 30, 2013)
Winter has descended again and even without this project hanging over my head, I have been craving movies every night for a week. I am either operating on teacher-burnout (I have a full-time job!) or the foggy, crisp weather demands cozy comfort.
The beginning of Going My Way is ve-ry sl-ow. However, Bing Crosby’s serious yet delightful charm drew me in anyway. His character, an Irish-Catholic priest named Father Chuck O’Malley, appears clumsy and bumbling as he stumbles through the first few scenes of the movie but emerges as a pillar of religious strength and love.
The premise of the story is that the Bishop of New York City has sent the young Father O’Malley to aid the aging Father Fitzgibbon in the care of Father Fitzgibbon’s beloved St. Dominic’s Parish which is failing financially. However, Father Fitzgibbon is unaware that Father O’Malley has been sent to eventually replace him. The two priests naturally butt heads over finances, progressive religious practices, and golf. As Father O’Malley jokes with his buddy, fellow priest Father O’Dowd, about games of golf they have shared over the years, the dowdy Father Fitzgibbon proclaims, “A golf course is nothing but a poolroom moved outdoors.”
As the movie follows the relationship between these two priests, we also meet Carol, a charming young girl with big dreams who has accidentally put herself in some positions of disrepute. We meet the neighborhood busybody, Mrs. Quimp, who is quick to point out the sins of everyone else, and her landlord, a stingy fellow who seems to be stingy simply because that is how landlords of his day do business. We meet the landlord’s son, who comes across as alternately stingy or lazy. We also meet Father O’Malley’s former love interest, Jenny, a successful opera performer who is unfortunately, rather beautiful and likeable. She has a lovely twinkle in her eyes. We learn that Father Fitzgibbon often listens to his mother’s music box. She is 90 now and he hasn’t seen her since the last time he was in his homeland, 45 years ago.
Through these interactions, the character qualities and passions of Father O’Malley come to light. He is gentle with Father Fitzgibbon, never seeking to usurp, just serving alongside. Father O’Malley simply listens to Mrs. Quimp, neither confirming nor denying her gossip. He treats Jenny like a lady, nothing more, and she proves indisputably helpful to the success of St. Dominic’s Parish.
When Carol finds herself in the parlor of St. Dominic’s, Father O’Malley welcomes her, no questions asked. She confides that she wants to be a singer and demonstrates that she has some ability. Father O’Malley accompanies her on the piano, teaches her a song or two, and offers her a cleaning job. She declines with a smile, essentially implying she is above such work and Father O’Malley wisely just lets her go pursue her dreams for better or worse. Later we find that she has fallen in love and it appears that she has shacked-up with the landlord’s son. Father O’Malley simply pays them a visit, plays the piano and sings some of his unpublished work for them. Some further developments occur in this relationship that result in a redemptive encounter between father and son.
The musical element plays an integral role in the plot and in these relationships. The title of the film comes from a lovely song that Father O’Malley has composed. He confesses that earlier in his life, he was faced with the inevitable decision to either “write the nation’s songs or go my own way.” He also preaches that religion doesn’t have to be expressed through somber music, but that religion can be bright and beautiful. Father O’Malley quickly becomes a lively contradiction to drab religious stereotypes.
Throughout the film, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop. I was expecting Father Fitzgibbon to pass away or for Father O’Malley to drop the life of priesthood and pursue his lady once again because she was so likeable. These expectations kept me on my toes in an otherwise ho-hum plot. Neither of them came to fruition; the film ended with a beautiful twist and a beautiful song that was actually much more satisfying than the depressing ideas I was imagining.
–Choosing to act for the benefit of others
–Religious tradition is intended to enhance love for others, not preclude it or bury it
–Respecting and caring for our elders because we won’t have them around forever
–Hope is like a fire and as long as the pilot light remains intact, hope can grow.