Ah, the forties. A more innocent era, when priests could spend their time with troubled young boys, even offer to take them to baseball games and say to them, “It’s a date,” without raising any questions from the community. A time when a group of boys who stole turkeys off the back of a truck would willingly join a boys’ choir and, after only a few lessons from the priest in the church basement, start touring the country with their road show.
Jokes aside, it’s hard to watch a movie about a priest without the context of the recent Catholic Church scandal. All the same, I think there have been more stories on film about priests than there have been about any other religious figure. How many movies about a monk or rabbi or imam have you seen? Okay, okay, I’ll give you Sister Act.
Going My Way is less a narrative of a priest character than it is a set piece to demonstrate Bing Crosby’s singing talents. When I think of Bing Crosby, I think of two things (which, come of think of it, are basically the same thing): Christmas songs and that version of “Little Drummer Boy” he did with David Bowie just before he died. I re-watched it during the movie – as in, I literally paused the movie at one point so that I could pull up the video of their duet on YouTube because I thought about David Bowie’s recent death and felt sad and thus needed to revisit that poignant moment between the two of them. It turned out to be a worthwhile diversion, thanks to a one-off cheesy joke about the way people sang back in the day, i.e., back in Bing’s era of the crooner. That era is definitely over.
This film is inoffensive enough, but it is, like Bing Crosby himself, of a particular era. These days, our superheroes come in the form of costumed oddballs with unusual powers, but in the old times, they came in the form of Bing Crosby dressed up like a priest, swooping in to fix all the problems of a beleaguered parish using only the power of his magnificent singing voice. We get a sense of a character who has an interesting past – he clearly led a relatively normal life prior to the priesthood, based on his one-time romantic interest and his familiarity with popular music – but unfortunately, if the film makes an effort to explore how he made the transition into a life of faith, I must have missed it.
Maybe the idea of a priest with a normal life was surprising or radical enough to audiences at the time that it didn’t seem necessary to explore why he committed himself to the church. But that would have intrigued me more than this story, where everything moves effortlessly from conflict to denouement. Even the doddering old man who’s been running the church gets to see his wee Irish mother again – and I was convinced that she would have died long ago. They were uncomplicated times. Granted, this movie was released right in the middle of World War II, so maybe audiences needed to have a story in which everything worked out just fine in the end.
On a final note, I’ve learned an interesting bit of baseball trivia that I didn’t know before this film. Prior to becoming the Baltimore Orioles, the team was known as the St. Louis Browns – the uniform Bing Crosby’s character wears at several points during the film. In 1944, the year Going My Way was released, they won their only World Series, where they played against the Cardinals, and also happened to be the last year in which the World Series was played entirely in one stadium. Interesting if true! (It is true.)
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: I gave it my blessing, and it gave me the bird.