Going My Way (1944)

 

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.)

 

Theme: Priest

First Time Watching? Yes

Final Verdict: I gave it my blessing, and it gave me the bird.

Amadeus (1984)

 

 

Even though I realized it wasn’t true, a part of me wanted to believe that Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” was in the movie Amadeus. Why else would two things called Amadeus exist at essentially the same time? In the eighties and nineties, I learned practically everything about music and culture from MTV, which my mom kept onscreen constantly. Music eased its way into my pores via their accompanying videos; the visuals were the only way I could pay attention long enough to care.

And here I am, twenty-odd years later, watching three-hour biopics when all I needed was a synth-heavy remix to learn about Mozart. Amadeus is definitely one of those films that flies under the radar.  I, for one, haven’t even heard of most of the actors in it. It’s recent enough to expect that people may have watched it and yet I’m not aware of anyone who has ever seen it – let alone likes it. Which is kind of a shame, because it’s not a bad movie. A bit long and plodding in parts, suggesting plot threads that don’t do much but fray, but a decent enough movie. At least you can listen to music (though none of it is 80s-friendly). And I kind of love the idea that Mozart’s big rival, Salieri, basically spends the whole film hate-watching every one of Mozart’s concerts.

But all I really want to talk about is songs that should have been on the soundtrack to Best Picture films. Supposedly, Falco wrote “Rock Me Amadeus” after watching the movie. What other movies and songs could be connected (but obviously aren’t)?

  • Might The Hurt Locker have prompted REM’s “Everybody Hurts”?
  • Or perhaps Dave Matthews’ Band wrote “Crash into Me” for Crash.
  • 1963’s Tom Jones obviously inspired…. Well, a lot of songs. It’s not unusual.
  •  Little known fact: the theme song for Mad Men is titled “A Beautiful Mine,” presumably because it was originally rejected for A Beautiful Mind.
  •  And of course, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” name-checks half the movies on the list. (Okay, only one. Remember which? It’s not British Beatlemania.)

Yeah, I don’t have much interesting commentary to offer for this one. I’d like to think that I’m living up to Salieri’s cry for mediocrity. We can’t all be geniuses.

 

Amadeus enters his New Wave phase.

Theme: Artistic Friendship

First Time Watching? Yes to the movie, no to Falco.

Final Verdict: It rocked me.