Skip to main content

You even throw like an atheist.

Going My Way

(SPOILERS) Bing Crosby was winningly self-effacing when he accepted the Best Actor Oscar for his easy-going Father (Chuck) O’Malley in Going My Way: “This is the only country where an old broken-down crooner can win an Oscar for acting. It shows that everybody in this country has a chance to succeed”. One might construe he doesn’t think everybody deserves to from that, and certainly, Time Out’s Adrian Turner didn’t hold back when blasting this “godawful Oscar-winning schmaltz”. I wouldn’t go nearly that far, but it is overly enamoured of its own sanctified intentions, to the extent of almost flatulent self-indulgence, and the old broken-down crooner’s crooning only accentuates such tendencies.

That Going My Way won Best Picture may seem absurd to anyone encountering it today, but context is everything; this was peak WWII, and Oscar had been doing its bit to reward the cause (Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca). Going My Way may be seen as a soothing balm, the promise that everything will be all right (its one nod to the war has the newly married young pretender to his father’s savings-and-loan empire joining the noble fight – and happily surviving after being wounded in Africa; “Some friend of his ran him over in a jeep”). Since You Went Away, the most overt contender in that regard, might have seemed simply too eager in its propaganda styling.

The awards attention yields several other points of note. Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor as Father Fitzgibbon, in a one-off quickly leading to a rule change so such a thing could never happen again. Fitzgerald apparently destroyed his Oscar playing golf, necessitating a replacement (so he took home two in the end). To watch his performance, an attack of the comic Oirish that makes Fawlty Towers’ Mr O’Reilly look restrained, you’d hardly countenance the undiluted attention; Fitzgerald was playing older (a mere slip of 56 when the picture came out) and would essay even less subtle delivery of Emerald Isle tones a few years later as Michaleen Oge Flynn in The Quiet Man.

Going My Way’s further claim to awards fame is as a Best Picture winner with a sequel (the following year’s The Bells of St Mary’s) also nominated for the top prize. The best I can figure, only The Godfathers and The Lord of the Rings can claim similar (albeit, The Return of the King scored as the trilogy finale).

Rather like Highway to Heaven or The Littlest Hobo, there are no corners of the world where O’Malley’s good-hearted beneficence wouldn’t prove an enormous boon. Here, he’s called to St Dominic’s Church in NYC, at the behest of the bishop, to subtly take charge of a situation whereby Father Fitzgibbon has been overseeing a debt-laden parish. The latter is initially put off by O’Malley’s light-touch approach (and fondness for the green, something he shared with Crosby), so has a somewhat rude awakening when he asks the bishop to move O’Malley along.

Other matters also call for O’Malley’s attention, including delinquent youth threatened with reform school, led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements), runaway singer Carol (Jean Heather), and old flame Jenny (Risë Stevens), an opera singer. As you may be able to guess, most of these priestly engagements require Bing to deploy the pipes, or direct others in the same.

I suspect Chuck’s ex was included so there’d be no suspicion his priest is too interested in the welfare of the altar boys. Not that anyone ever nursed such doubts back then, of course. No fear. This, despite O’Malley showing up with a basket full of puppies and the juveniles’ concern that “Next thing you know… (he’ll be) making altar boys of us”.

The picture is better with its early-stages light comedy than Chuck’s subsequent prolific saintliness; there’s a particularly amusing scene in which O’Malley and Fitzgibbon dig in to a turkey dinner, only for the former to break it to the latter that the venerable, sweet youth who presented said turkey to Fitzgibbon had hijacked a poultry truck.

Ted Haines Sr: Son, never lend money to a church. As soon as you start to close in on them, everybody thinks you’re a heel.
Ted Haines Jr: Well, aren’t you?
Ted Haines Sr: Yes.

There’s little in the way of drama or conflict here. Busybody Mrs Quimp (Anita Sharp-Bolster, given an unfortunate sounding surname) and savings-and-loans man Ted Haines Sr (Gene Lockhart) barely register on the scale, the latter swiftly hauled into line when Jr (James Brown) weds Carol, thus neatly tying a bow round a couple of thorny dilemmas relating to debt and waywardness. As for Sr’s assertion “Priests never have any money” – he should try telling the Vatican that.

I was most surprised to learn this was the first outing for Swinging on a Star, winning one of the picture’s seven Oscars (out of ten nominations); it’s a less than auspicious version, rendered in individual lines are by a company of miscreant youth, but it’s nevertheless the one song in the roster (others including Silent Night, Ave Maria and, er, Three Blind Mice) that holds the attention; I’d estimate a good twenty minutes of Going My Way could be chiselled from the running time with the various ditties excised. Of course, the definitive version of Swinging on a Star can be found in Hudson Hawk.

Is Going My Way a Christmas movie? Not overtly so – yet probably more legitimately than the sequel, which isheralded as such – but it does culminate with a Christmas Eve mass following the church being gutted by fire. And it does carry with it a seasonal veneer of good cheer. Schmaltz? Yes, but Going My Way resembles a hard-hitting urban crime drama compared to the sequel.

Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.