Wins Best Picture Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Director-producer Leo McCarey’s feature film about two Roman Catholic priests won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1944. The quiet, Oscar-winning film humanized religion, highlighted the power of friendship, and underscored homespun American values heightened during World War II.

Summary of Event

Leo McCarey struck chords with the masses and affirmed everyday faith with the 1944 Paramount Pictures release of Going My Way. Rich with characterization and built on the winning screen chemistry between seasoned actors Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, McCarey’s wartime film about two priests in a troubled parish culled more public favor, critical acclaim, and industry awards than nearly any other motion picture of its time. It received a total of seven Academy Awards, or Oscars, at the March 15, 1945, ceremony at the renowned Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences conferred national awards for films released the previous year. Going My Way (McCarey) Academy Awards;Best Picture [kw]Going My Way Wins Best Picture (Mar. 15, 1945) [kw]Best Picture, Going My Way Wins (Mar. 15, 1945) Going My Way (McCarey) Academy Awards;Best Picture [g]North America;Mar. 15, 1945: Going My Way Wins Best Picture[01430] [g]United States;Mar. 15, 1945: Going My Way Wins Best Picture[01430] [c]Motion pictures and video;Mar. 15, 1945: Going My Way Wins Best Picture[01430] Crosby, Bing Fitzgerald, Barry McCarey, Leo Butler, Frank Cavett, Frank Pius XII

The Academy named Going My Way Best Picture of 1944 and awarded McCarey two Oscar statuettes, one for Best Original Story Academy Awards;Best Original Story and another for Best Director Academy Awards;Best Director , making him the first individual to receive more than one Oscar for a single film. Bing Crosby won Best Actor Academy Awards;Best Actor for his performance as the easygoing Father Chuck O’Malley, and Barry Fitzpatrick, a veteran of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre, won Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards;Best Supporting Actor for portraying O’Malley’s irascible senior counterpart. Frank Butler and Frank Cavett won Oscars for Best Screenplay Academy Awards;Best Screenplay , and “Swingin’ on a Star,” "Swingin’ on a Star" (Van Heusen and Burke)[Swingin on a Star] sung in the film by O’Malley and the hooligans he had turned into a choir, won for Best Song Academy Awards;Best Song . Additionally, the film was nominated for cinematography and film editing awards.

By 1944, the conferring of Best Picture was part of an annual gala event for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, formed in 1927 by production executives and film luminaries whose members nominated and voted for winners in each award category. After 1941, when the United States joined the Allied Powers in World War II, the subjects and styles of motion pictures changed. About one-third of the seventeen hundred films Hollywood produced between 1942 and 1945 dealt with war, directly or indirectly. In the two years before Going My Way received honors, Oscars for Best Picture had gone to war movies: Mrs. Miniver (1942) depicted a British family during an air raid campaign, and Casablanca (1942) portrayed a cafe owner in Nazi-occupied Morocco.

Going My Way, set in wartime and based on the experiences of an actual priest, pivots on the relationship between the unpretentious and progressive young Father O’Malley and a cantankerous, set-in-his-ways older priest, Father Fitzgibbon, whose forty-five-year management of New York’s poor St. Dominic’s Church has become weighted with mortgage woes and sagging spirits among parishioners. Sent by a bishop to rehabilitate St. Dominic’s without disclosing his assignment, O’Malley gradually wins Father Fitzgibbon’s trust as he sets a runaway on a respectable track, turns a window-breaking gang of boys into a legitimate choir, and secretly ensures the rebuilding and solvency of the church. The relationship between the two clerics embodies universal struggles between youth and age and between flexibility and tradition, and award-winning performances on both sides of the divide helped the film earn more than seven million dollars at the box office even before the Best Picture award brought it further acclaim.

Why was the film so popular as to sweep the Academy Awards? The Everyman appeal of Crosby had something to do with it. By 1944, Crosby was legendary: He had played the happy-go-lucky suitor in 1930’s singing boy-gets-girl films and was the comic co-star of a series of exotic road musicals, beginning with Road to Singapore (1940), with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. He entertained troops with the United Service Organization for National Defense (USO), and his sentimental recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” was a holiday favorite among soldiers and civilians. Fifty million radio fans tuned in weekly to Kraft Music Hall, which Crosby had hosted since 1935. Biographer Gary Giddins states that Crosby’s “was the voice of the nation, the cannily informal personification of hometown decency—friendly, unassuming, melodious, irrefutably American.” Audiences and the Academy prized those traits in a screen priest, as well as in a troubadour.

Many Americans linked the amiable, easygoing ways of Crosby’s Father O’Malley with the friendships and homeland freedoms they hoped to preserve in World War II. Indeed, whether dealing with his crotchety fellow priest, the neighborhood toughs, or mortgage holders demanding the interest they are owed, amiable O’Malley simply chatted with them the way ordinary neighbors would. Finding common bonds in baseball, music, or heritage, he drew on an unlikely circle of friends—not sermons—to make things right. Hence, baseball-loving troublemakers began singing, an opera diva friend helped replenish church coffers, Father Fitzgibbon’s Irish mother made a surprise visit, and a golfing priest took over for O’Malley when the affable cleric moved on.

Unlike the rousing tunes of Star-Spangled Rhythm (1942) and other patriotic extravaganzas of the 1940’s, the sound track of Going My Way was subdued. The film’s four songs were performed a cappella, with simple piano accompaniment, or with the soft, melodic backing of a choir. With lyrics about tradition, love’s lasting power, and wise choices, the music added an intimate and thoughtful, if not overtly patriotic, mood to McCarey’s wartime offering.

Moreover, while many successful wartime pictures recounted military campaigns, Going My Way embraced homefront sacrifice: A newly uniformed groom left for Air Force duty, a parish lad returned home in a box, and money for rents and mortgages was in short supply. Still, Going My Way offered a brighter, more forgiving view of human nature and frailties than did Double Indemnity Double Indemnity (Wilder) (1944) and Gaslight Gaslight (Cukor) (1944), two dark films about deception and crime that also landed nominations for Best Picture of 1944. These early film noirs Film noir may have expressed the mood of many Americans confronted with the horrors of war, but the hopeful film actively sought to ameliorate that mood.

The few critics who took issue with Going My Way’s sweetness and tidy resolution found much else to praise. James Agee Agee, James , 1944 movie reviewer for Time and The Nation, praised its “delight of human character” and called Fitzgerald’s rendering of Father Fitzgibbon “the finest, funniest and most touching portrayal of old age that has yet reached the screen.” Not surprising, audiences flocked to Going My Way in record numbers; in its time, it was the highest-grossing film in Paramount Pictures history.

Roman Catholics welcomed Going My Way for reasons different from those of the Academy. The Christian Century, a major periodical, lauded the film’s “old-fashioned, simple Christianity” and friendly interaction between parishioners and priests. Catholic World noted a sensitive portrayal of age giving way to youth. In 1945, Crosby reprised his role as Father O’Malley in The Bells of St. Mary’s Bells of St. Mary’s, The (McCarey) , a McCarey-directed sequel that sent O’Malley to rescue a crumbling parish school headed by actor Ingrid Bergman as an ailing mother superior. Pope Pius XII thanked Crosby via letter for humanizing the priesthood and, later, granted the actor an audience in part because of his portrayal of O’Malley in the films.

Significance

For Crosby, Going My Way marked a career transition from comic crooner to screen lead in a substantive story. With the film’s success, he signed a ten-year contract with Paramount Pictures. For the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Going My Way helped clarify the distinction between lead and supporting roles for award purposes. As a result of questions that had arisen when Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in both lead and supporting categories for the same role in the film, the Academy revised its rules governing nominations.

For the Roman Catholic Church, the film improved the image of priests and helped offer religion as an accessible force for good in an increasingly complex world. Among the spectrum of brooding dramas, patriotic musicals, combat films, and other cinematic fare available to the American public during World War II, Going My Way stood out as an optimistic reminder of values and friendships held dear, appealing to wartime sensibilities of the public in the days before broadcast television dominated the media. As winner of the Best Picture Award in 1944, it paved the way for such quietly uplifting films as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which would depict former soldiers readjusting to civilian life in postwar America. Going My Way (McCarey) Academy Awards;Best Picture

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Agee, James. Agee on Film. Vol. 1. 1958. Reprint. New York: Perigee Books, 1983. Reviews and comments first published in Time, The Nation, and Life by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author considered one of the most perceptive movie critics of his time.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bookbinder, Robert. The Films of Bing Crosby. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1977. Attributes Crosby’s box-office popularity to a friendly, unpretentious screen presence, as much as to considerable musical prowess. Photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Braverman, Jordan. To Hasten the Homecoming: How Americans Fought World War II Through the Media. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 1996. Tells how radio, comic strips, and the like fostered patriotism “when no one knew who would win or what the postwar world would bring.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giddins, Gary. Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams. Boston: Little, Brown, 2001. Biography emphasizing Crosby’s role as an American cultural icon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kallen, Stuart A. The War at Home. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2000. Details how the Good War changed family life, the workforce, race relations, news, and entertainment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rollins, Peter C., ed. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Scholarly essays reveal how diverse films, from training reels and documentaries to combat dramas and lavish features, defined history. Bibliographies and index.

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