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Going My Way: Best Picture, 1944

goingmywayposterThe 17th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by John Cromwell and Bob Hope, and the proceedings were broadcast nationally over the radio for the first time. Another first this year: The Best Picture category was restricted to five nominees. Going My Way was nominated for a total of 10 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Original Story, Best Actor (Bing Crosby), Best Actor (Barry Fitzgerald), Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song. That isn’t an error up there. For the first and last time (prompting a rule change), an actor was nominated for two awards for the same role.

Going My Way is rather light fare, particularly in comparison with the competition (with the exception of Meet Me in St. Louis, 4 nominations, no wins). Heavy contenders included the stridently-patriotic, wartime biopic Wilson about President Woodrow (10 nominations, 5 wins), the thrilling Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman (7 nominations, 2 wins), the Wilder-directed noir masterpiece Double Indemnity (7 nominations, no wins), Preminger-directed noir masterpiece Laura (5 nominations, 1 win), and Alfred Hitchcock’s gimmicky but interesting Lifeboat (3 nominations, no wins).

Laura won Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Wilson won Best Editing, and Crosby beat Fitzgerald for Best Actor, leaving the latter to claim Best Supporting. Going My Way also scooped up the remaining awards, for an impressive total of 7 wins. It was a major coup for the lone comedy, but hardly surprising; Going My Way was also the top box-office draw of the year. Speaking of impressive, director McCarey became the first person to win awards as a producer, director, and writer for the same film. McCarey’s Best Director win sent Hitchcock home empty-handed for the second (but not the last) time.

Going My Way is about an extremely hip and sympathetic young priest, Father Chuck O’Malley (Crosby), who is sent to bolster the floundering financial situation of a parish run by the stodgy, irascible Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald). Although the two men initially clash over their different ideas about the church, O’Malley eventually wins Fitzgibbon and his elderly parishioners over, puts some straying sheep back on the straight-and-narrow, turns a group of juvenile delinquents into a talented choir, and saves the church with a hit song (the catchy, award-winning “Swinging On a Star”).

There’s no denying that this movie is schmaltz in its purest form. That unabashed sunniness, coupled with the fact that the film’s popular appeal rocketed it to victory over darker, more-deserving nominees, left me (unfairly) ready to hate it from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when Going My Way turned out to be, not only enjoyable, but a good deal better than the sentimentalist dreck I had expected. The film’s cheerful rosiness proves infectious by virtue of an irresistibly charismatic performance from Crosby, the occasional intrusion of sobering reality, and more than a few sly winks at the audience to implicate us in the happy conspiracy. Of course, the proceedings aren’t without their share of eye-rolling, groan-worthy moments, but I just don’t have it in me to scowl at anything so relentlessly good-natured, particularly when my grouchiness has been anticipated and headed off at the pass.

So, yes, Fitzgerald is good, and Crosby is better. The music is pervasive and enjoyable, and I defy anyone to actively dislike “Swinging On a Star” (leaving aside the wooden performances of the young soloists). Charming opera star Risë Stevens also appears, in one of her few screen roles, as, well, an opera star. Jean Heather (who also shines as Lola Dietrichson in Double Indemnity) is adorably naive as a girl who has run away to find a singing career, and gets off much more lightly than she ought to after meeting a charming young man who rather suspiciously allows her to live in an apartment free of rent.

Perhaps the highest praise that I can bestow on Going My Way is that it is one of the better and more memorable entries in a genre that has produced few films I can even bear to sit through. They literally do not make them like this anymore, because the only people trying are long on good intentions and short on artistic integrity. It’s still not the best movie of 1944, but I’ll be jiggered if it isn’t well-worth seeing after all.

The travesty of the year is the complete shut-out of the magnificent Double Indemnity. Not only was it not nominated for as many awards as it should have been (iconic performances by both Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson were ignored), but it didn’t win anything that it was nominated for, most notably Best Picture. This amazing classic is pretty clearly the best film to come out of 1944 (not that there weren’t several notables), and the Oscars, sadly, did not bear this out.

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~ by Jared on April 6, 2009.

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