Posts published under “Totally Bitchin’ Dead Guys”
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (1945/DVD)
While Leo McCarey’s 1945 sequel to his 1944 Best Picture winning Going My Way didn’t rack up the Oscar wins like its predecessor—though it did receive several nominations—The Bells of St. Mary’s is every bit its match as a masterfully told, sweet comic masterpiece.
Bells follows Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley to a new assignment—taking over at a rundown and fiscally struggling parochial school for an ailing priest who apparently couldn’t hack it living “up to [his] neck in nuns.” The problem with the nuns? Starting with Sister Superior Benedict, played by an Ingrid Bergman that could not possibly appear more beatific, they have their own particular ideas as to how children should be raised, and well, a man in 1945 has other ideas on the subject.
For example, when a young male student gets beaten by a playground bully, the student follows a perilous path assigned to him by the nuns—turning his cheek, repeatedly, and being knocked silly for it. When O’Malley seems to brush off the incident, and appears kind of tickled by the bully’s display of masculinity, sister Benedict is (ever so gently) shocked, leading to a few words between them about what makes a man a man, and what a big part defending yourself plays into it. While Benedict still disapproves, she begins to doubt her peacenik ways—resulting in the purchase of a boxing how-to book and teaching the young boy and herself, in full nun gear, how to properly kick some ass. One more woman brought kicking & screaming into the world of rational common sense by a Man, 1944 style. DONE! (Insert wiping hands clean gesture here.) Read more »
I had somehow made it thus far without seeing any Bing Crosby movies—until now I’d only known him as the guy who sang “Little Drummer Boy” with his friendly TV neighbor, 1977-via-1982 David Bowie—and as an introduction to his stuff I somehow managed recently to watch three films featuring the crooner/actor in the same night. This was an unintentional marathon—my original intent was just to view director Leo McCarey’s 1944 smash hit Going My Way and its equally popular sequel, 1945’s The Bells of St. Mary’s, both featuring Crosby in the lead role of easygoing, modern (for 1944) Father O’Malley. The DVD I procured of Going My Way just happened to be a double feature edition*, paired with the also very popular Holiday Inn, starring Crosby with his real-life pal/golf buddy Fred Astaire, so after viewing these wonderful McCarey pictures, I figured, hey, I like this “Der Bingle” fella well enough—might as well check out Holiday Inn. Man, was that a bad decision. Holiday Inn. Is. The. Worst. More on that later…
McCarey’s charming and sweet-natured 1944 Best Picture winner Going My Way features Crosby in a career (re)defining role that much of the 1944 moviegoing public wasn’t quite ready to see. It sounds silly now, but at the time, Crosby—the playboy crooner and “Road” picture goofball—playing a priest was seen as a blasphemous act. That knee-jerk reaction subsided quickly enough as audiences fell in love with Crosby’s genuine, fits-like-a-glove turn as the gentle, easygoing, and good hearted Father O’Malley, a young priest transferred from his hometown of St. Louis (shout out to the STL Browns, yo!) to a run-down parish in NYC to assist and eventually take over for the aging, very Irish, and cantankerous-on-the-outside Father Fitzgibbon, played by Dublin-born stage actor Barry Fitzgerald in a cherished performance that was (as a honest fluke) nominated for Oscars in both Best Actor AND Best Supporting Actor categories, the latter of which he clinched. (Fun fact: Fitzgerald later accidentally beheaded his Oscar statue while practicing his golf swing in his living room. Thanks, DVD Production Notes!) Read more »
RUGGLES OF RED GAP (1935/DVD) and MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937/DVD) Fans of Ricky Gervais’s live shows and his Extras sitcom-within-a-sitcom When The Whistle Blows will immediately recognize the hilariously heartwarming and totally weird tour de force performance by Charles Laughton that grounds McCarey’s best comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap, cuz Gervais pretty much mimics him outright. Being that up until recently I had only known Laughton as the fat dude Tony Curtis bathes in Spartacus and the director of the brilliantly creepy classic Night of the Hunter (a knockout debut that fared so poorly at the box office that Laughton was never allowed to direct another), his turn as Marmaduke Ruggles—an uber-Eeeeenglish turn-of-the-last-century butler that, as a result of a jolly poker game, is sent to serve a new master in the dusty American wild west town of Red Gap, Washington—is a revelation. While Laughton is mostly known for his great success with historical dramas playing the likes of Henry VIII and Nero, Ruggles makes it clear that Laughton was a first rate comic performer on par with Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, etc. It makes one wonder how much if any of that performance came from any collaboration with My New Favorite Director™ Leo McCarey, already a name in 1935 for directing/writing comedies with the Marx Brothers (1933’s Duck Soup), W.C. Fields, and Laurel & Hardy (who he is widely credited for teaming up in the first place).
What put McCarey’s direction head and shoulders above his peers, however, was his knack for coaxing more natural and unaffected performances from his actors than was the norm for that era. You’ll find the finest example of his low-key approach in 1937’s Make Way for Tomorrow, a film about an elderly couple who are separated and shipped off by their selfish and callous adult children that is so unbelievable heartbreaking that Orson Welles once famously exclaimed it would “make a STONE cry!” Read more »