The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

Leo McCarey was the son of one of Los Angeles’ biggest fight promoters, Thomas J. McCarey, and would be mentored by comedian Charley Chase and director Tod Browning. He cast Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy together, who became one of the most famous comedy duos of all time.

When the talkies took over, McCarey focused on features with the biggest stars of the era, such as Gloria Swanson, Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, Mae West and W.C. Fields, but the failure of his 1937 film Make Way for Tomorrow nearly ruined his career. Today, that film is seen as a classic.

He left Paramount for Columbia, where he’d win his first Oscar for The Awful Truth, the film that established Cary Grant. Supposedly, Grant simply copied some of McCarey’s mannerisms and the rest was history.

The director remained independent instead of becoming a studio director. A devout Roman Catholic, he directed Going My Way, a story about a priest named Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), which won him his second Oscar and Crosby a best actor statue. This movie was its follow-up, pairing Crosby with Ingrid Bergman. It’s based on McCarey’s aunt, Sister Mary Benedict, who died of typhoid.

While his anti-Communist films like My Son John and Satan Never Sleeps didn’t connect, McCarey’s An Affair To Remember is an all-time classic, inspiring films like Sleepless In Seattle.

McCarey’s filming method — unlike much of Hollywood at the time and based on his experience in silent films, was to keep the script fluid. He was often at the piano during filming, trying to think of new ideas to improve the film. Bing Crosby said that 75% of Going My Way “was made up on the set by Leo.”

The biggest movie of 1945, this movie marks an important moment in film history, as Bing Crosby’s Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Father Chuck O’Malley made him the first actor in history to be nominated for two Oscars for playing the same role. In all, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.

Made for $1.3 million, the film would go on to gross around $21.3 million. In today’s money, that’d be $300 million.

This time, O’Malley is assigned to St. Mary’s parish, which includes a run-down inner-city school that is about to be condemned. His role is to decide whether or not to keep the school open. They hope that businessman Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers, Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life) will see it in his heart to save the school.

O’Malley and Sister Superior Mary Benedict (Bergman) both want to save the school but vary in the way they want to do it. Eventually, he gets the Sister to leave the school, but that’s because she contracts tuberculosis and a move to a dry climate will save her life. Of course, everything works out for everyone.

The production was overseen by a Catholic priest for authenticity. As the final farewell was being filmed, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman passionately kissed one another, leading the priest-advisor to shout in protest, unaware that he was being pranked.

Olive Signature has just re-released this film on blu ray, mastered from new 4K restoration. It also has audio commentary by Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, a feature on “Faith and Film” by Rose Pacatte, as well as discussions of the movie by Steve Massa, Professor Emily Carman and Abbey Bender.

The radio show The Screen Guild Theater aired two 30-minute radio adaptations of the movie with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman reprising their film roles in 1946 and 1947. Both of these episodes are included on this release.  The first was broadcast on August 26, 1946, and the second on October 6, 1947.

Olive Signature has had some great releases as of late, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers and A Bucket of Blood. I love that they’ve been able to take movies that we know and love, yet are able to show us something new about them. You can get this movie right here.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Olive Films. Please check out their site and see what else they have to offer.

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