Friday, January 2, 2015

Short Take: The Bells of St. Mary's

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

The year 1945 saw the release of The Bells of St. Mary's, director-producer Leo McCarey's sequel to his 1943 Oscar-winning hit Going My Way. To say The Bells of St. Mary's eclipsed its predecessor at the box office is an understatement. It was the most commercially successful live-action film of the 1940s. Its profile has faded, though, and it's not hard to see why. While amiable, it doesn't have the heft or sophistication of an enduring film. McCarey, screenwriter Dudley Nichols, and stars Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman were just looking to put together a breezy good time for audiences. Crosby reprises his Going My Way role as Roman Catholic priest Father O'Malley. The film begins as he undertakes his new assignment: he's to be the pastor at St. Mary's, a rundown inner-city parish school. The supervising nun is played by Ingrid Bergman, and the two quickly find themselves at friendly odds about how to run things. The story is mostly a series of vignettes that take place over the school year. The most amusing scenes are those involving the nun's efforts to teach a bullied boy how to box. The most charming is the nativity play put on by the school's first-graders. There are a few storylines that thread through the picture, such as the efforts to get a miserly local developer (Henry Travers) to donate his new building to the parish. Bing Crosby performs several songs, although the standout musical scene is probably Bergman's rendition of "Varvindar Friska (Spring Breezes)" in her native Swedish. It all goes down quite pleasantly. Ingrid Bergman's smile is especially memorable.

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