BELLS OF ST MARY'S, THE: DVD
Trouble-shooting priest Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is sent to the financially strapped and decrepit St Mary’s parish school where he meets Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman) who rules the roost with a rigid hand. Inevitably there is a clash of wills and ways, but the uncertain fate of St Mary’s and the threat of demolition unites them in a common goal…to convince an old skinflint (Henry Travers) to donate a new building to the school.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
This tear-stained sequel to the sentimental classic Going My Way achieved what the mighty and the great could not do. It isn’t as fresh or as spontaneous as the original but it was the most profitable film in RKO’s history…even bigger than the studio’s immortals, King Kong, Citizen Kane and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and danced rings round the Astaire-Rogers musicals. It was all so simple. Going My Way was the previous year’s smash hit and won a swag of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bing Crosby. James Cagney and Spencer Tracy had turned O’Malley down and their rejections turned crooner Crosby into the world’s Number One box-office star. Crosby even won an audience with Pope Pius XII for comforting Catholics all over the world that they were holier than thou.
All producer-director McCarey had to do was tinker around with his original story; replace the crabby old Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald) from the first film with a stubborn, warm-hearted and very much prettier Sister Superior (Ingrid Bergman) in the second and success was as sure and certain as the bells of St Mary’s. “If you’re in trouble, dial O for O’Malley,” was the cleric’s catch-call, but the good Sister is, at first, unimpressed. While the nuns pray for divine guidance in achieving their hopes for a new school, the radical O’Malley has a more practical plan to persuade the highly-strung, scrooge-like industrialist Mr Bogardus (Henry Travers, who was Clarence the guardian angel in next year’s It’s A Wonderful Life) to donate his brand new building to the cause.
The sub-stories: Benedict teaching a young boy how to box, fostering a reconciliation between the estranged parents of a confused young girl, the ad-libbed re-enactment of the Nativity scene by a group of tiny tots and Sister Benedict’s inevitable illness, were all calculated for tears. The film’s eight Oscar nominations include Bergman (who solos with a Swedish song), Crosby and McCarey. All, of course, had won the year before (Bergman for Gaslight), and Crosby’s song Aren’t You Glad You’re You missed out to It Might As Well Be Spring (from State Fair) but it was a huge hit for Crosby and three other artists who covered it.
Bing and Bergman were an unlikely pair but they work splendidly together in a harmony of warmth and music that might once have melted the hardest heart. Clearly, they wouldn’t dare make films like this anymore, but it’s a joy that they did, before “sweet” turned “sickly” in these more cynical times.
Published May 6, 2004
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BELLS OF ST MARY’S, THE: DVD (G)
CAST: Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers
DIRECTOR: Leo McCarey
SCRIPT: Dudley Nichols, Leo McCarey
RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen, enhanced for 16:9; Dolby Digital; English mono; picture: Black and White
SPECIAL FEATURES: Original trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
DVD RELEASE: March 4, 2004
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