One of the biggest hits of all time (at the time of this writing, #49 on the All Time Domestic Gross List, adjusted for inflation), THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S was director Leo McCarey's sequel to the Oscar-winning GOING MY WAY of the year before. Bing Crosby is back as Father O'Malley, the piano-playing priest who has a knack for helping people and solving problems. This time, he must decide on the fate of a a failing school run by nuns.
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY is not quite as strong a film as GOING MY WAY, the mild philosophical clash between a liberal priest and a traditional nun a less compelling story backbone than the generation gap between a young priest and an old one. But THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S is so overloaded with wonderful character actors and entertaining set pieces, it still manages to give GOING MY WAY a run for its money. In particular, it features an outstanding performance by Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict. I recently wrote that all acting students should be required to view Charles Laughton in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and now I will add Ingrid's Bergman's turn as the Sister Superior to that list. Like Laughton, she is almost fully hidden by her costume, yet she gives an effortless, joyful and heartbreaking performance. Watch Bergman's face toward the end where Sister Superior says goodbye to Father O'Malley, who has transferred her to another parish. Due to plot points that I will not spoil, the Sister has true bitterness for the good Father at this point, yet has been praying for God to remove it from her heart. Bergman manages to display this conflicting and confusing set of emotions using only her eyes. It is only a few seconds of screen time, but it is a priceless lesson on acting for the screen.
THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S was actually written before GOING MY WAY, but produced after it. So while technically a sequel, it could also be viewed as a prequel; there are no references to the events of GOING MY WAY at all in the film. The best way to watch either film is one after the other, on Christmas Eve if at all possible. ½ - JB
HAVE YOU ANY TEXTBOOKS ON THE MANLY ART OF SELF-DEFENSE?
"Here's book endorsed by James J. Corbett. He won ten straight
fights. Nobody could lay a glove on him 'til Fitzsimmons knocked
"Did Mr. Fitzsimmons write a book?"