After making the popular and lovable Going My Way with Bing Crosby as a priest, director Leo McCarey got letters suggesting that he make a movie humanizing the ladies of the cloth as well. So he decided to make a sequel, with Crosby's counterpoint this time a nun. The film was The Bells of St. Mary's, and the sister was Ingrid Bergman, at the peak of her popularity. The dynamic between Bergman and Crosby was light and sweet, and McCarey -- one of the originals of movie comedy -- keeps everything fresh, fun, and sentimental. While Going My Way had won seven Oscars the year before, The Bells of St Mary's won just one (for best sound) despite eight nominations. Bergman, lovely as always, had deservedly won her Oscar the year before in Gaslight. In just five short years, she would be a pariah in Hollywood, following her notorious affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Following a string of quality movies and high output, McCarey's career would taper off after St. Mary's. He directed only five movies in the next seventeen years, most notably An Affair to Remember in 1957 (which was actually a scene for scene remake of his own Love Affair). Crosby made at least four dozen movies in the next three decades, but he rarely, if at all, achieved the sort of popularity that he had playing Father O'Malley.
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In this follow-up to director Leo McCarey's Going My Way (1944), Bing Crosby repeats his Oscar-winning characterization of happy-go-lucky priest Father O'Malley. The good father is sent to help out financially strapped St. Mary's Academy, a parochial school presided over by lovely nun Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman). The film is constructed in anecdotal fashion: Nun and priest gently quarrel over teaching methods; they help patch up the tottering marriage of William Gargan and Martha Sleeper; Sister Benedict plays baseball and teaches a student how to box; Father O'Malley softens the heart of the man who holds the mortgage (Henry Travers) by convincing the poor fellow that he's only got a few months to live; and the kids of St. Mary's put on a much-revised stage version of the Nativity, complete with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" on the occasion of the Virgin Birth. A huge hit at the box office, Bells of St. Mary's was nominated for nine Academy Awards.