The Bells of St. Mary's is a 1945 American drama film produced and directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. Written by Dudley Nichols based on a story by Leo McCarey, the film is about a priest and a nun who, despite their good-natured rivalry, try to save their school from being shut down. The character of Father O'Malley had been previously portrayed by Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, for which Crosby had won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film was produced by Leo McCarey's production company, Rainbow Productions.
The Bells of St. Mary's has come to be commonly associated with the Christmas season, due most likely to the inclusion of a scene involving a Christmas pageant at the school, a major plot point involving an unlikely (yet prayed for) gift, and the fact that the film was released in December 1945.
A reference to it is made in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life, in which Henry Travers played the role of the guardian angel.
The unconventional Father Charles "Chuck" O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned to St. Mary's parish, which includes a run-down inner-city school building on the verge of being condemned. O'Malley is to recommend whether or not the school should be closed and the children sent to another school with modern facilities; but the sisters feel that God will provide for them.
They put their hopes in Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), a businessman who has built a modern building next door to the school which they hope he will donate to them. Father O'Malley and the dedicated but stubborn Sister Superior, Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), both wish to save the school, but their different views and methods often lead to disagreements. One disagreement involves a student (Richard Tyler) who is being bullied by another. A more serious one regards the promotion of an eighth-grade student, Patsy (Joan Carroll), whom the parish has taken in while her mother (Martha Sleeper) attempts to get back on her feet.
At one point, Sister Benedict contracts tuberculosis, and the physician recommends to Father O'Malley that she be transferred to a dry climate with non-parochial duties, but without telling her the reason. She assumes the transfer is because of her disagreements with O'Malley, and struggles to understand the reasons for the path set out for her. Right before Sister Benedict departs, Father O'Malley reveals the true reason for her temporary transfer.Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O'Malley
Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict
Henry Travers as Horace P. Bogardus
William Gargan as Joe Gallagher
Ruth Donnelly as Sister Michael
Joan Carroll as Patricia "Patsy" Gallagher
Martha Sleeper as Mary Gallagher
Rhys Williams as Dr. McKay
Richard Tyler as Eddie Breen
Una O'Connor as Mrs. Breen
Edward Coch Jr. as Baby Jesus (uncredited)
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt that the film was too similar to Going My Way, and "although a plenteous and sometimes winning show, lacks the charm of its predecessor—and that comparison cannot be escaped." Variety wrote: "Picture is packed with many simple scenes that tug at the heart and loosen the tears as directed by McCarey and played by the outstanding cast." Harrison's Reports wrote: "As in Going My Way, which he also wrote, produced, and directed, Leo McCarey has proved again that great pictures do not require pretentious stories ... The acting of the entire cast is excellent. Crosby delights one with his ease and natural charm, and Miss Bergman will undoubtedly rise to new heights of popularity because of the effective way in which she portrays her role." John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote derisively that "Mr. McCarey seems to view the Roman Catholic Church, which is quite a formidable and venerable organization, as a kind of settlement house where good works and jollity provide a lively substitute for religion ... Everything, of course, turns out quite happily, except, perhaps, for those captious souls who regard religion as an adult matter."
The Bells of St. Mary's placed fourth on Film Daily's year-end nationwide poll of 559 critics naming the best films of 1946.
The film was enormously popular, earning receipts of $8 million in North America during its initial run, making it the highest-grossing movie of 1945 in the USA.
It made a profit of $3,715,000, making it the most profitable film in the history of RKO. Adjusted for inflation, it is considered the 50th highest-grossing film of all time."Aren't You Glad You're You?" (Jimmy Van Heusen / Johnny Burke) sung by Bing Crosby
"Adeste Fideles" sung by Bing Crosby and children's choir
"In the Land of Beginning Again" (George W. Meyer / Grant Clarke) sung by Bing Crosby
"O Sanctissima" sung by Bing Crosby
"It's Spring" sung by Ingrid Bergman
"The Bells of St. Mary's" sung by Bing Crosby and choir
Bing Crosby recorded four of the songs for Decca Records and these were issued as singles as well as a 2-disc 78 rpm album titled Selections from The Bells of St. Mary's. “Aren't You Glad You're You” was in the Billboard charts for nine weeks with a peak position of #8. "In the Land of Beginning Again" and "The Bells of St. Mary's" both charted briefly also. Crosby's songs were also included in the Bing's Hollywood series.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording (Stephen Dunn), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bing Crosby), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Ingrid Bergman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Music, Song (for Jimmy Van Heusen (music) and Johnny Burke (lyrics) for "Aren't You Glad You're You") and Best Picture.
Bing Crosby's Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Father Chuck O'Malley made him the first actor in history to receive two nominations for portraying the same character.There were two radio adaptations of The Bells of St. Mary's on The Screen Guild Theater radio program. Both starred Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. They were broadcast on August 26, 1946 and October 6, 1947.
A television adaptation on videotape of The Bells of St. Mary's was shown in 1959, starring Claudette Colbert, Marc Connelly, Glenda Farrell, Nancy Marchand, Barbara Myers, Robert Preston, and Charles Ruggles, and was directed by Tom Donovan.