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The Bells of St. Mary's

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The Bells of St. Mary's
Bells st marys.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLeo McCarey
Produced byLeo McCarey
Screenplay byDudley Nichols
Story byLeo McCarey
Music byRobert Emmett Dolan
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byHarry Marker
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • December 6, 1945 (1945-12-06) (New York City, New York)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million[1]
Box office$21,333,333 (United States)[2]

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) is an American drama film, produced and directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman. Written by Dudley Nichols and 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 Father O'Malley had been previously portrayed by Crosby in the 1944 film Going My Way, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film was produced by Leo McCarey's production company, Rainbow Productions.


The unconventional Father Charles "Chuck" O'Malley 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, a businessman who has constructed 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, both wish to save the school, but their different views and methods often lead to disagreements. One such involves student Eddie, who is being bullied by another. A more serious one regards the promotion of an eighth-grade student, Patsy of Syracuse, New York, whom the parish has taken in while her mother 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. Just 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


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."[3] 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."[4] 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."[5] 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."[6]

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.[7]

Box office[edit]

The film was enormously popular, earning receipts of $8 million in North America during its initial run,[8][9] 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.[10][11] Adjusted for inflation, it is considered the 57th highest-grossing film of all time.[12]


Bing Crosby recorded four of the songs for Decca Records[14] 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.[15] Crosby's songs were also included in the Bing's Hollywood series.


The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording (Stephen Dunn). It 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.[16]

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.[17]


Cultural impact[edit]

The Bells of St. Mary's has come to be associated with the Christmas season, probably because of 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 film's having been released in December 1945.

In the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life, in which Henry Travers, a co-star of The Bells of St. Mary's, played the guardian angel, the title of The Bells of St. Mary's appears on the marquee of a movie theater in Bedford Falls, New York.

In The Godfather (1972), Michael and Kay see The Bells of St. Mary's at Radio City Music Hall.



  1. ^ Variety 12 September 1945 p 12
  2. ^ The Bells of St. Mary's. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 20, 2010. This is $460 million when adjusted for inflation, the 52nd highest of all time.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 7, 1945). "Movie Review - The Bells of St. Mary's". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  4. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 10 November 28, 1945.
  5. ^ "'The Bells of St. Mary's' with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman". Harrison's Reports: 191. December 1, 1945.
  6. ^ McCarten, John (December 8, 1945). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp.: 86.
  7. ^ "'Lost Weekend' Tops '10 Best'". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 1 January 6, 1947.
  8. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  9. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  10. ^ Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p46
  11. ^ Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ The Bells of St. Mary's" is a 1917 popular song. The music was written by A. Emmett Adams, the lyrics[1] by Douglas Furber, following a visit to St. Mary's Church, Southampton, England. Sadly the Church was destroyed by enemy action in World War II, but the bell tower survived.
  14. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". A Bing Crosby Discography. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 110. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  16. ^ "The 18th Academy Awards (1946) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  17. ^ Debczak, Michele (January 15, 2016). "When the Academy Nominates Actors Twice For Playing the Same Character". Mental Floss. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  18. ^ Martin, George Victor; Nichols, Dudley; McCarey, Leo (1966). Leo McCarey's The bells of St. Mary's: a novelization. New York: Bantam Books. OCLC 10364804.
  19. ^
  20. ^


  • Sarris, Andrew. 1998. “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet.” The American Talking Film History & Memory, 1927-1949. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513426-5

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