Barry Fitzgerald received his only lead actor nomination, the same year he won his supporting Oscar, he received both of the nominations for portraying Father Fitzgibbon in the same film Going My Way.
Barry Fitzgerald I would say is a supporting actor in the film, despite being a very important supporting player. His part of the story, I also feel is the best part of the film, and his story is most certainly the most interesting, and most effective part of the film. His story concerns the fact that Father Fitzgibbon is getting on in years, he is not as sharp as he use to be, and is having trouble being able to keep his church going due to the church's financial debt. Barry Fitzgerald actually creates quite an interesting and vivid portrait of this nice old priest. This performance may seem less than it is if you have not seen other performances by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald actually has a whole distinct manner as the modest, quiet priest, that is very distinctly original, and different from Fitzgerald's other performances. Fitzgerald has the manner in the way he walks and talks that really feels like just an authentic old Irish priest.
Fitzgerald's whole performance feels quite natural, in a film that certainly has some artificial feeling sentimentality. This is despite the fact that Fitzgerald "acts" more than one may think in the role, but you can't notice it because Fitzgerald does all of it in such a subtle and honest fashion. He never seems to be acting out in any way, but rather finds just the actual humanity of the character. Fitzgerald's story is the most effective because of Fitzgerald. He makes Fitzgibbon such a likable character, even when he is fighting with Crosby's character, because Fitzgerald portrays the part in his honest way, his whole portrait of Fitzgibbon is just hard to resist not liking.He has his own distinct charm, a quiet charm, but hard to resist one that Fitzgerald perfectly utilizes as Fitzgibbon.
Fitzgerald's story in the film is the most deeply moving in showing how much his character has given up for his parish, and how he feels his betrayal by being replaced by Father O'Malley. Fitzgerald does not show Fitzgibbon's feelings of disappointment in anger, but rather in a just a subtle disappointment, and sadness that shows a deeper effect on Fitzgibbon than if he was more external about his feelings. Fitzgerald though just as well, displays Fitzgibbon's slow coming around to O'Malley quite well. It is not an incredible transformation by any means, but one handled well by Fitzgerald nonetheless. Fitzgerald presents his his eventual friendship with Crosby, well, and Fitzgerald shows it not as a change in character, but more of just an acceptance, and understanding of the situation.
Fitzgerald's best moments come from his reflections about his mother though. Fitzgerald is able to convey a true honest love that Fitzgibbons has for his mother beautifully. He attaches this along with Tura lura Lural, which although the film does not say it, Fitzgerald makes it quite clear that Fitzgibbons attaches the song with his mother who he holds so dear, but has not seen in a very long time. It this honest love that makes his story the only part of the film that is honestly effecting, as that Fitzgerald's final reaction at the end of the film gets me every single time. This is indeed a supporting performance, but that does not all take away from the strength of the performance. It is a delightful performance nonetheless filled with genuine emotion, that succeeds in being a natural authentic performance. This is all despite being amidst some rather forced and sometimes artificial emotion. Fitzgerald manages to rise high above the rest of the film in his wonderful performance.