• Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, who scored a hit playing Catholic priests in "Going My Way," reunited a few years later in this tale of small-town doctors. I expected this to be just a secular version of the earlier film. In a way it is, but it starts out considerably darker.

    Crosby's character, a free-spirited young physician named Jim Pearson, is pretty much like the priest he once played, except that this guy has an eye for the ladies. Pearson is easygoing, quick with a quip and blessed with a great singing voice.

    But Fitzgerald's character, Dr. Joe McRory, is a less likable version of the crusty old priest he portrayed earlier. At least at the beginning of the film, McRory is not just eccentric and cantankerous, he's moody and sometimes downright mean.

    Early on, Pearson heads to the little community of Fallbridge, Maine, to assist McRory's practice. The two men meet accidentally without knowing each other's identities, and due to a series of trivial mix-ups, the old doctor develops a nasty grudge against the young stranger. McRory's insistence on quarreling at every turn is supposed to be funny, but it makes him seem almost unhinged.

    The misunderstanding is soon resolved. But McRory, instead of laughing it off, tries to drive Pearson out of town, denouncing him as a quack and a scoundrel.

    The prickly old doctor persuades the leading folks in Fallbridge to give Pearson the cold shoulder, too. Among these people is pretty schoolteacher/amateur nurse Trudy Mason (played by Joan Caulfield), who fights her obvious attraction to the newcomer by repeatedly insulting him.

    None of this makes any sense, because young Dr. Pearson is always the soul of geniality. In fact, the attitude of the old doc and the town's elite is so illogical that you wonder how the hero will ever get through to them.

    Fortunately, this is a Bing Crosby movie, with upbeat songs, contrived situations and gentle jests, some of them done with the proverbial wink at the audience. Eventually, the Crosby charm starts to work its magic on these stony New England hearts. Better late than never.

    Some of the most memorable characters in this movie are the minor ones, the town's more marginal citizens who, unlike the establishment types, are friendly to Pearson from the start. Percy Kilbride is perfect as a cabdriver who likes to share his homespun philosophy. Frank Faylen plays the town journalist and town drunk, an interesting mix.

    And Wanda Hendrix is totally convincing as a lonely, plain 13-year-old girl (the drunk's daughter) who develops a crush on the kindly young physician. It's hard to believe Hendrix was already 18 and on the threshold of the glamorous, sexy roles for which she's best remembered today. She was a better actress than I'd always thought.