February 1, 2015

Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper


Monty Woolley and The Pied Piper are another two cases of an actor and a film which are only remembered by a select few (you, myself, and a handful of other Oscar obsessives) today for their Academy Award nominations. And on paper it’s a no-brainer that a film and a performance like these would get attention back then. It’s a story about an old man who is in charge of bringing a hoard of children to safety in the midst of World War II. And if you’re a cynic like me, then you would assume that Woolley’s nomination is wholly due to the heroism of the character and the tangential respect people might have had for his bravery rather than the actual merit of Woolley’s work itself. But as much as I wanted to hate it from the get-go, I couldn’t. It’s much more bearable than I was anticipating, and that alone can be attributed to Woolley.

I have a feeling that when I’m old I will probably become Woolley’s Howard. Howard is an ever-so-sassy curmudgeon—the type you see Maggie Smith play over and over again in just about everything she does nowadays—and he works that sass entertainingly without ever overdoing it. I was pretty surprised to find that Woolley was in fact an American actor and not the Brit that Howard is, which, in a way, makes his work all the more interesting as he does capture the essence of that cranky, snobbish Brit rather perfectly. His execution on some of his lines (namely his line to Roddy McDowell: “I do not like children…particularly you.” pretty much summarizes my life) is great and I couldn’t help but be fond of him. Obviously, the schtick of a sassy old man can only go so far before it starts getting old, but Woolley makes up for it with his passionate style of acting, the kind in which the intensity seeps through his every word in a manner that’s spirited and dramatic (which brought to mind Olivier). Lines like “…I?!” and “A CHILD?!” are spoken in such a fervent kind of way. Or when he reacts to the British planes attacking the city...simple ways in which Howard reacts to things are done with a lot of zeal and in turn makes Woolley nice to watch. Woolley sprinkles refreshing instances of humor throughout the performance that helps to relieve an otherwise banal and silly storyline that I no doubt would have been ready to pounce on, given my infamous hatred of children and forced patriotism and sappy clichés. And yet, as much as I do hate children and obnoxious forced patriotism and sappy clichés, a note that I put down was that Woolley pretty much makes the often times ridiculous material more bearable, if not grounding that ridiculousness altogether, and when you can make a hateful person like me tolerate an umpteenth flick revolving around children, that’s quite an accomplishment in and of itself worth noting. What’s more, Woolley does a great job in his more dramatic scenes where he shows gentle and touching shades to Howard, offering an all around depiction of this man rather than a one-dimensional gimmick on cruise control. It’s an all around decent performance—not quite one that I’m crazy for, and not exactly a performance and film that deserves to be remembered, but I respect what Woolley does with it regardless. And if I found myself in the situation where I had to watch it again...I wouldn’t mind.  


  1. Oh you liked him the way I think you would, but with other rating! I don't think Colman will do any better, so I keep my predictions.

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  3. I haven't seen this, but I've certainly seen The Man Who Came To Dinner many times, and his trouble-making radio star, Sheridan Whiteside, along with a bitchy Ann Sheridan and a subdued but knowing Bette Davis (and no kids!) make for a rewarding outing every time.