The Pied Piper

1942, Movie, NR, 86 mins

Review

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An unabashed propaganda picture made at the nadir of WW II, THE PIED PIPER is a warm, loving, heart-tugging story based on a novel by Nevil Shute that was serialized in Collier's magazine. Woolley is fishing in France to forget that his only son was one of the first Englishmen killed in the war. While there, the Nazis come by way of Belgium, and Matthews and Esmond, a British couple, ask Woolley if he will squire their two young children to the Brittany coast where they hope the kids will be able to cross the English Channel to safety. The children, Garner and McDowall, are placed in the crusty Woolley's care and he begins the journey. Along the way, they are joined by several other war waifs and he is amazed that these children, who do not speak each other's languages, are still able to communicate in the way only children can. Naish, a local resident of Brittany, helps them arrange for a boat while Baxter, as a French girl, is what must be deemed the heroine, although there is no real attraction between her and Woolley, the hero. Just before they are to escape, the group is captured by Preminger, a Nazi officer. Now a battle of wits ensues between Woolley and Preminger with Woolley getting all the good lines and zings, something audiences applauded when the picture was shown in the 1940s. At the conclusion, Woolley manages to convince Preminger that these are innocent children and Preminger relents and allows them to evacuate, provided they take his niece along with them. (Why a Nazi officer should be traveling with a preteen niece while he's pillaging villages is never adequately explained.) Woolley, a former drama and English instructor at Yale, gave up that life and took to the stage when he was 48 years old. His first film was done at the age of 49, one of the most elderly debuts in film history, though surpassed by John Houseman (62) and Sidney Greenstreet (61) among the major actors. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture (it lost to MRS. MINIVER), Best Actor (Wooley lost to James Cagney for YANKEE DOODLE DANDY), and Best Cinematography. leave a comment

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