Monday, February 11, 2013

1942 - The Pied Piper

Ben Affleck's frustration over being denied a Best Director Oscar nomination is once again alleviated (or enhanced, depending on your perspective) after his win at the BAFTAs yesterday. His film Argo also took out the Best Film, so the conundrum I discussed in my last post continues...

Anyway, as this year's Academy Awards ceremony rapidly approaches, let's take a deeper look at some of the races, starting with the Supporting categories.

The Supporting Actress Oscar has all but been engraved with Anne Hathaway's name on it. She has won almost all of the precursor awards for her role in Les Miserables and is a clear favourite. Lincoln's Sally Field is perhaps the only possible upset but I don't put her chances very high at all.

Supporting Actor is a bit more complicated. At one time, I had my money on Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, who had taken a whole bunch of the critics' prizes. But Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz won the critic's awards that Hoffman didn't, plus the Golden Globe. And now, with his win yesterday at the BAFTAs, he may be the frontrunner. Don't rule out Tommy Lee Jones, though, who won the SAG Award for his performance in Lincoln, and in fact, Robert De Niro is never a name to dismiss, so there's even a small chance he could walk away with the trophy for Silver Linings Playbook. Having said all that, I still think Waltz is the greatest chance for a win, which would give him two wins from two nominations, both Tarantino films.

More discussion next time, but for now, we movie on to another 1942 Best Picture nominee...

The Pied Piper
Irving Pichel
Nunnally Johnson
(based on the novel by Nevil Shute)
Monty Woolley, Roddy McDowall, Anne Baxter, Otto Preminger
Academy Awards:
3 nominations
0 wins

If you're expecting the fairy tale version of this story, you'll be disappointed. Although, happily this picture has a far less nasty ending than the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Based on a novel, this version follows Englishman Mr. Howard (Woolley), whose fishing holiday in France is interrupted by the German invasion of WWII. He reluctantly agrees to chaperone two young children on his journey back to England, but soon his travelling party increases in size as more and more orphans and otherwise abandoned children tag along. Howard's initial dislike of children slowly gives way to affection as he attempts to keep them all safe on the treacherous passage through occupied France.

The Pied Piper offers a clever mix of humour and drama, a rare dramedy of its time. There is no mistaking that the stakes are high and a few sequences don't shy away from the horrors of the war. Yet, the central character's familiar stereotype - the grumpy old man - is rife with comedic opportunity and Nunnally Johnson's witty dialogue takes full advantage. Exhibit A: When Howard is arguing with an official at the train station, he exclaims that he has two small children. The official responds, "At your age, monsieur, that is undoubtedly magnificent," and walks away.

After watching Kings Row and hearing its gloriously expressive score, the music in The Pied Piper seemed decidedly dull. The main theme is a variation on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which, appropriate as it may be for a film about children, is not the most exciting melody.

Monty Woolley (pictured, with Baxter) epitomises the grumpy old man with a heart of gold. He is bitingly acerbic, yet soft enough that we are always on his side. Renowned director Otto Preminger (of Laura and Anatomy of a Murder fame) is brilliantly slimy in a rare on screen role as the Nazi Major.

1 comment:

  1. Got to see this on Youtube (thanks for the tip Matt). It was a pleasant piece of patriotic propaganda with a wishful thinking story. Roddy McDowall as always, shines as the young and wise Ronnie Cavanaugh. Monty Wooly does what he does best and is pretty much the same in all his roles. I'm not sure this one deserves a slot in either Best Picture or Best Actor category.