Monty Woolley received his first Oscar nomination for portraying John Sidney Howard in The Pied Piper.
Monty Woolley portrays that Englishman, and he is an actor with a terrific scene stealing character actor type presence, who given the unusual role for a character actor, and especially an elderly character actor which is a lead role. He begins the film, as a an Englishmen of no great importance, just fishing with another English family, and being annoyed by their no it all son Ronnie (Roddy McDowall).
I really liked Woolley in these opening scenes having a very likable style, even if he is a bit stubborn. Woolley is very good because he manages to turn what could have been a rather unlikeable man, have a certain humorous quality that comes from his proper Englishmen ways, as well as his stubbornness. Woolley whole voice, and physical presence makes it so he really does not have a dull moment in his whole performance.
Soon the war strikes and this family in France must face their duties as part of the allies. Woolley is quite good in his early scene showing a just a small bit of sadness over no longer being useful to the country he loves so much, as well as still showing the right pride in himself, and his country, that perfectly expresses the inner strength of his character hidden as it might be at times.
The parents of Ronnie, as well as Shelia (Peggy Ann Garner) ask for Howard to bring them to the safety of London, which he begrudgingly accepts, even though he does not care all that much for the children particularly not Ronnie. I must say his scenes with the two very talented child actors are so good that I wish the movie had been longer, just so Woolley could have had more scene with Garner and McDowall.
They are absolutely terrific together, with their sweetness being the perfect offset to his stubbornness. Woolley rather unsympathetic reactions to their cuteness makes for the perfect combination. I really love his small little moments with McDowall together they have just the perfect chemistry together that make their scenes quite amusing, as well as being rather sweet in their own natural way as well.
Woolley does an excellent job in showing his deeper devotion to the two initial children, and the more he slowly gains along the way. Although he certianly keeps his stubbornness as he should, Woolley lets on to just the right amount of caring he does have for the children, and also through small little perfectly timed reactions how the plight of the children does honestly effect him.
As the film proceeds Woolley gains the help of a young french woman Nicole (Anne Baxter) who he had previously known. There scenes are not as enjoyable as the ones with children but they most certainly do allow Woolley to even further develop Howard as a character, explaining that his son, who Nicole loved, had died in the war already, Woolley effective but quickly shows his history with Nicole and his son, who Woolley certianly suggests a loss, an underlying love, and pride in his late son.
Howard's devotion to his noble cause is truly tested in the later scenes of the film were he and his group are captured by a Nazi commandant (Otto Preminger). In these scenes the true inner strength, and resolve are perfectly shown by Woolley, showing that Howard will give up anything even his life to get the children to safety. Woolley simply but perfectly conveys Howard's will and resolve making it the natural part of his sense of duty.
This is not the most complex of parts, but every challenge there is in the role Woolley is more than up for it. Woolley effectively makes John Howard an enjoyable, as well as memorable character. He brilliantly conveys the noble intentions of this man, without making his character ever for a moment seem sanctimonious or false. Instead throughout Woolley gives an enjoyable, and when it needs to be a powerful performance.