Sunday, 26 April 2009

Molly and Me (1945)

Monty Woolley was one of the most unlikely Hollywood character actors of the 1940s. He gave up his English professorship at Yale to turn professional actor at the age of 47 and is probably best known for his signature role as the cantankerous long-term guest in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1942). He generally gave off a gruff exterior which increasingly did not disguise his inner pussy-cat. In this film he was re-teamed with his co-star from 1943's "Holy Matrimony", Lancashire! (correction: thanks M) singer Gracie Fields and this film is really a starring vehicle for her.

I never much cared for her Northern working-gal persona in her popular British films of the 30s, but she was well-loved and highly paid. Her popularity dipped when she went off to America during the Second World War and it never again reached its dizzy heights on her return. This Hollywood film is supposedly set in London out of deference to her, since she could never convincingly play anything other than a chirpy British type. She appears as a down-on-her-luck music hall player who finagles a job as a housekeeper chez Woolley, despite the protests of his butler, Reginald Gardiner in an accomplished turn, who is also an unemployed actor. She systematically goes about bringing some joy into the erstwhile mausoleum and manages to get rid of the remaining staff who had been swindling their employer at every opportunity. In their place she recruits an assortment of theatrical types who are happy to play at being cook, gardener, housemaid, and so on.

Rejoining Woolley from "The Pied Piper" (1942) is that film's co-star Roddy McDowall, who here adds yet another memorable child-actor role to an impressive list. (He had a long Hollywood career right up until his death in 1998, but never with quite the same impact). He plays Woolley's distanced son, home from boarding school; the two can barely communicate until housekeeper Fields' infectious warmth brings them together. She even manages to sort out her employer's blackmailing ex-wife who had ruined his previous political career and whom McDowall believes to be dead. By the inevitible happy end, Woolley is melted and a much better man; and while there is no indication that love might bloom between him and Gracie, there is a definite suggestion that she will have a long-term role and impact in his household.
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