Greed, corruption, ignorance, and disease. Midsummer, 1349: the Black Death reaches northern Germany. Minstrels go to Hamelin for the Mayor's daughter's wedding to the Baron's son. He wants...
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Greed, corruption, ignorance, and disease. Midsummer, 1349: the Black Death reaches northern Germany. Minstrels go to Hamelin for the Mayor's daughter's wedding to the Baron's son. He wants her dowry to pay his army while his father taxes the people to build a cathedral he thinks will save his soul. A local apothecary who's a Jew seeks a treatment for the plague; the priests charge him with witchcraft. One of the minstrels, who has soothed the Mayor's daughter with his music, promises to rid the town of rats for the fee. The Mayor agrees, then reneges. In the morning, the plague, the Jew's trial, and the Piper's revenge come at once. Written by
Back when I was a (allegedly disturbed) young child, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" was my absolute favorite fairy-tale. I owned many tapes that were filled with bedtime stories and fairy-tales, but I mostly just listened to "The Pied Piper" because it featured fascinatingly morbid topics like the black plague, child abduction, rat infestations and a mysteriously sinister guy playing the flute. I was always convinced the premise of Robert Browning's eerie poem could form the basis of a series of unimaginably dark horror movies, but unfortunately there aren't that many. This British production, filmed on location in Germany, is a pretty great version but it's incredibly obscure for some reason and I spent an awful long time purchasing a decent copy. Now that I finally own it, I'm both thrilled about re-experiencing the familiar story lines as well as surprised about discovering entirely new story aspects I wasn't even aware of. The new (to me, at least) elements mostly handle about political and religious hypocrisy, so I presume that is the reason why they weren't included in any of the fairy-tale versions I grew up with. But it remains a fascinating story and a fabulously engaging film, only suffering from obvious and regrettable budget restrictions. Director and co-writer Jacques Demy had a clear and personal vision of the story, and it's definitely not a movie for young children to watch. Although never graphic or repulsive, "The Pied Piper" thrives on a disturbing atmosphere and it never evades any controversial themes, like the abuse of political power by the Catholic Church and the arranged marriages with minors. Donovan is excellent as the Piper, passing through Hamelin with a family of traveling circus artists. The burgomaster and the Baron (another splendid role for versatile super-actor Donald Pleasance) supposedly run the secluded little town, but they mainly obey the will of the uncanny red monks that always look over their shoulders. The friendly Jewish alchemist Melius is concerned about a threatening outbreak of the Bubonic plague, the power-hungry son of the Baron (John Hurt) is about to wed the under-aged burgomaster's daughter for financial reasons and the Pied Piper is the only person capable of freeing the town from its rat infestation. The script of this film is well filled and requires your absolute full attention, but the elaboration of the different story lines is highly compelling and the dialogs are enchanting. The costume designs and scenery are terrific and genuinely take you back to the dark and unsettling medieval times. Donovan, primarily a singer, also provides the film with a couple of great songs (most notably "They Call me the Pied Piper" and "Life has its ups and downs") and there are at least two near-brilliant and unforgettable sequences. Namely the rats breaking out of the wedding cake and a harrowing execution scene near the end. If you own "The Pied Piper", it's definitely a film to treasure.
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