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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This is October 1955. The place is a village in Loire-Atlantique, La Chapelle-Basse-Mer, where an old clog-maker works and lives with his wife and their adopted son. The clog-maker's ... See full summary »
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
I had seen this one ages ago on local TV, back in the early 1980s when our set was still in black-and-white! Naturally, I welcomed Paramount’s idea to let Legend Films release it on DVD albeit bare-bones, and I luckily happened upon it in (arguably) Malta’s best-stocked DVD rental store when it comes to vintage Hollywood movies.
I’ve been a fan of Fairy Tales every since early childhood when illustrated Maltese translations of the Brothers Grimm’s famous stories where constant companions during the Summer holidays and, when my main interest migrated to film, I eagerly sought out examples of this type. The French seemed to do the genre particularly well – Ladislaw Starewicz’s delightful pioneering puppet classic THE TALE OF THE FOX (1931), Jean Cocteau’s enchanting LA BELLE ET LA BETE (1946) and the charming animated fable LE ROI ET L’OISEAU (1979). Jacques Demy also tried his hand at this by bringing DONKEY SKIN (1970) to the screen with Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Perrin, Jean Marais and Delphine Seyrig. In fact, THE PIED PIPER was his next project and follows similar lines – even if it’s a British production shot in Germany, though still with an equally remarkable cast: Jack Wild, Donald Pleasence, John Hurt, Michael Hordern, Peter Vaughan, Roy Kinnear, Diana Dors and, in the titular role, folk singer Donovan! The general consensus about Demy is that his career peaked early (late 1960s) and progressed engagingly but unremarkably towards an untimely end (early 1990s); actually, I haven’t seen any of his acknowledged masterpieces yet – I do own THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964) on R2 DVD, though, and also have the ultra-rare LADY Oscar (1979) in my unwatched pile.
While Maltin gives this version of THE PIED PIPER (incidentally, the 1957 TV-film with Van Johnson and Claude Rains is also available for rental over here) a very generous , most other reviews of the film I’ve come across were usually mixed and less enthusiastic. In fact, I’d say that its unexpectedly grim tone got to be a bit much at times and left one with a sour taste in the mouth; besides, in spite of Demy’s detached approach (with very few close-ups throughout), the whole still felt somewhat claustrophobic. Even so, the actors, the décor, the costumes and the music eventually save the day: Wild has probably his most significant role after OLIVER! (1968) as Jewish alchemist Hordern’s lame assistant; Pleasence and Hurt are truly despicable as greedy father and son and the town’s chief citizens; Kinnear and Dors as the burgomaster and his wife who want to marry off their teenage offspring (Cathy Harrison, Rex’s daughter) to Hurt; Peter Vaughan is a bloodthirsty Bishop who eventually has Hordern burned alive at the stake.
The troupe of traveling players in a plague-ridden medieval town cannot help but raise comparisons with Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), while the onslaught of the rats (at one point coming out of the wedding cake!) might well have influenced a similar scene in Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979). Finally, Donavan’s score is pleasant if not quite memorable – his performance is equally decent even if, the film’s title notwithstanding, he is not really the main character!
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