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overlooked and interesting
13 June 2005
Watching this recently, I remembered certain scenes from when I watched it as a child of about 7 or 8, some twenty-five years ago. That is testament to how effective some of The Pied Piper is. Indeed, in some ways it hardly qualifies as a "childrens' film" at all, as it starts with a picture of a heretic being burned at the stake and ends with the death of one of the main characters by the same means. Clearly Demy had Bergman's The Seventh Seal in mind for the general feel of the film, which stresses the irrationality and brutality of the times. However, the screenwriters and Demy add another ingredient - the political chicanery of the Church, the aristocracy and the merchant class, sometimes colluding together, at other times each promoting their own special interests. It's not difficult to read the film as a quasi-Marxist parable about feudal society, and the film-makers clearly intended something of the sort. If that makes it all sound very heavy, actually the film is fairly fast-moving and fun, especially because of the wonderfully comic grotesque playing of Donald Pleasance and Roy Kinnear. Fans of these actors should definitely seek this film out - Pleasance is as good as he was in "Death Line" (AKA "Raw Meat") made about the same time, and Kinnear is nearly as good as he was in "Juggernaut", another overlooked but very interesting British film of the early 70s. There is also a very good performance from Michael Hordern as the rationalist alchemist, one of his better and most substantial but unfortunately least known performances. Nostalgia fans can also take pleasure in remembering a time when Jack Wild, made famous by "Oliver", was considered a star. The Pied Piper deserves its mixed critical reputation. Demy does not here have the firm control over his material he had in earlier films. The main flaw is the total lack of characterisation of the Piper, and the terrible non-acting of the folk singer Donovan in that role. His musical interludes are just embarrassing and the worst thing about the film (for a similar ruining of a otherwise thoughtful historical film by a miscast singing star, see 1969's "Where's Jack?" with Tommy Steele). This is a pity as the socio-political stuff at the edges of the film, plus the costumes and scenery, are very good indeed. Overall, this is certainly worth a watch if it turns up on TV or you might, as I did, seek it out on a secondhand VHS cassette. It is not a major film but it's an endearing oddity, and certainly a must-see for Demy students or fans of Brtish film in the early 70s.
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