In 1349, while the Black Plague threatens Germany, the town of Hamelin hires a wandering pied piper (Donovan) to lure rats away with his magic pipe, but then refuses to pay for his services,... Read allIn 1349, while the Black Plague threatens Germany, the town of Hamelin hires a wandering pied piper (Donovan) to lure rats away with his magic pipe, but then refuses to pay for his services, causing him to lure the town's children away.In 1349, while the Black Plague threatens Germany, the town of Hamelin hires a wandering pied piper (Donovan) to lure rats away with his magic pipe, but then refuses to pay for his services, causing him to lure the town's children away.
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!
- Sep 16, 2008