French director Jacques Demy s The Pied Piper
is an early 1970s adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale, filmed in Germany with a mostly British cast. A dark yet sometimes droll and allegoric mix of fantasy, horror, religion and politics set during the dark ages, the film has been largely unseen since it aired on the USA Network (that s right, they used to show stuff like this back in the day) in the 1980s. [...]
In Germany during the summer of 1349, the plague (aka Black Death ) is sweeping the countryside and claiming many victims as a disease spread by rats. A young gypsy (Keith Buckley, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) is traveling by wagon to the town of Hamelin with his family of actors. Along the way, they run into a friendly Pied Piper (Donovan) who joins their group, and ultimately earns them entrance into the town when he sooths the ill Burgomaster s daughter Lisa (Cathryn Harrison) with his music. Lisa (who is 11 years old) is about to marry power-hungry Franz (John Hurt), whose father, the Baron (Donald Pleasence), is mainly concerned with financing the building of a cathedral. While the wedding is being prepared, black rats carrying the plague have invaded Hamelin, and even though wise old Alchemist Melius (Michael Hordern) is trying to use a scientific approach to the problem, he is thrown into a dungeon cell. Is the mystical Pied Piper the only soul capable of freeing the town of its rat infestation?
When Paramount first released The Pied Piper in 1972, its theatrical run was very limited and it has remained fairly obscure to this day, even to those who follow director Demy s career. While it s certainly not a perfect film, it s very good one at the least, retelling the Grimm Brothers tale fairly faithfully with cinematic style and a satirical distaste for religious and political hypocrisy. Although the film got away with a G rating in the U.S., the opening minutes show a couple of skeletal corpses being ravished by rats (apparently they were trained, and none are shown being abused or actually attacking anyone), and forcing an adolescent girl to be married, as well as a climatic burning at the stake of one of the main characters, don t exactly fit the mold of a children s film. It s all done rather tastefully though, and this could be deemed a fairytale for adults and children alike. [...]
As the Pied Piper, 1960s folk rock icon Donovan is well cast, and he even gets to sing and strum some pleasant tunes on his guitar. He seems a little distant (I guess that s the point, as he's an ambiguous stranger in town) and plays it low key, but always gives the impression that the character is enlightened and has the upper hand over a mostly doomed community. The late Jack Wild [...] plays the lame boy Gavin, though he was pushing 20 at the time. Michael Hordern is great as the Jewish alchemist disparaged by the church despite his sensible ways.. [...] John Hurt (still years before he found worldwide accolades from Alien and The Elephant Man) stands out as the nasty Franz, and as his father, Donald Pleasence s character is underdeveloped but he s still great to watch.
As mentioned before, The Pied Piper has never been released on home video in the U.S. until now, and although it is a barebones affair, this DVD is still cause for celebration. The film has been presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and framing looks good throughout. Aside from some minor speckling here and there, the print source is very clean and detail is crisp. Although the film was shot with a primarily drab look, the colors shine here, especially the red robes of the Bishop and his cohorts, and all in all, this is an excellent transfer. The mono English audio is also well rendered, and although there are no subtitle options, the disc is close captioned. --George R. Reis of DVDDrive-In.com
The Pied Piper
is director Jacques Demy's masterful retelling of the classic children's tale. Set in the Middle Ages, the divided town of Hamelin tries in vain to rid itself of the black plague. When a mysterious musician arrives (played by music legend Donovan), can the townspeople put aside their personal agendas to rid themselves of their rat infestation? Or will the petty and greedy town leaders, led by the sublimely creepy Donald Pleasence, attempt to take advantage of their savior? With great music and spectacular costumes and sets, The Pied Piper
is a fascinating take on a familiar legend.