A Movie A Day: THE PIED PIPER (1972) To take medicine from a Jew, my Lord, is to enter into a contract with Lucifer!
Published at: Aug. 9, 2008, 10:34 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
So Dr. Loomis himself, the late/great (or great/late?) Donald Pleasence bridges us from yesterday’s Hammer Studios Noir HELL IS A CITY to today’s bizarre Paramount Pictures retelling of the legend of THE PIED PIPER.
Let’s look at the cast. Donovan plays the title character, John Hurt is a dickhead who marries an 11 year old girl, Jack Wild (OLIVER!) plays an invalid boy and assistant to Michael Hordern’s Jewish alchemist character, Melius and Donald Pleasence is a church man who is taxing the shit out of the small town of Hamelin in order to build a giant cathedral.
There are other recognizable faces, too, but those are the main guys. Make sure to keep an eye out for Roy Kinnear. When I wrote up the Gene Wilder movies a few days ago, I talked about how much I love Wilder’s voice and how it’s almost a comfort to me today. Kinnear is the same way, probably both thanks to their work in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, which I watched on a loop as a kid. Kinnear played Veruca Salt’s poppa. “Veruca, sweetheart, angel! There are four tickets left in the whole world and the whole ruddy world’s hunting for them! What can I do!?!” Love it.
Anyway, the flick is bizarre. It has the production value of a high budget TV special, but is stuck in some weird middle ground between being a straightforward, dark adaptation of the original story without focusing on those aspects. It’s certainly not a kids movie, but it’s not stylized or dark enough to be an adult flick.
Basically it’s the time of the Black Death and a traveling acting group picks up a traveling magician on their way to Hamelin, which seems to be a religious center of the country. The musician is, of course, Donovan (in a pretty ridiculous costume), The Pied Piper who seems to have a supernatural musical ability.
A lot of the movie focuses on asshole Christians taxing the hell out of the poor so they can build a big elaborate church and persecuting those who use logic, ultimately ending with a burning at the stake.
John Hurt really gives it his all, as usual, as the main heavy of the story. And yes, he marries a little girl for the dowry offered during the course of the film. He marries her and locks her up. A little on the fucked up side, no?
The Pied Piper pops in and out of the town working his magic, singing for kids or helping Hurt’s young bride-to-be get over a fever. Donovan actually isn’t bad and his songs are catchy. It’s just his costume that’s retarded.
The famous sequence where he leads all the plague rats out of the town is in the movie and is creepy as shit. I don’t know what the device was that made it look like Donovan was being followed through town by thousands of rats, but it didn’t look exactly real or exactly fake. It strikes the middleground that should just be called “Fuck you, no!” You know it… Lucio Fulci hits it sometimes in his movies.
And call me stupid, but I still have no idea what the fuck the ending of this story means. The Pied Piper leads the town’s children into the country and, in this version of the story, they just disappear into the sunrise as the very likable alchemist is being burned at the stake.
Is he doing it to get revenge because the town elders gypped him out of his promised fee for clearing the town of the plague rats? Is he doing it to keep the kids from witnessing the brutal murder of the nice old man burning to death in the town square? Is he doing it to save them from the plague about to sweep through town? Or is he keeping Michael Jackson’s supply of children stocked? Any of these can be argued.
I rather like The Pied Piper being a nice dude and essentially saving the kids from the sins of the corrupt religious officials. As they burn the nice old man the higher ups start developing plague sores. So, yeah. Nevermind. Let’s go with that one.
Final Thoughts: I wouldn’t call this movie a must watch or a must avoid. It’s a curiosity with a few interesting performances. Jack Wild is good, but has shrugged off most of his OLIVER! era cuteness and feels a bit awkward in this movie. Part of that might be that checking some dates shows he was 19 or 20 when filming this, playing 13 or 14, so that might explain that a little. Mainly, this one is worth a glimpse just seeing some great British character actors play in a familiar story, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to give the flick a spin.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Sunday, August 10th: PARTNERS (1982)
Monday, August 11th: BARRY LYNDON (1975)
Tuesday, August 12th: THE SKULL (1965)
Wednesday, August 13th: THE HELLFIRE CLUB (1961)
Thursday, August 14th: BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)
Friday, August 15th: TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)
Saturday, August 16th: PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962)
Tomorrow we hit an ‘80s comedy new to DVD (thanks to Legend Pictures, who also put out today’s AMAD and few of the Shirley MacLaine ones we hit last week) called PARTNERS via Mr. John Hurt. See you tomorrow!