Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Pied Piper (1972)



          It’s tricky to guess which audience the producers had in mind when they made this dreary, quasi-musical fantasy, which is set in medieval times. Seeing as how the Pied Piper myth involves a minstrel using his magical music to escort children from a corrupt village, it would seem as if The Pied Piper was made to attract young viewers. Then again, because the producers cast grizzled British character actors in many key roles and infused scenes with lengthy debates about political strategies, perhaps the film was meant for adults. Making the whole business even more perplexing is the presence of Scottish pop star Donovan in the title role. A real-life minstrel whose ethereal music and lyrics epitomize the hippy-dippy 1960s, Donovan would have been appealing to college kids and young adults circa 1972. Oh, and parts of the movie are disgusting, what with shots of plague-carrying rats crawling through houses and neighborhoods. The Pied Piper looks expensive, Donovan sings a few tunes, and the script is fairly intelligent—but the picture is too glum for viewers seeking escapism, and too lightweight for those craving something serious.
          It’s not a mess, per se, but it’s not really much of anything.
          Set in the German town of Hamlin during the year 1349, the movie opens with Piper (Donovan) joining a group of traveling players before entering the town. Inside Hamlin, the bürgermeister (Roy Kinnear) worries over his ailing daughter, so he demands assistance from “Melius the Jew” (Michael Hordern), the local alchemist. When that doesn’t work, the bürgermeister realizes that his daughter reacts to Piper’s music, so Piper is hired to play for the daughter. That’s why Piper is at the center of the action when the bürgermeister and other officials discuss solutions for a rat infestation. (Little problem: Officials risk heresy if they embrace Melius’ theory that rats carry plague, since Vatican doctrine defines the plague as God’s work.) Piper offers to solve the problem by using music to lead the rats from Hamlin, and the situation spirals from there.
          Considering that he plays the title character, Donovan isn’t in the movie very much, which is no big loss, given his stiff line deliveries. With the Piper character sidelined, the story focuses on Melius’ plight. This creates problems for the viewing experience: Whereas the Melius scenes are grounded, the Piper sequences are fanciful, and vignettes depicting a love story between the bürgermeister's daughter and Melius' assistant are sickly-sweet. None of this material hangs together very well, and by the time Piper’s legendary exodus gets intercut with a scene of a character burning at the stake, The Pied Piper has become as unpleasant as it is tonally inconsistent.

The Pied Piper: FUNKY

1 comment:

Steven Thompson said...

Apparent;y the audience it was intended for was kids because my pal Terry and I caught it at a weekend-only "kiddie matinee" here in town, complete with screaming kids shooting spitwads at the screen through their straws. Being 13 at the time we both decided we were too old for that stuff anymore.