Friday, November 02, 2012


In 1349, a troupe of entertainers pick up a wandering pilgrim who sells religious relics guaranteed to keep away the plague, and a piper (Donovan), a man of few words who occasionally sings and strums a vaguely psychedelic-looking guitar. The troupe is planning to put on a show at the wedding of a baron's son (John Hurt) and a burgomeister's adolescent daughter (Cathryn Harrison) in the town of Hamelin, but when they arrive, they are told the town is under quarantine because of the plague and they're not allowed in. However, Donovan's piping outside the city gates causes the feverishly ill Harrison to get better, so the troupe is allowed in. This situation in the town is dire: the Baron (Donald Pleasance) is hoping for a big dowry from Harrison so he can use the funds to finish building a huge cathedral, but the burgomeister (Roy Kinnear) is in debt himself and has run out of ways to tax the people of Hamelin. Both men hope that a visiting papal nuncio will commit money from the Pope, but the nuncio first wants the village to send troops to Italy to join in a crusade. Kinnear, who can't pay his current soldiers, thinks it would be a good idea to send the town's children into battle. Harrison is friendly with a crippled boy (Jack Wild) who is an apprentice to a Jewish doctor and alchemist (Michael Hordern) who is working on a cure for the plague. However, his belief that the plague is carried by rats and therefore of natural causes clashes with the church's belief that the illness is divine punishment and that rats are merely heaven-sent messengers. Oh, and Wild has a crush on Harrison, who isn't really in love with Hurt. When a horde of rats appears in town, Donovan offers to send them away for a relatively small sum; he pipes a tune and the rats march behind him into the river to drown, but the town refuses to pay him, so as we all know from our childhood fairy tales, the piper takes his own reward: the town's children.

I had assumed from the title, the era, and the participation of Donovan that this would be a hippy-dippy, flower child telling of the folktale, but in fact it's a rather dark movie, with a strong anti-corruption, anti-church stance. Anticipating the look of Monty Python & The Holy Grail, the movie, though in color, is grimy and muddy looking, the only real standout colors being the blood red robes and hats worn by the church officials. Donovan has what amounts to a cameo role here; many critics complain about his weak acting, but he isn't called upon to do much--he only has a handful of dialogue scenes, and mostly he sings and pipes and strums, all of which he does well, adding a needed touch of whimsy to the gloomy proceedings. Hordern and Pleasance are two old pros who are in fine shape here. The only real weak link in the cast is Harrison, who is passive, petulant, and unlikable throughout--we never see what the poor crippled boy sees in her except a vaguely pretty face. Lesser names who stand out are Peter Vaughan as an odious bishop, Diana Dors as Harrison's slutty mother, and Keith Buckley as the head of the acting troupe. The most memorable scene involves a wedding cake, in the shape of the cathedral, which has been infested with rats. Not wholly successful, but interesting.  [DVD]

1 comment:

Mrs Sharon Sim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.