Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
United Kingdom/West Germany/USA, 1972. Sagittarius Productions, Goodtimes Enterprises. Screenplay by Andrew Birkin, Jacques Demy, Mark Peploe, based on the fairy tale by Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm and the poem by Robert Browning. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Produced by David Puttnam, Sanford Lieberson. Music by Donovan. Production Design by Assheton Gorton. Costume Design by Evangeline Harrison. Film Editing by John Trumper.
Jacques Demy brings the familiar children’s fable to the big screen, playing it straight without the irony that made his previous film Donkey Skin so charming. The walled city of Hamelin has thus far been spared from the plague that is raging through Germany, and the city’s leaders plan to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the city’s leaders are also greedy, corrupt and full of their own religious pomposity, obsessed with the project of building an expensive new cathedral that the taxed citizens are paying for. Snobby baron John Hurt is preparing for his marriage to the Mayor’s daughter, a child bride whose father’s dowry is his real goal, he plans to use the money to raise an army, and is pressing the Jewish apothecary Melius to make gold for him. Melius, meanwhile, starts to see rats appearing within the city’s walls and warns that they bring sickness, but the high priests threaten him with heresy for insinuating that illness comes from science and not from god above. All these characters and their intertwining goals converge, of course, when the city is overcome with rodents and the people are helpless in their fear, until a friendly minstrel (pop singer Donovan), who has come to the city with a group of travelling players for the wedding, offers to draw the rats away with his pipe. Promising him his price if he can do it, the people quickly forget their troubles when their troubles are gone and change their mind about paying the piper, upon which he exacts his very well known revenge. Demy was always a master of bringing storybooks to the big screen, sometimes in direct ways and other times directing films about modern-day adults like they were enchanted fables, so it’s surprising to see him apply a dark and heavy touch to this dour and unappealing film. It doesn’t help that Donovan, despite the occasional appearance of his pleasant singing voice, doesn’t pop on screen, while the rest of the action feels more like filler to justify making so delightfully simple a story into a feature length film.