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A Movie A Day: THE PIED PIPER (1972)
To take medicine from a Jew, my Lord, is to enter into a contract with Lucifer!

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! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 9, 2008, 10:46 p.m. CST

    Drive in

    by Jodet

    I saw this at the 270 drive-in with my high school girlfriend. Can't say I remember much of the movie. Those were the days. Sigh.

  • Aug. 9, 2008, 11:11 p.m. CST

    so this is a sick, twisted fairytale with pedo overtones

    by bacci40

    the piper of hamlin is already twisted, with the dude taking all the kids when he doesnt get paid...they really needed to make it freakier?

  • Aug. 9, 2008, 11:52 p.m. CST

    I think I saw this at a drive-in, too...

    by Snookeroo

    There was a lot of drive-in fare about that time that was very unusual; if you're looking for boundary-pushing drive-in movies from the same era, Eddie Romero had a run of 3 or 4 movies featuring the Mad Doctor of Blood Island (and similar themes):<br><br> • Mad Doctor of Blood Island<br>• Brides of Blood<br> • Beast of Blood<br> • Beast of the Yellow Night<br> • The Twilight People<br><br> All of which were produced in the Philippines on an extremely low budget, and all featuring John Ashley of Beach Blanket Bingo fame.<br> Although very shlocky movies, they are notable for being key players in pushing the boundaries of ultra-gore/violence during that era. As far as I know, these only played the drive-in circuit.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 12:20 a.m. CST

    Seen it too

    by Screwhead

    The Quint's assessment is pretty fair. The film is tedious in spots and comes off as a missed opportunity. Although there is that messed-up bit with the rats suddenly busting out of the wedding cake...

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 12:53 a.m. CST

    Donovan Leitch

    by Napoleon Park

    You know, Ione Skye's dad - began as a Dylanesque folky, then teamed with hitmaker Mickey Most (and some excellent session musicians and crafter some gret folk rock pop albums with a psychedelic tinge. For a while he totally went with the flower child image - playing sitar sitting barefoot and cross-legged on a carpeted stage, "Atlantis" and so on. He did the theme song for "poor cow" then took some time off to make this movie, which had some trouble getting distributed. The films anti-religious sentiment, the time he took off from his music career to make it, plus an anti-Catholic song on his "Open Road" album, pretty much completely derailed his career as a charting top 40 hit machine. So if you watch this film, think of it not just as a "pretty fucked up" fairly tale, but as something of a career suicide move for it's lead.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 1:03 a.m. CST

    I've Always Wanted to See This

    by fyrie

    I somehow became a big Donovan fan in the mid 90s. Since that time I've wanted to see this movie. I had no idea it was in print again. To the top of the netflix queue it goes.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 1:18 a.m. CST

    Re: Donovan Leitch

    by Screwhead

    I've always figured that Donovan fell out of favor just because his music was so quintessentially '60s that it seemed out of place in the Led Zep era. But I'm not knocking him. I even have a copy of Donovan's Greatest Hits in the next room. You have to love a guy who put Green Lantern in a Top 10 song.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 2:20 a.m. CST

    Let me get this straight

    by kwisatzhaderach

    You've never seen Barry Lyndon? Holy shit Quint, it's one of the greatest films ever made.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 2:45 a.m. CST


    by Bloo

    Donovon is Ione Skye's daddy, I had no idea...mmmm Ione Skye

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 3:26 a.m. CST

    Not stylized enough to be for adults?

    by Brendon

    a) so THAT'S what separates a film for kids for a film for adults - the level of stylization....? b) no mention of Jacques Demy, the director, anywhere? Well, it's certainl;y odd to see somebody say one of his films ISN'T stylized. I love Demy's films, almost without exception. This is an interesting next step for folk who have seen only The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - though Donkey Skin is perhaps better.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 4:40 a.m. CST

    I think I saw this when I was a kid on TV

    by palimpsest

    one of those faintly acid-generated late-period hippy affairs which kids TV was full of at those times - especially European co-productions iffily dubbed into English, which only heightened the odd factor. Not as batshit mental as THE SINGING RINGING TREE, but not far off.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 4:50 a.m. CST


    by Quint

    Then maybe this is atypical of this director's work because it does look like a made for TV special.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 5:46 a.m. CST

    Talking about "Donovan" and "Creepy".

    by DerLanghaarige

    Am I the only one who thinks that "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is the scariest song ever?

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 6:19 a.m. CST

    You should see the animated one set in the '60s

    by Anna Valerious

    Or, for that matter, was an allegory for the '60s. The childrens' parents are stuck in their old-fashioned ways until a Jimi Hendrix-like guitarist leads them out to a cave. And it doesn't stop there.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 7 a.m. CST

    Jacques Demy directed this?

    by tonagan

    Well I'll be damned. Worth a look, I think.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 7:36 a.m. CST

    Re: DerLanghaarige

    by Screwhead

    Yes, it is kind of a spooky song, to the extent that you wonder if it came out creepier than intended, given the "uplifting" lyrics. Somebody should make The Hurdy Gurdy Project--documentary filmmakers alone in the forest...and that's when the Hurdy Gurdy Man comes singing songs of love...

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 7:41 a.m. CST

    Atypical Demy

    by Screwhead

    I'm not an authority on the director, but this film IS stylistically very different from the other Demy films I've seen.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    Grim Grimm

    by Shoegeezer

    This film is a little overlooked, the plague ridden atmosphere is quite different for Demy who could make the mundane seem magical in Umbrellas Of Cherbourg and Demoiselles de Rochefort. His film before this, Donkey Skin, is pretty full-on fairytale with stunning colourful production design. This one seems a bit of a reaction to that, there's always been a bit of grit to Demy's musicals, here he spades it on. Great cast.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 8:48 a.m. CST

    See how Fincher uses Hurdy Gurdy Man in ZODIAC

    by palimpsest

    For textbook creepiness

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 8:49 a.m. CST

    or Gus Van Zant's use in TO DIE FOR

    by palimpsest

    of Season Of The Witch iirc

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 9:05 a.m. CST

    And what the fuck is up with the Roly Poly Man?

    by DerLanghaarige

    Is he good? Is he evil? A friend of the Hurdy Gurdy Man? Or his arch foe? He's singing songs of love too, but...does he mean it?

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST

    bless 'em

    by FamousEccles

    I love how they proudly display their three and a half stars on the cover...

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 11:13 a.m. CST


    by BringingSexyBack

    "The Illuminati mocks and imitates God's 12 tribes. And this is why Jesus called the Illuminati, who say they are Jews but are not, the "Synagogue of Satan. Satan blessed the 12 bloodlines of the Illuminati. The Illuminati are the elite of Satanism. The 13th bloodline of the Illuminati is the bloodline from which comes the Antichrist."

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 12:14 p.m. CST

    I agree its a weird one...

    by Circean6

    I saw this on Showtime in the early 80's thinking it to be a kids flick, hoo boy was I suprised! One image that stuck with me was that all the church minions for full blown evil and opulant, with most of its minions facless in scary-ass red KKK robes. Potent stuff...

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 12:42 p.m. CST

    I'd actually like to see a new Pied Piper movie.

    by Knuckleduster

    It's the one story that really freaked me out as a kid. It's just so fuckin eerie. A new spin on the story would certainly hit the spot. I guess Tim Burton is the most obvious choice, but I'd like to see someone else do this. Jean-Pierre Jeunet would be perfect.

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 1:54 p.m. CST

    I wanted to write a script for a Pied Piper movie a while ago.

    by DerLanghaarige

    And a horror movie, based on "Hurdy Gurdy Man". No kidding. Maybe this talkback is a sign. A message from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. "Do it, man. The FSP says so!"

  • Aug. 10, 2008, 2:47 p.m. CST

    RIP Isaac Hayes

    by KnightShift

    Passed away this morning.

  • Aug. 11, 2008, 2:47 a.m. CST

    Quint - it's "Late, Great"

    by Abhimanyu

    Since you asked, Quint - you would use a "/" to imply a choice or an "either", like "he/she". If you want to use two adjectives that both apply, just a comma. The order depends on your style, though I think convention shows us "late, great" more than "great, late".

  • Aug. 11, 2008, 3:07 a.m. CST

    Hurdy Gurdy zombie children action

    by Wilfy Fredericks

    For anyone interested in the above check out Lost Hearts - an old (early 70s) BBC short film based on the M R James story. In fact read the story as well - it's also brilliant. Best zombie hurdy gurdy playing I've ever seen. Admitedly there hasn't been much competition for that title.

  • Aug. 11, 2008, 10:17 a.m. CST


    by Snookeroo

    "Hurdy Gurdy man" is indeed, very creepy. Listen to the Butthole Surfer's version sometime. It will completely creep you out.

  • Aug. 11, 2008, 11:52 a.m. CST

    "I'm the Pied Piper...

    by Banzai Rootskibango

    ...and I want to be Pied...Paid...Paid..."