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The Pied Piper - arthouse and international DVD / musical DVD review
THE PIED PIPER Rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 stars
Actors: Donovan, Donald Pleasence, Diana Dors, John Hurt, Jack Wild, Michael Hordern
Director: Jacques Demy   Distributor: Legend Films
DVD release: 01 July 2008   Runtime: 91 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
DVD Features: Audio Tracks (English - Dolby Digital Stereo), Subtitles (English - Closed captioned)

In this version of "The Pied Piper" fairy tale, the title character is played by 1960's folk music artist Donovan. Following the legend that we all know, a town besieged by rats during the Black Plague has the good fortune to have a wandering minstrel present a reasonable solution to their problems. After ridding the town of rats, the townspeople stiff him on the bill, so he takes their children instead.

This version adds a few subplots to flesh out its 91-minute run time. Most noticeable is an alchemist (Michael Hordern) who goes head-to-head with the local clergy. His insistence that the plague has natural causes and his efforts to find a cure get him into a wee bit of trouble. A fair amount of screen time is dedicated to the townspeople and their affairs. Donald Pleasence and John Hurt (the only recognizable stars of this group) are the reason the Piper is not paid, because they are diverting all the town's money to their very special projects. John Hurt's performance is a little rough, but he was pretty young in this film. Donald Pleasence is fun to watch here as his paranoid, self-centered character tries to keep his schemes in check once the rats take over the town. Speaking of which, the story I remember reading as a child had a downer of an ending (what with the drowning children and all). They tried to give this one a positive ending, but I think they failed; more on that later.

Director Jacques Demy takes what could have been a 30-minute animated children's special and makes a serious attempt to fill in a backstory and be entertaining at the same time. The story it weaves is plausible given the context, and the music is enjoyable. The DVD itself is pretty sparse - no extra features of any kind or a commentary track to be found. However, if you are a huge fan of Donovan, you will find that he does an excellent job with the musical scenes. He wrote a couple of songs for this movie and looks like he enjoys performing them on screen.

Another reason to see this film is that it can never be made again. The children survive in this one, but this is the darkest supposedly child-friendly film ever. It's "G" rating makes me wonder who was in charge of the MPAA in 1972. The underage wedding and a scene portraying the end result of going against the will of the church in the Middle Ages would result in a near riot should this movie be screened today.

If you are a fan of Donovan, you'll enjoy this movie. Otherwise pass, unless you have an interest in period pieces set during the Black Plague.
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reviewed by Ryan Strampe
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