The singing, rhyming citizens of Hamelin hope to win a competition with rival towns for royal recognition. To this end, the mayor outlaws play (which is a bit hard on the children) and refuses to help a rival town when it's flooded. But rats (seen only as shadows), fleeing the flood, invade Hamelin in droves; a magical piper, whose music only children (and rats) can hear, strikes a bargain...which, once the rats are gone, the Mayor and council renege on, to their subsequent regret.
Van Johnson ... Pied Piper / Truson
Claude Rains ... Mayor of Hamelin
Lori Nelson ... Mara
Jim Backus ... King's Emissary
Kay Starr ... John's Mother
I had never heard of this movie, and got a chance to see it for the very first time in a cheapie DVD edition. I marvel at the tremendous amount of obscure old films out there. An entire lifetime wouldn't be enough to know them all. While this one is problematic, on the whole I'm pleased to have discovered it, as I love finding these little-known byways of films past.
I agree that while this was originally conceived as a children's film, it would bore to death most kids today, having been desensitized by the blazingly fast pace of today's video and film styles. This is best appreciated as a bit of 1950s kitsch, and as such I find it an interesting museum piece. I was a bit puzzled by the lack of depth in much of the cinematography. It just didn't seem particularly cinematic, but looking it up at the IMDb and finding it to be a made-for-TV project sort of explained that to me. The look was dictated by the budget, and perhaps an idea that this shallow staging was best suited to the small screen circa 1957, which was very small indeed. As it was recorded on film rather than videotape, its origins as a TV production were not quite immediately apparent, but it's certainly an odd mixture of cinematic and television style.
What's been said below is true, i.e. garish primary colors, a clumsy sometimes-rhyming and sometimes-not script, saccharine sentimentalizing and simplistic moralizing. Some of the rhymes sound to be lifted from, or at least inspired by, the poem by Robert Browning originally published in 1887, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child's Story." Also, no doubt mandated by the demands of TV executives and/or sponsors, a happy ending is tacked on at the end which is quite unlike that of the original story. Regarding the odd name of Hamelin's unfortunate rival city, it seems to me that it was meant to be pronounced Hamel-OUT, as a simple (very simple) play on words (Hamel-IN and Hamel-OUT. In and out, get it? Har har!). Well, I guess they thought kids of the time would find that amusing.
It is an interesting idea to set a musical to tunes by Edvard Grieg, who produced an abundant supply of melodies. My guess is that this was inspired by the musical "Kismet" having used melodies by Alexander Borodin so effectively. Besides "Peer Gynt," there are tunes from Grieg's "Norwegian Dances" and his Piano Concerto. While the lyrics are hardly masterpieces, I did find it amusing to hear one of the Norwegian Dances adorned with the lyric "flim, flam, floom."
It's strange indeed to see chanteuse Kay Starr performing what sounds to me like a sultry torch song to lament the disappearance of her child. As the film was conceived as family entertainment, maybe this was thought to be something for the adults in the family, but the effect is just bizarre. I couldn't identify a Grieg melody in this song.
Van Johnson does a fine job in the dual roles of the Piper and Truson, the town civil libertarian and whistle-blower. More than addressing just the issue of human greed and deceit, the script seems a somewhat liberal take on the issues of free speech and the abuse of power in a democratic government. Good old Claude Rains seems to give his all in the role of the corrupt mayor of Hamelin, and though he's a bit long-in-the-tooth by then, he plays the part with relish and what seems to me total commitment. Good for him!
It seems to me that the main attractions of this film are its nostalgic and kitsch qualities, and if those attributes irritate you, you'd do well to avoid it, but it does have value as sort of a museum-piece curiosity, half video and half cinema, with some McCarthy-era liberalism thrown in. I'm glad to have discovered it.
I saw this film several times on TV as a kid in the 60's. I enjoyed in thoroughly. Jim Backus's hamming is delightful. The music was borrowed wholly from Peer Gynt by Grieg -- from Morning Mood to Hall of the Mountain King.
Another reviewer comments on the colors (in a rather unsympathetic and grinch-like manner ). You must remember -- THERE WERE NO COLOR TVs IN 1957! Anyone with any knowledge of media knows that! They only existed in factories and a few individuals. They did not hit the market until 1958, and they were not in major use until after 1962 - at least among the people in my neighborhood. Anyway, the colors used had to make appealing greys when viewed in black & white. Hence, you will get some pretty odd colors. The use of such garish colors probably contributed to the development of Op-Art and Psychedelic art in the 60's. However, I digress, anyone who lets technical details get in the way of enjoying a child-like bit of fluff, especially one made on a small budget for TV, should stay up on his mountain, and never be let into who-ville.
Also, the pace of the film has been criticized. Well, the pace editing in films has sped up in the last few decades (look at Ridley Scott's work --- sheesh, you need seatbelts in the theatre!) You must let yourself go with the flow and the speed of the film. Let yourself be taken by the music and the performances. Basically, if you liked Brigadoon, then you should like this.
My recommendation -- if you are a child at heart, and want a delightful heartwarming film, filled with great music, seeing great performers enjoying themselves, then watch this film.
Van Johnson and Claude Rains stand out especially so for the type of presentation it is. It is very well made in Technicolor for the then early medium of early colour filmed Television. The cast is first-rate, with movie great Van Johnson brilliantly playing the strange and yes often frightening piper!, as well as the kindly school teacher Trueson, who is also the village conscience. Legendary movie Thespian Claude Rains is absolutely wonderful as the clever, sneering, and corrupt lord mayor of Hamlin. Rains clearly has fun playing him much like he did PrinceJohn in 'Adventures Of Robin Hood from back in 1938! Rains even does a comical, show-stopping song and dance, Gilligan's Island's Jim Backus also appears as the King's messenger, and his comedy is sorely needed as this fairy tale goes rather dark in it's second half! One highlight of the film, is Van Johnson as the Pied Piper, leading the rats out of Hamlin to their deaths in the river. He is playing on his pipe the haunting melody of 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King' from Mr. Greig's 'Peter Guint Suite' as the cleverly animated rats march off to their oblivion! Others in the cast are as familiar as they are enjoyable as well, This as an all around delightful nostalgic romp. This should appeal to both young and old alike! And unlike the fairy tale of books, this 'Pied Piper Of Hamlin' has a happy ending for all, and with a lesson for everyone about greed, selfishness, and false pride. I rate this a heartfelt