The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1961)

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The Pied Piper of Hamelin is an American ninety-minute musical film in color, originally made as a television special and first shown by NBC on November 26, 1957, as their Thanksgiving Day offering for that year. It preempted that evening's telecasts of Tic Tac Dough, You Bet Your Life, and Dragnet. Based on the famous poem of the same name by Robert Browning and using the music of Edvard Grieg arranged by Pete King with special lyrics by Hal Stanley and Irving Taylor, it starred Van Johnson, Claude Rains (in his only singing and dancing role), Lori Nelson, Jim Backus, and Kay Starr. It was directed by Broadway veteran Bretaigne Windust. In a direct nod to Browning's poem, nearly all of the dialogue in The Pied Piper of Hamelin was written in rhyme, much of it directly lifted from the poem.

Unusually for a made-for-TV family special of the era, it was not presented live but on actual motion picture film, and the color process used was not NBC's usual "living color", but three-strip Technicolor, which had previously been used on television only in the one-hour science specials Our Mr. Sun and Hemo the Magnificent. Theatrical prints, however, erroneously bill the film as having been made in Eastman Color.

The program was successful enough to be repeated in 1958 and then syndicated to many local stations, where it was rerun annually for many years, in the tradition of other holiday specials. The film was briefly released to movie theatres in 1966, where it did not fare nearly as well.

Years later, Van Johnson's performance as the Pied Piper was still so fondly remembered that he played a Piper-like criminal called "The Minstrel" on the 1966 TV series Batman.

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