Sweeney Todd
. 1936

Director: George King

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Sweeney ToddAnything starring villain-specialist Tod Slaughter or directed by George King is apt to be fairly bad, including their "best" collaboration, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936).

With an annoying soundtrack that just rattles on without regard for what's on the screen, wooden acting over-pantomimed as though pitched to the peanut gallery by actors unused to sound, everything that makes a melodrama tedious is present, with nothing that makes a melodrama thrilling.

A wildly popular grand guinol stage version was toned down far too much for the cinema, gutting it of its sole charm or purpose. The story needed the jingly tunes of the musical adaptation to be at all entertaining, such songs as the 1936 film never had.

Slaughter plays Sweeney Todd, a psycho barber in jolly old London of the 1830s. As the hoary yarn was once told, Sweeney prepped his customers in the barber chair then slit their throats, emptied their pockets, & dumped their bodies in the basement, which connects to the bakery next door, where Nellie (Stella Rho) turned them into penny meat pies for sale to the public.

Sweeney ToddBut in the tamed-down version they get dumped alive in the basement & whatever bad happens to them after that will be away from the camera's eye. It's played as black humor but is so tentative about its own material that it comes off neither black nor humorous.

If you don't know the story beforehand it will take an awfully long time to figure out what Nellie's role in it all really is, as no one actually mentions cannibalism as a possibility. No actual throat-slitting happens, no corpses are seen, no criminal act placed on screen either for laughs or suspense.

Had the film been any good, its success would have hinged on the character of Sweeney being gross & funny, but he's grossest when being lustful toward the young heroine (Eve Lister), & he's funny just about never, unless one finds the cackling catch-phrase "I polished 'em off" inherently funny.

Slaughter's hamminess though reminiscent of Vincent Price lacks Price's charismatic presence on the screen. The last half-second of Sweeney's life gave me a giggle, but otherwise the humor failed & biggest threat from the demon barber was having him bore a viewer to death.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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