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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (SWEENEY TODD) (1936)

Before B’way composer Stephen Sondheim supplied musical cachet & cultural gravitas, SWEENEY TODD was Penny Dreadful stuff; camp, comic, playfully gross. As in this ‘Quota Quickie’ from George King, a specialist in these mandated British ‘B-pics,’ sops to the U.K. import/ export production ratio. Some directors, like Michael Powell & Carol Reed began there, then moved on; George King remained. This one, available in dupey, tv sourced prints with slightly cropped framing, features a grandstanding turn from the aptly named Tod Slaughter, wringing his hands & chuckling as the murderous barber. Hammy, but undeniably creepy, especially in the alternating rough/unctuous treatment of John Singer as young apprentice Tobias, recognizable from later supporting roles. Except for a brief tangent in the tropics, the story stays more or less the same (young sailor makes good; hopes to wed a wealthy man's young ward; is nearly turned into a human-meat pie!!). With suitably penny-dreadful production values, but not nearly as dire as you first expect; some of the secret back-street chambers have real Dickensian flavor, so too the flamboyant acting. (Something of Uriah Heep in this Sweeney.) Try to ignore the milling music that comes & goes to no particular purpose on the soundtrack. Added later for tv showings?

DOUBLE-BILL: Tim Burton’s trimmed 2007 rethink of the Sondheim musical is impressive, particularly on the male side.

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