Director George King’s 1936 British horror thriller happily records for posterity Tod Slaughter’s famous barnstorming performance as the 1760s London barber Sweeney Todd in this film version of George Dibdin-Pitt’s play. Before the Stephen Sondheim musical, Slaughter’s turn was the most famous incarnation of the character.
Sweeney Todd kills the people of the dock front for pie fillings. There is a lot of, er slaughter, but, thanks to Todd’s helper, bakery owner Mrs Lovatt (Stella Rho), a sailor (Bruce Seton), Todd’s daughter Johanna’s boyfriend Mark Ingerstreet, lives to tell the tale.
It is a shame that the filming is so terrible. Unfortunately the movie is very creaky indeed – though enjoyably so – and there are more laughs than scares now. But old Slaughter is still quite something to behold and a force to reckon with, suggesting how astounding he must have been on stage.
Also in the cast are Eve Lister as his daughter Johanna, Stella Rho as bakery owner Mrs Lovatt, Ben Soutten, D J Williams, Jerry Verno, John Singer and Frederick Hayward.
H F Maltby’s screenplay is based on George Dibdin-Pitt’s play, which eventually became the Tony award-winning Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, and its subsequent film Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet St.
Fictional character Sweeney Todd first appeared as the anti-hero of the Victorian penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls (1846–47), probably written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, alternating between each part, and published in book form in 1850.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 4087
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