Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)

This 1936 filming of the "Sweeney Todd" story is a generally slow and visually dull adaptation that makes far too little of its intriguing central premise, focusing too much instead on bland and uninteresting secondary characters and subplots. The film is played as a straightforward melodrama when it could have been played more effectively as a dark comedy.

The latter approach comes through in the brilliant performance of Tod Slaughter in the title role, definitely the highlight of the film. He plays the part with a wickedly dark sense of humor and energy, and is clearly having a lot of fun with it, but without losing the sinister and menacing edge that the story calls for. It's one of those parts that seems tailor-made for its actor. It was a role he'd played on stage with his own theatrical company, and thankfully was preserved for posterity on film here. I haven't seen any of Slaughter's other films, but I plan to seek them out on the basis of his performance here alone.

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