Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street *** (out of ****)

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John Logan based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler that was adapted from the play by Christopher Bond
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee, Laura Michelle Kelly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Timothy Spall
Rating: R (mild language, bloody murder, and cannibalism)
Running Time: 117 min
Release Date: 12/21/2007

Tim Burton who has a long history directing rather unconventional films such as Beetle Juice , Sleepy Hollow, , and recently The Corpse Bride brings the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the big screen. This is an incredibly gruesome musical about the revenge of the barber Benjamin Barker a.k.a. Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) upon the man who sentenced him to be exiled to Australia based on trumped-up charges. It seems that Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusted after Barker’s beautiful young wife. After Barker was out of the way, Turpin lured her to a masked ball and raped her. The barber’s young daughter became Turpin’s ward.

John Depp was a natural choice for Burton considering their work together, going back to Edward (snip, snip, snip) Sissorhands, where he played a real “cut up”. So naturally he would make good choice to play Sweeney Todd who was a real “cute throat”. All in all this is a great musical for Charles Manson.

When Sweeney Todd returns years later to seek his revenge, he goes back to his old barber shop to find that Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) is still proprietor and is selling the worst meat pies in London from her shop on the ground floor. She tells Todd about the fate of his wife and that Judge Turpin is holding his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) prisoner. Todd moves back to his old barbershop and recovers his box of razors from their hiding place. His instruments of vengeance are now in hand. When a rival barber, Perelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), recognizes him and demands half of his earnings lest he be revealed to the authorities. Todd cuts Perelli’s throat and thereby begins his string of bloody murders.

Now the problem of disposing of the body is solved when Mrs. Lovett points out that she could use it for the meat in her pies. With this new source of protein, her pies become considerably tastier. Probably like chicken pies? So the situation feeds on itself and has customers come by to eat the pies and some go upstairs for a hair cut or a shave only to become part of a future day’s menu.

Of course Todd’s ultimate goal is to eat a Judge Turpin pie! A young sailor’s romantic interest in Johanna results in Judge Turpin committing her to an asylum. The sailor’s plans to rescue Johanna play into Todd’s scheme to achieve his fiendish goal. Also, a beggar woman, who is spying on these doings, proves to be an unpleasant surprise for Todd as this bizarre film concludes on a tragic note.

I have been puzzled at the underlying motivations for this play/musical/film. It turns out that this is an old English tale going back to the start of the nineteenth century. It has been claim that it might have been based in parts on real events. However, historical record searches have turn up no evidence of this. The story has evolved over two centuries of retelling for print, to stage play, to musical, and eventual the current feature film.


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