Sweeny Todd, The Original Urban Myth

I came across an OLD post of mine from when I decided I needed to start writing again. It was an effort to dust the cobwebs off my decaying skills. I re-read it and was horrified. I decided it was time to rewrite this and do a much better job. I will not being doing this to all my old posts. But since this is one that people occasionally still pull up, I thought I had better do a better job of it.

When the movie came out I was pleased; although, some of Johnny Depp’s notes were painful to hear. He shouldn’t sing.

I highly recommended it to everyone. I was pleased with the show as a whole. Some people were disinclined to view it as they were not Burton fan’s or Depp fans.

I informed them that I was not recommending it as a Burton or Depp film. I like some of their work and dislike some of their work. I am a big Sweeney Todd fan. In college we had to watch the Angela Lansbury version of it. Sweeney Todd was played by Len Cariou. It is an excellent version with outstanding performances.

People don’t realize that the story of Sweeney Todd has been around for a long time. The earliest print stories are from the mid 1840’s and it may be one of the earliest known examples of Urban Myths as bits and pieces of the story may have been around since the 1700’s. In the oldest stories, Todd is not a tragic figure who was framed and deported because someone wanted his wife. He is literally a murderous barber killing people for their possessions. The silent film version is one of the earliest horror movies and reflects the original story. It evolved over the years into the musical we know now.

Many of the characters in the modern version existed in the original story ‘The String of Pearls’ but have transformed into different roles. Tobias Ragg was originally Todd’s assistant who gets sent to a madhouse. Johanna goes undercover as a boy to work for Todd in order to find out what happened to a Lieutenant who was bringing her a pearl necklace from her lover who was lost at sea. It turns out her lover was imprisoned and put to work in a pie shop as a cook.

Prior to A String of Pearls being released, Dickens made a reference to preparers of cannibalic pastry in one of his novels. And even earlier story (1824) refers to a barber’s victims being made into meat pies. So that part of the story had been around since the earliest part of the 19th century at the very least and maybe longer.

I nearly purchased a dvd of the 1928 silent film version but passed on it. I went back a week or two later and there were no copies left and I’ve not been able to find it anywhere again. Someone was releasing very old black and white talkies and silent films in very cheap cardboard cases with two movies on one dvd. They were being sold in Walgreen’s.

Now back to the most current adaptation. I think it was well done, although listening to the two leads sing was a bit annoying. Having purchased the cd and listened to it often I’ve come to the conclusion that even their less than ideal singing voices actually work in favor for their parts. Carter’s voice does something odd at the highest notes. Almost like her voice catches but not exactly. But it works well with the accent and with the socioeconomic strata she is representing. Depp actually goes off-key which was more painful to hear at first. Made me wonder, if that was the best take of his singing, what did the others sound like?

The movie is true to the tragic love story that evolved out of the basic horror story. It is as if the story spent several decades being codified into a final version. Burton’s interpretation of this version was visually very beautiful. Depp singing to his razors was very creepy. The costuming was almost like a fantasy version of the clothing of the time period. This gave a fairy tale like quality to the film. I enjoyed it immensely.

Afterwards, I went to a local eatery and was surprised to discover that the movie’s release corresponded to a food special campaign of meat pies. We all opted to pass on that and just had desert.

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