Friday, December 21, 2007

Sweeney Todd: Comments on the Film Itself and in Relation to TOS

Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. I’ll only make comments and not a full review.

I can’t pretend I didn’t see the stage production as the best film critics do and simply look at the film in a vacuum. For example, the phrase, “Don’t I know you mister?” is repeated several times by a certain character in the play but used one time in the movie. It ruins the setup for the final scene.

There’s a major goof in the script: Mrs. Lovett tells Sweeney she was with his wife and tried to talk her out of taking poison. In a later scene, she’s making conversation and asks him what she looked like. Right there he should have known she was lying and been suspicious of her motives.

Judge Turpin has to be hideously unappealing. Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin is not. Maybe because I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION or DADDY LONG LEGS or have seen any number of Douglas/Z.-Jones-like marriages in Hollywood, I believed he had a shot at a hottie like Johanna. The judge is addicted to porn, like Jud in OKLAHOMA! But other than a little stubble on the judge’s face, director Burton didn’t show the terror that Johanna is supposed to have at the thought of being with the judge, her legal guardian. We might need a female director to empathically convey this revulsion.

I posted this on imdb today: I saw the original Sweeney Todd on Broadway and was genuinely shocked during the last scene when a character's true identity is revealed. Can imdb lead the way and show some respect for the story by editing the cast list to hide this point? This is the info that the production company has released for listings in reviews. I compare this to the cooperation that the producers of THE CRYING GAME encouraged when it debuted: Don't reveal the shock to your readers! This being a fan board, you all know what I'm referring to, but I'm thinking of the young fan whom will miss the emotional jolt that isn't a slit throat and a spurt of blood. In addition to this comment, let me add that I went back to my original Playbill and yes, the Cast did not give away this dual role.

Zaniness, simplemindedness, fey qualities: Mrs. Lovett lacks the first, Toby the second, and the Beadle the third in the movie.


Mrs. Lovett is as much a maniac and murderer as Todd but Helena Bonham Carter is directed to play it low key by Tim Burton. Her mild singing voice and inability to hold a note hurts her performance. Here is an example: if you don’t know the tune, read the lyrics of “Wait.” First read them normally. Then read them and hold the word “Wait” for 3 or 4 beats.

Don't you know,
Silly man?
Half the fun is to
Plan the plan!
All good things
Come to those who can

There’s a world of difference, between singing “wait” in one beat and waiting for the word “wait” to end on a nicely-held note. You need a singer who can hold a note for this song.


It could be that it was politically incorrect to play Toby as mentally challenged as in the play, so the movie made him a drinker who doesn’t get drunk. In the play Mrs. Lovett addresses him as “child,” because of his child-like mentality. The movie casts a real child, Ed Sanders, and he is excellent, particularly in the song standard, "Not While I’m Around.”


His kooky “Parlor Songs” with Mrs. Lovett is not in the movie. Onstage I suspect it’s a delaying tactic for the crew to set up the final scene in the basement and give the lead singer a breather. On film you don’t need to kill time or let people rest. Plus, you need a screwball performance from Mrs. Lovett to pull it off and that’s not the concept this time.

In the play, Antony is told by Sweeney Todd in the opening scene that he will not long forget the young man who saved his life when they were shipmates. In the film, this is watered down to something like, “helping me get through” the voyage. I’m giving the gist, I can’t recall the exact line. Why would you want to water down this bond? Perhaps to show the soullessness of Todd?


This of course is what encores were made for and on stage it’s a riot. I recently saw Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou on You Tube do this at a charity event in L.A. The movie cuts this duet short, as it does several other numbers. Maybe double entendres don’t have the humor they used to have, or the bloodthirsty audience this movie is aimed at just wouldn’t appreciate this delay to getting back to the action.

An imdb poster named B_Crawley made this comment:

I watched the movie on the 18th with such high hopes. Burton, Depp, Carter, Rickman, Cohen... all with Sondheim's approval. It's gonna be great, right?
Sadly, to make a good movie musical (or at least a good Sweeney Todd movie musical) you need leads that can carry a tune. Cohen's Pirelli was great, Rickman's judge was good. Toby, Johanna, Anthony, all good. But my God, Depp and Carter were horrid. I'll even give Johnny an A for effort as he seemed to sing on key and hold some notes. . But Helena...I just don't know what to say.
I really wanted to like this movie. Now I just want to forget it was made

I replied:

Your review is what I wrote in my head without seeing it yet and I hope you're wrong but I have a feeling you're right. Yet without Johnny the movie never gets made, supposedly. Sondheim has never been happy with a film version of one of his shows and after the hype is done I wonder what he will say. Big CGI movies often suck humor and warmth out of source material, I'm thinking of LOTR and Superman Returns for example. Sweeney needs singers and comedians, like Bryn Terfel and Bette Midler, but in Hollywood he's a no name and she's too old. I'll see it today and if you're right, maybe we'll live long enough for this version to be forgotten and a great movie will be made.

It looks like Mr. Crawley was mostly right. Johnny Depp was not horrid as Sweeney Todd. He acted it like the great actor he is, but he’s just not the guy to sing this score.

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