His skin was pale & his eye was odd
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard fo again…
For reaons currently opaque to me, I am mildly obsessed with Sweeney Todd this month, in the sense that I’ve been listening to various versions while working and watched the movie yesternight. I thought it might be an interesting topic to discuss. Feel free to discuss the movie, the '82 stage version that was broadcast on PBS, or any of the text versions.
A couple of things to start us off:
[li]For those of you familiar with multiiple versions, which do you like best, and why?[/li][li]How sure are we of the truth of what happened to Lucy and Joanna? The only person we hear it from is Mrs. Lovett–and you’re going to believe HER? I mean, the woman is pure, unblinking, puppy-kicking, baby-boiling evil?[/li][li]Assuming that the tale Mrs. Lovett told is basically true, why did Turpin take Johanna in? Was he always planning to force her to marry him when she was old enough? I ask because that implies an improbable amount of patience. Contrariwise, did he feel some genuine guilt over what happened to Lucy?[/li][/ul]
I can think of some more questions, but frankly I don’t feel like adding them just yet. We’ll see how the thread goes, I 'spose.
Much of the behavior of these characters is explained once you remember they’re Londoners - and as Mr. Todd helpfully reminds us:
In the Sweeneyverse, London is a singularly depraved and wicked place. So, yah, it’s not implausible that Turpin took in Joanna for the sake of wedding/molesting her once she was old enough - it’s not as if that bastard would avoid seeking his jollies elsewhere in the meantime. Turpin is even more evil than Lovett - I can’t believe he felt guilt.
As for whether we can trust Mrs. Lovett’s account of things - sure, with the one obvious exception. Other than one very large lie, everything Lovett says seems to jive with what we see - in the recent movie version, at any rate.
I watched the movie, the first half of which I mildly liked, but most of which I thought was kind of a waste of time. Then I heard Angela Lansbury in the Broadway recording, and became obsessed. I think Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett is simply phenomenal, and she sells the entire thing to me. I love her characterization of Mrs. Lovett as a slightly scatty, extremely cheerful woman of pure evil much, much more than the movie characterization as a somewhat sensuous woman of pure evil, which was just boring as anything.
Perhaps I’m remembering incorrectly, but doesn’t Mrs. Lovett claim that she never actually lied about anything to Todd, and nothing in the musical contradicts that? She just… didn’t… tell the whole truth. (Though she does intend to straight-out lie to Toby when she says “Nothing’s gonna harm you” – however, as it so happens, she is right about that even though she doesn’t intend to be.)
Assuming Mrs. Lovett’s story is true, I imagine that he did feel some guilt about Lucy, and only once Joanna grew up did he start having a thing for her. This seems to be at least mildly supported by Turpin’s Mea Culpa song in the musical (not one of my favorites, but does give his character a little more to work with).
I was fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway with the original cast of Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. I absolutely loved it. The only other version I have seen is the Burton movie. While I don’t dislike it, neither Johnny Depp nor Helena Bonham Carter have nearly the presence of Cariou/Lansbury.
My mom showed me Sweeney on PBS years ago. I loved it and still have the tape.
I can’t remember who played Sweeney. It’s not that his performance wasn’t great. It’s just that I suck at remembering names.
I liked Burton’s version. I thought Depp’s Sweeney was a totally different take on things. While the broadway Sweeney is a normal man pushed over the edge, Depp’s Sweeney is a man who is burnt-out emotionally and very much dead inside. I thought this was most obvious during the By The Sea dream sequence in the film.
I just cannot accept Carter as Lovett. To me, Lovett is matronly, worn down by years of hard living and obviously too old to bear children. Carter is just hot with great cleavage. With a body like that, Lovett would have found the money and attention she craved by working as a prostitute.
One of my best friends loathes her, as well, but saw the version of ST she was in on Broadway and said that not only was it one of the best things he’d seen in years, but also that she was amazing in it. Even a broken clock, I suppose…
The Sweeney in the PBS video is, in fact George Hearn. I saw that version, Lansbury and Hearn, live in Boston. I was very familiar with the music from the original cast recording before seeing the show and it was probably the best theatrical experience I’ve had.
I’ve watched the PBS video several times and I saw Depp version when it first came out. I’m very dismayed that they left out the Ballad of Sweeney Todd. Everyone in the film is a little too young for the story, I think.
Nothing will ever compare to the live performance I saw. The actors’ performances, the staging, the set changes, everything about it was wonderful.
I didn’t consider Mrs. Lovett’s reliability in her tale of the fates of Lucy and Johana; to me, she was merely playing the role of exposition fairy (to quote Diana Rigg in The Great Muppet Caper: “It’s got to go somewhere.”).
I did not see Turpin feeling any guilt over what had become of Lucy. Simply that after her breakdown, she saw her as damaged goods. He probably saw in Lucy’s offspring the potential for Lucy’s level of pulchritude, and decided to cultivate it, as one might raise hothouse tomatoes*. As to superhuman lavels of patience, it didn’t occur to me that he would have considered the time factor much of a problem. I have the sense that his original plot, vis a vis Benjamin Barker and familly was planned and executed with plenty of patience.
*ETA: and yes, that Johana sure did turn out to be one sweet tomato.
I’ve always thought that too. Then, as I watched the movie again this weekend, it occurred to me why I would believe ANYTHING Mrs. Lovett said. Bonham!Lovett is pure evil, albeit hot evil.
I’m not sure how long he’s waited. Movie!Johanna is absolutely terrified of him; she tells Anthony that she will never ever be over the horrors of that house. I think he’s waited this long to MARRY HER, not to fuck her, and that fucking was in no way pleasant for anyone but him.
No-one will ever match the great Tod Slaughter for this sort of thing — which is pace perhaps Dorothy Parker, not the sort of thing I care for at all.
Here’s a YouTube, American, introducing him:
A Few Words About the Incomparable Tod Slaughter “You wanted to be a bride, my dear… So yer shall be ! A Bride Of DEATH !”
after — almost in passing — strangling a Victorian chick.
A few, including the 1936 Sweeney Todd, are in the Internet Archive, in a condition not far from that of the Barber’s victims. [ I think more are hidden away not in that search. ] But maybe other copies exist.
Outside the later interpretations and exegesis of the legend, any questions may be answered in the source, Lloyd’s The String of Pearls. The String of Pearls: A Romance was published in eighteen weekly parts, in Edward Lloyd’s The People’s Periodical and Family Library, issues 7-24, 21 November 1846 to 20 March 1847. It was probably written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, alternating between each part released. In later years there were many different literary, stage and eventually film adaptations which renamed, expanded and often drastically altered the original story.
1840s writing is pretty… tough-going; but these were the original penny-a-liners, and had an incentive to pad as much as any doctoral thesis writer.
I only know the Len Carious/Angela Lansbury version, from the LP. But I sure do love it! Wonderful bits! I think Lansbury’s voice is a bit screechy…but I also get the sense this is intentional.
Lovett isn’t really evil. She’s greedy, but she has a heart, too. She cares for Todd, and wants him to be happy. The big lie in her exposition is half to spare him from the pain he would suffer to see his old wife – and, yeah, half to grab him all for herself. Amoral at worst, misguided at best.
And, yeah, the judge is raising the girl with an eye to having her for himself. He’d have preferred the wife, but he’s able to take the long view. As Mrs. Lovett herself advices: “Wait…”
A beauty of the character is that it depends on the actress playing her how evil she is. Lansbury’s was a bit weird and simple minded and twisted, but had a heart sort of, while Emma Thompson’s is evil (way moreso than Todd- he’s a made monster, she’s a born one).
I pretty much agree with this post, with the same caveat.
Re: Turpin’s patience in raising Johanna… It’s not an uncommon plot - common enough that TV Tropes has a page for it - Wife Husbandry…predictably Turpin is an example - and isn’t entirely unknown in real life, either (not all the Real Life examples on the TV Tropes page are actual examples of Wife Husbandry in action, but a sufficient number are to make the plausibility not an issue with the fictional ones).
I’ve not seen the other versions, though I was dimly aware of the story. The recent Terfel/Thompson production is simply outstanding. I see why Terfel has the acclaim that he does, and Thompson gave a wonderful performance. The casting didn’t make sense to me—Terfel’s an elite opera singer; how’s even an eminent Shakespearean actress like Emma Thompson going to compete?—but it worked marvelously.
I’m more of an opera fan than a musical fan, but their performance moved me as much as any opera I’ve seen. Great villain performances when you find yourself at the end of the play, hoping they get away with it .
That makes sense! If you will forgive a highjack, I once saw a performance of The Tempest where Ariel was not played as a giggly trickster, but dead serious. He still did the same tricks on the sailors, and recited the same lines, but without smiling or tittering. It turned the role into a completely different person, imbuing the role with a strange and formal dignity.