Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)

Genres - Drama, Horror, Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Filmed Play, Horror Comedy, Musical Drama  |   Release Date - Sep 12, 1982 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 141 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Stage productions filmed "as is" for television are difficult to make work. They are not being reimagined for another medium, so they most often serve merely as a record of an important stage presentation. Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street suffers somewhat from this problem, but the stunning original material and brilliant performances of the two leads more than make up for this. Stephen Sondheim's score is in a class by itself; rarely has the musical theatre created a score that demands such attention, grabbing the listener by the throat from the beginning and never letting go. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd," repeated throughout, creates an atmosphere of unease, forboding and fear that prepares the audience for the gruesome story to come, which contrasts nicely with the lyrical purity of "Johanna" and "Not While I'm Around." There's also a marvelous music hall turn in "The Worst Pies in London" and delirious black comedy in "A Little Priest," as Todd and Mrs. Lovett hatch their scheme of popping people into pies. Sondheim also uses cinematic underscoring to good effect. Angela Lansbury gives a pitch-perfect performance of wild abandon and grotesquerie, but always with an understanding of what makes the character human; she captures the audience's heart with the honesty of her portrayal, so that the viewer wants this evil woman to get the simple happiness she so desperately craves. George Hearn is her match, creating a Todd that is suspicious, underhanded and ultimately irredeemable, but still sympathetic. His performance of "Epiphany"is terrifying and his despair at discovering the ultimate fate of his wife is palpable. The supporting cast, including Cris Groendaal and Betsy Joslyn, are very good, but it's Hearn and Lansbury that dominate the proceedings.