"I promise to polish you off quicker than any barber in London," simpers Mr. Todd, as played by the obsequious Mr. Tod Slaughter. While we're waiting for the new Depp/Burton Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, we can scan over the ancient version, maybe while playing the Stephen Sondheim album in the background. The 1936 film has a reputation for creaking like a badly-greased windmill, while an eye-rolling British ham goes through his rounds. Expect to hear just that received idea in many a review of the upcoming Sweeney Todd. Such is the craft of what a friend refers to as "bullcrit" (n., the repeating of overheard ideas without personal experience).
In this space, writing about Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin, I was mentioning how much I was coming to enjoy really ripe theatrical acting. And then comes this brilliant New Yorker article by Claudia Roth Pierpont (only abstracted on their site, unfortunately). She discusses the different approaches to Shakepeare on film by Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles. Both were primarily theatrical actors, given to exotic makeup and putty noses. I'd never compare Olivier and Tod Slaughter, but to use the evolutionary parlance, they had a common ancestor: the flamboyant British stage actor Edmund Kean, whose bravura knife-waving performances of the Bard used to electrify audiences of the early 1800s. As the vengeful razor-man, Slaughter is actually better than you've heard. I was happy to read that then film-critic Graham Greene once praised Slaughter as "one of our finest living actors."