Todd Slaughter

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MikeBSG
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Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Today I watched a bit of the 1939 British film "Crimes at the Dark House," a Todd Slaughter film based on "The Woman in White."

Slaughter is sometimes considered a British "horror star" of the Thirties and Forties. I've heard of him for years but had never seen any of his films before. I've heard Slaughter described as a cross between Vincent Price and W. C. Fields, and I can sort of see that. He can't do anything villainous without stopping to erupt in an evil laugh that lets us know that his character is, in fact, a villain, in case we didn't realize that he just killed a sleeping man, for example.

The odd thing is that "Crimes at the Dark House" was pretty enjoyable. I wasn't watching it like it was a "real" horror movie (by which I mean "Son of Frankenstein" or anything like that), but it was fun watching Slaughter's character scheme (and be very frank about his dishonorable intentions toward the parlour maid.) Unfortunately, the DVD was flawed, so I had to stop watching the film.

Does anyone else here have a favorite Todd Slaughter film?
Mr. Arkadin
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by Mr. Arkadin »

Everything you've said concurs with what I've read about the man. I have Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1933) and Murder at Scotland Yard (1953), but have not had a chance to view them yet. I'll post a little review here after I watch 'em.
MikeBSG
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Today I watched "The Face at the Window," a Todd Slaughter film from 1939, directed by George King.

It was okay. Not as enjoyable as "Crimes at the Dark House." The credits stated up-front that it was an old-time melodrama, and as such, it was more of a mystery than a horror film. The actual face at the window was suitably creepy, but while I watched this 19th century Paris-based crime drama with macabre overtones, I kept thinking "You know, the 1932 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' was more fun." There was one pseudo-Frankenstein moment, when some crazy electrical equipment was employed to solve a crime, but this reminded me of "Dr. X" with Lionel Atwill, which is a much better film.

One interesting thing about both this film and "Crimes at the Dark House." In both, Slaughter's character is really interested in sex to a degree that evil characters in Hollywood horror films of this era just don't come near to approaching.
MikeBSG
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Today I watched "Murder in the Red Barn" (1935) directed by Milton Rosmer.

I liked this one. It makes no bones about being anything other than a Victorian melodrama. It starts with the actors being introduced on stage, as if this were a 19th Century performance. The story, however, is told like a regular movie. It is actually quite stylish at some points (when Slaughter buries his victim, and when the people turn on him.) Perhaps there might be an echo of Karloff's "The Black Room" (1935) here, without the twin angle. But this film moves quickly and doesn't pretend to be what it isn't.

One nice echo of Universal studios in this film was that one of Slaughter's friends was played by Dennis Hoey, who would play Inspector Lestrade against Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes in so many films.

(Of course, for me the title was unfortunate. There was a chain of restaurants in Cleveland in the Seventies called "The Red Barn," and I have had their theme song in my head all afternoon.)
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hbenthow
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by hbenthow »

Tod Slaughter's real name was Norman Carter Slaughter, and he was born on 19 March, 1885, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland. He joined a theater company at age 16, and worked his way from assistant stage manager to actor. He eventually wound up managing his own company. He became a member of the Royal Flying Corps in WWI, then brought his company to London a few years after the war.

While he was rather versatile, and had done Shakespeare and light comedy, melodramas were what he eventually become known for. The Victorian melodrama was something of a lost art form, and already considered a novelty. It was something people knew about, but rarely could actually see in theaters anymore. Some plays, such as Dracula, were similar in some ways, but were still somewhat more modern. People would crowd the theater to see Tod Slaughter perform in this rare type of entertainment. He would cackle his way through each performance, causing murder and mayhem, often killing characters played by his wife, Jenny Lynn. Before the play started, the audience was encouraged to cheer at the heroes and hiss and boo at the villain, and Tod Slaughter himself would often interact with the audience. For example, he responded to heckling from an audience member during a performance of Sweeney Todd by lifting his razor menacingly, and saying with glee, "Oh, I'd love to polish you off!". Sometimes, he would even chase hecklers through the middle aisle. During intermissions, meat pies were often sold, and Tod Slaughter would go the bar, often still wearing a blood-covered apron, and stare menacingly at the people in the room as he drank. As a result, he enjoyed the utmost privacy. Although he didn't carry these gimmicks on into his film career, he kept the same menace and macabre sense of humor. However, despite the menacing image he maintained in his career, he wasn't as scary in real life. He once kept chickens, but was too squeamish to kill them.

I first saw him in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (still my favorite of his movies). There was something about both him and the movie that was somehow deliciously unique. Whenever I watch Sweeney Todd or any of his other movies, I feel transported to a shabby 19th century theater in one of the less desirable parts of London, and I mean that in the most positive way. When Tod Slaughter cackles with glee, I feel like doing the same (while also wanting him to get his just desserts, of course).

In 1936, Tod Slaughter appeared in an "interview" entitled Tod Slaughter At Home. To polish off this post, here it is: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/tod-slaughter-at-home
Last edited by hbenthow on August 1st, 2012, 9:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
MikeBSG
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Thanks for the information about Slaughter.

"Murder in the Red Barn" began with the actors being introduced to the audience just as you described.
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hbenthow
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by hbenthow »

MikeBSG wrote:"Murder in the Red Barn" began with the actors being introduced to the audience just as you described.
You're right. I had forgotten about that.

There's also a movie called The Villain Still Persued Her that's a spoof of Victorian melodramas. If I recall right, it begins with a similar introduction.
MikeBSG
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Today I watched "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (1935).

In some ways, it was an enjoyable movie. In some ways, it was very irritating.

The irritating parts first. Although there was much verbal play about Sweeney Todd's razor, he never used it on his victims. He killed them by mechanically flipping the barber chair over so they fell to their deaths in the basement below. Then, although Mrs. Lovett's pie shop was next door, and there was much speculation as to how Todd got rid of the bodies, there was no hint that they were made into pies. So my question is if Sweeney Todd can't be allowed to cut people's throats and Mrs. Lovett can't make the bodies into pies, why film "Sweeney Todd" in the first place?

Also, I didn't like Todd Slaughter as Sweeney Todd. Slaughter played Todd (boy, this can get confusing) as a cringing, sleazy guy, the spiritual twin of Uriah Heep. Maybe this was how Sweeney Todd was depicted in melodrama, but it didn't really work for me.

However, the movie is still fun. It starts with a good credit sequence that emphasizes the razor and lather, and there is a modern "frame" to the Victorian story that is a lot of fun. (An obnoxious customer comes into a barber shop, and the barber begins to reminisce about the days of Sweeney Todd.) The cast (apart from Slaughter) is good. The hero is likeable. The comedy relief isn't too gooney, and the kid who plays the apprentice is actually rather touching.

The problem is that the film seems afraid of its own shadow. Even the death of Mrs. Lovett is quickly elided, as if any kind of edge-weapon violence is forbidden. Again, if censorship is such that the key pillars of the Sweeney Todd legend (cutting his customers throats and then making the bodies into pies) can't be shown, why bother filming the story in the first place?
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hbenthow
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by hbenthow »

Today I watched "Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (1935).

In some ways, it was an enjoyable movie. In some ways, it was very irritating.

The irritating parts first. Although there was much verbal play about Sweeney Todd's razor, he never used it on his victims. He killed them by mechanically flipping the barber chair over so they fell to their deaths in the basement below. Then, although Mrs. Lovett's pie shop was next door, and there was much speculation as to how Todd got rid of the bodies, there was no hint that they were made into pies. So my question is if Sweeney Todd can't be allowed to cut people's throats and Mrs. Lovett can't make the bodies into pies, why film "Sweeney Todd" in the first place?
While Mrs. Lovett is never directly shown using the bodies to make pies, it is very heavily implied, to such an extent that it might as well have been directly stated. It's even used for humor in a scene where a character eats one of the pies.

The reason that Sweeney Todd uses the chair instead of his razor to kill his victims (although he goes down into the basement with his razor afterwards, to finish off anyone who managed to survive the fall, and if I recall right, once implied in a conversation with Mrs. Lovett that he often has to do so) is because that is how it was done in the original 1846 novel, A String of Pearls, and in the stage play. Here's a part of the original novel where one of his murders is described:

'Didn't you say, "Ah, poor thing?" Just turn your head a little on one side; that will do. You have been to sea, sir?'

'Yes, I have, and have only now lately come up the river from an Indian voyage.'

'Indeed! where can my strop be? I had it this minute; I must have laid it down somewhere. What an odd thing that I can't see it! It's very extraordinary; what can have become of it? Oh, I recollect, I took it into the parlour. Sit still, sir. I shall not be gone a moment; sit still, sir, if you please. By the by, you can amuse yourself with the Courier, sir, for a moment.'

Sweeney Todd walked into the back parlour and closed the door. There was a strange sound suddenly compounded of a rushing noise and then a heavy blow, immediately after which Sweeney Todd emerged from his parlour, and, folding his arms, he looked upon the vacant chair where his customer had been seated, but the customer was gone, leaving not the slightest trace of his presence behind except his hat, and that Sweeney Todd immediately seized and thrust into a cupboard that was at one corner of the shop.


Image
Also, I didn't like Todd Slaughter as Sweeney Todd. Slaughter played Todd (boy, this can get confusing) as a cringing, sleazy guy, the spiritual twin of Uriah Heep. Maybe this was how Sweeney Todd was depicted in melodrama, but it didn't really work for me.
That is pretty much how Sweeney Todd was portrayed in the original novel, in the stage play, and in every medium until the 1970s. The more sympathetic version of the character that most people are familiar with today didn't exist until 1973, when Christopher Bond published a new and radically altered version of the play, which later became the basis for the Stephen Sondheim musical. Previously, Sweeney Todd was truly a "demon barber".
The problem is that the film seems afraid of its own shadow. Even the death of Mrs. Lovett is quickly elided, as if any kind of edge-weapon violence is forbidden. Again, if censorship is such that the key pillars of the Sweeney Todd legend (cutting his customers throats and then making the bodies into pies) can't be shown, why bother filming the story in the first place?
It's not so much censorship as simply adherence to the play. The "lovely throat for a razor" innuendos do hint that there will be some throat-slitting, but the chair was always the main method of murder, even from the very beginning. Logically, the chair method does make more sense. Slitting someone's throat in a barber chair is risky. There's bound to be some blood on the chair, which someone might see before he has a chance to clean it up, and someone might catch Todd trying to dispose of the body. Flipping the person into the cellar first is less risky and doesn't require as much cleanup. There very well may have been some censorship applied, but the chair method was simply adherence to the play. As for the pies, I honestly don't see that aspect as being even slightly hidden in the movie. It may have never been stated in words, but it was very, very heavily implied.

Make no mistake, even though I myself have no problem with these various aspects of the movie (and I absolutely love Tod Slaughter's sleazy portrayal of Sweeney Todd), I understand why you were annoyed by them. I'm just clarifying some of the reasons for these aspects.
Last edited by hbenthow on July 10th, 2013, 10:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
MikeBSG
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by MikeBSG »

Thanks for the explanation.

I have to admit to some puzzlement when I compare British and American horror films of the pre-Hammer era. In some ways, British horror films do things that seem more violent/gruesome than their American counterparts. In "Dark Eyes of London" (with Bela Lugosi), Lugosi deafens his blind assistant. Anton Walbrook's murder of the old woman in "Gaslight" seems far more vivid than comparable scenes in Hollywood films of the era, and in "Quatermass Xperiment/Creeping Unknown" the glimpse of the face of the monster's victim in the hospital seems far grimmer than what Hollywood 50s sci-fi would show. Yet in other ways, pre-Hammer era British horror films seem to pull their punches, and of course there is the famous British ban on horror films in the late 30s.
Sweeney Todd
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Re: Todd Slaughter

Post by Sweeney Todd »

"Mr. ARKADIN" is just a cretin.
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