Beadle Bamford: Your establishment is in Fleet Street, you say?
Sweeney Todd: Yes sir.
Beadle Bamford: Then, Mr. Todd, you will surely see me there before the week is out.
Until relatively recently, hairy pseudo-apes like you and I had two options when it came to dealing with unkempt hair; either you just hacked it short, or you took an Absurdly Sharp Blade
and scraped your skin - possibly off.
Thus evolved the barber's art; honing, stropping and wielding those wicked-looking straight razors to dispose of unseemly hair without
getting blood all over a customer's shirt.
Judging from movies
, this was only slightly
less dangerous than doing it oneself. Every so often, that straight razor would end up slicing the customer's throat
A milder version of this trope involves the customer getting a nonlethal cut, either by accident or intentionally on the barber's part.
See Cut Himself Shaving
and There Will Be Toilet Paper
Examples of lethal Dangerously Close Shaves:
Anime and Manga
- In Akumetsu chapter 27, one of Akumetsu's victims gets killed this way.
- In Eastern Promises, a barber asks his nephew to shave a customer. Turns out it's code for slicing his throat open.
- In an early draft of Sherlock Holmes, Dredger (who wound up a silly French thug) was a razor-wielding psychopath who impaled himself on his own razor near the end. Holmes and Watson agree to never touch a razor again.
- The Big Red One. A woman working for La Résistance kills several German soldiers billeted in the madhouse by pretending to be one of the inmates, dancing among them in a red dress cutting their throats.
- A humorous scene early in the film adaption of Scaramouche, where Andre sends out his lawyer's barber and proceeds to interrogate the lawyer as to the identity of the man who pays his stipend. By shaving him.
- In "Murder By Contract" (1958) Vince Edwards is a hired killer. He ambushes one victim by pretending to be a barber. The victim sits in the chair as Edwards strops the razor, then pulls down the shades and advances on the victim. The camera homes in on a rotating display with the message "You are next".
Live Action TV
- This is the focus of "Lather and Nothing Else" by Hernando Tellez—the client is a general in a tyrannical regime, and the barber is secretly a rebel. The barber knows that if he kills the general, he'll be arrested and executed, but he's uncertain whether it would be worth it. He decides to simply shave the general and send him on his way. The general tells him he's known to be a rebel, and this was an experiment to see if he was really willing to kill. "It's not easy to kill a man. Believe me, I know."
- The ballad Der rechte Barbier (The Right Barber) by Franco-German poet and naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838): A man calls for a barber, offering a high price for taking off his beard and shaving him, only if the barber nicks him and spills one drop of blood, he'll kill him. The master barber is too scared, tells the journeyman to do it; the journeyman is too scared, sends for the apprentice. The apprentice does it and does a fine job. The client says: "Well done, and you didn't tremble, even though I'd have killed you if you had spilled one drop of blood." - "Sir, that wasn't a problem. I had you by the throat - if you had flinched and my knife had gone awry, I'd have cut your throat immediately."
- In the novel Feet of Clay, Samuel Vimes invokes this as an excuse to shave himself - he claims he's had too many people try to kill him to be comfortable with anyone holding a blade near his throat. The real reason is that, having grown up in the gutter, he resents the aristocracy and hates having servants wait on him.
- In Jingo, Vimes reflects on the case of Sweeney Jones, the Barber of Gleam Street, who was cutting his customers' throats. Although, unlike his Roundword namesake, not on purpose.
- Invoked in Monstrous Regiment two different ways:
- When Sweet Polly Oliver Polly Perks is given the task of shaving Lieutenant Blouse — under the impression that, as a chap, she has a rough idea what she's doing — the Lieutenant asks her if she thinks she could kill a man. She stares at the razor in her hand, and says she thinks she probably could.
- And when Sergeant Jackrum takes over, he discusses the current situation with the Lieutenant, and Polly wonders what might happen if the conversation doesn't go the way the Sergeant wants.
- In The Iron Hand of Mars Marcus Didius Falco finds himself accompanied to Germania by Nero's former barber, whom he fears might actually be an assassin sent to kill him. We don't find out if he is, but the barber does quite handily cut the throat of a mook who tries ambushing them. When questioned on his throat-slitting ability, the barber quietly points out that someone in his occupation is often open to abuse - he's had to learn how to defend himself.
- This is in the backstory of Garrett (formerly "George the Fiend") from Betsy the Vampire Queen - he was an actor who was supposed to play Tarzan, but when the movie was canceled (in favor of Gone with the Wind), the producer took him to the barber for a haircut and shave. The producer was the vampire Nostro, and he had the barber slit Garrett's throat so he could drink.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's novel Glory Road, Rufus is an accomplished barber with a straight razor but he can only do it while his "customer" is lying down. This is because he learned the skill while working as a mortician — that is, shaving corpses. This phrase subsequently becomes a Running Gag between him and the protagonist, Oscar, as a Deadly Euphemism for killing.
- In recognition of this trope, in The Malloreon Belgarath criticized Kal Zakath for allowing a barber to shave him when he lived in constant danger of assassination.
- The original Sweeney Todd story was The String of Pearls, published in the 1840s. In that version, Todd did in his customers by opening a trapdoor under the chair, and only employed this trope if the fall into the cellar didn't kill them outright.
- In both the novel and movie of The Color Purple, Celie is required to shave Mister. Before she does it the first time, he threatens to hurt her if she ever "accidentally" cut him. Given the way he treats her, she certainly had reason to consider performing this trope on him—in the movie, fed up after years of abuse, she is this close to slashing his throat before Shug stops her.
- In a Don Camillo story by Guareschi, Don Camillo provokes the murderer by getting shaved by him, essentially bringing over the message "You can kill me but you won't escape divine nemesis!".
- In Dodger, Dodger goes to get a shave from Sweeney Todd. Although he survives the experience (and becomes a hero in the process), the peelers find a cellar full of the corpses of earlier customers who were not so lucky.
- In Dick Tracy, Sam Catchem nearly has his throat slit while getting a shave from Empty's girlfriend Bonnie the Barber.
- Explicitly invoked, but averted (with tragic consequences for the scrupulous barber), in Le Barbier.
- The quintessential embodiment of this trope is of course Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who murdered his customers and handed their bodies off to his partner Mrs. Lovett to be baked into meat pies. His ultimate goal being to kill Judge Turpin who banished Todd on false charges, raped his wife in Todd's absence, and taken his daughter under his own wings. He ultimately succeeds in the end with this trope being the method. The current page's picture depicts this scene in the movie rendition of the story.
- Happens in this◊ Perry Bible Fellowship comic involving an automatic barber.
- This Nedroid comic has Reginald doing it to himself.
- In Girl Genius, Lord Selnikov discusses this after becoming a disembodied head in a jar.
Lord Selnikov: Oh, now this is absurd! How am I supposed to shave?!
Doctor Sun: ...You Lordship actually shaves himself?
Lord Selnikov: As if I'd trust anyone I know to put a razor to my throat!
Doctor Sun: mm. Technically? No longer a problem.
- In the Futurama episode "That's Lobstertainment", the gang watch an old film starring Zoidberg's uncle Harold Zoid, in which he's a barber who accidentally chops off a customer's head while shaving him with his claws.
- The Tex Avery short "The Car Of Tomorrow" has a gag about a car that shaves the driver, and what happens when the road is not smooth.
- Bart and Lisa plan a script for Itchy & Scratchy from The Simpsons involving Itchy decapitating Scratchy with a straight razor although the idea gets scrapped as too cliché.
- One of the stories about Dionysius the Elder says that he was so afraid of that trope he ordered that his daughters train as barbers. Then he stopped trusting them as well and started burning the hair off.
Examples of nonlethal Dangerously Close Shaves:
- Al Capone in The Untouchables moved his head. Everyone in the room froze as they saw that the barber had cut him. Capone dismisses the unintentional injury.
- In Mississippi Burning, the FBI agent played by Gene Hackman intimidates a KKK member who was getting a shave by replacing the barber.
- Celie at least contemplates some very dangerous thoughts while holding a razor in her hand in preparation to shave Mister in The Color Purple. She gets interrupted out of her thoughts (and the razor snatched out of her hand) before she can do anything rash.
- Narrowly averted in the movie Resurrection Man, where the cold-blooded psycho protagonist - who we've already seen viciously kill several people and beat countless others to a pulp - gives his disabled father a shave. From the looks on their faces and the building-up of dramatic tension, it really seems as though he's about to kill him. But he doesn't. It's still a massively eerie scene though.
- During the Baptism Scene of The Godfather, it certainly looks like this is about to happen to someone, but it turns out that The man getting a shave is a hitman for the Corleone family, and was getting a shave so he could sit and watch a door for his target without raising suspicion.
Live Action TV
- In "The Man from Ironbark", by Australian bush poet Banjo Paterson, a barber plays a trick of this trope on a country yokel. The barber makes the man think his throat is cut by heating up the back of a barber's blade and drawing it across newly-shaven skin. The feeling that is left is as if the throat is cut. This ... doesn't go well.
- In the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Bad Medicine", Kolchak talks to a former criminal gem cutter who now works as a barber. He gets lathered up but then decides not to get a shave after noticing how much the barber's hand shakes.
- In the Sci Fi Channel remake of Flash Gordon, Ming was nicked when being shaved mainly because he couldn't sit still. As punishment for the nick he cuts off the guilty barber's finger.
- In the Alcatraz episode "Cal Sweeney", the prison barber accidentally cuts Tiller while Tiller is demanding a cut of Sweeney's racket. The barber's reaction shows he expects some retribution from Tiller, but Tiller uses the cut as an opportunity to deliver a veiled threat to Sweeney about what happens if you shave against the grain.
- Lou Reed's song "Harry's Circumcision" is about a man who, while shaving, realises that he's turning into his parents... and promptly starts cutting up his face, ending by slashing his own throat.
- The Disney Theme Parks ABC Soundstage attraction "Sounds Dangerous" simulates Drew Carey getting one of these with audio.