Dracula with music by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet at Arlene Schnitzer Center, Portland, OR

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932 and 1941 Versions)

For whatever reasons, author Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has never reached the dizzying heights of horror fame like Dracula or Frankenstein or the Wolfman.  The story of a good man who creates a devilish concoction that turns him into an evil man, Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has appeared many times on stage and film and even cartoons.  Famed actor John Barrymore played the good doctor in a 1920 silent film version of the English classic.  Besides the two versions I will discuss, there have been many other versions of Stevenson's tale and some variations as well such as Hammer Films DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971) in which Jekyll turns into a murderous woman (I haven't seen it yet so don't ask me how he accomplishes this ...yet!).  Julia Roberts played Jekyll's maid in MARY REILLY (1996) and most recently, Mr. Hyde appeared as a computer generated murderous behemoth in both THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003 ) and VAN HELSING (2004).

My first encounter with Jekyll and Hyde was a Warners Bros Bugs Bunny cartoon as a kid called HYDE AND HARE. Bugs Bunny is taken home by Dr. Jekyll where Hyde/Jekyll and Bugs run amok. But why does Jekyll explore his dark side?  What makes him want to become such a vile and evil monstrosity?  I've never read Stevenson's story so with a recent DVD purchase of two DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE films (Paramount's 1932 version and MGM's 1941 version), I began my film research into the world of Jekyll and Hyde.

In the 1932 version, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Dr. Jekyll (played by Fredric March) is an upscale English doctor who loves good music, fine art, and has dedicated his life to helping the afflicted and less fortunate citizens of London as a physician.  While giving a speech at what I assume is a medical school, Jekyll first reveals his interest in the two sides of man -- the good self and the bad self.  His goal is to separate evil from good. Jekyll's engaged to be married to Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) but Muriel's father Brigadier-General Carew (Halliwell Hobbes) won't set a wedding date for the two love birds. Jekyll, a bit impatient that he can't be with the woman he loves sooner, goes out one night with his friend Dr. Lanyon (Holmes Herbert).  As they walk the streets of London, Jekyll rescues a beautiful, lower class music hall girl Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins) from some roughnecks. Helping her back to her room, Jekyll finds himself attracted to the sexually provocative Ivy.

This chance encounter sets Jekyll off on discovering his alter ego -- his sadistic, sexual, animal side.  After hours upon hours in his laboratory, Jekyll drinks a serum that transforms him into the evil Mr. Hyde. Hyde tracks down Ivy in the music hall, terrorizing her, eventually almost imprisoning her in her own apartment.  Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Carew finally gives Jekyll and Muriel a date to be married.  Jekyll swears off Mr. Hyde for good but then Ivy comes to visit him, seeking help from her tormentor Mr. Hyde.  Jekyll promises Ivy she'll never see Hyde again.  But as Jekyll heads to his engagement party that night, he witnesses a violent encounter between a bird and a cat that triggers the transformation of Jekyll back into Hyde without Jekyll even drinking the serum.

Hyde returns to Ivy's apartment with deadly consequences.  Hyde is chased through the streets of London and back to his laboratory where he reveals his terrible secret to Dr. Lanyon.  Hyde is beginning to take over Jekyll.  When a visit to his fiancee Muriel triggers another change into Hyde and he nearly kills Muriel, Lanyon leads the police to Jekyll's residence where Hyde is shot and killed.

I loved the make-up decisions for this version. Fredric March's Mr. Hyde is very ape-like, almost a Neanderthal in top hat and cloak.  Hyde is a brute, a savage and March relishes the role.  Hyde is Jekyll's id, acting upon all the impulses good Victorian men restricted themselves from. It almost seems like Jekyll's sexual frustration from having to wait for permission to marry Mariel drives him to become Hyde. March would end up winning an Academy Award for his performance as Jekyll and Hyde.  Not until Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) would another horror performance win an Oscar.

For those expecting this 1932 version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE to be tame, think again.  This film has more menacing violence and open sexuality then anything I had expected in a film from the 1930's. This version of JEKYLL AND HYDE is pre-code meaning it was able to get away with some images and themes that moral censors would soon clamp down on in future films. Miriam Hopkins oozes promiscuity as Ivy Pearson, exposing bare thigh and cleavage to Jekyll as he tends to her injury early in the film.  Jekyll and Ivy even kiss openly on her bed, usually taboo for films of this era.  Fredric March's Hyde torments Ivy both mentally and physically.  "I'm no gentleman," Hyde sneers at her.  Hyde's words hurt her almost as much as his actions.  Mr. Hyde reverberates in today's headlines as "good" husbands and boyfriends abuse women all over the world.

Director Rouben Mamoulian's film making style adds greatly to DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.  Split screen and wipes are used extensively.  Mamoulian opens the film with a long POV (point of view) shot as Dr. Jekyll prepares to attend a party.  For a few minutes, we are Jekyll.  Mamoulian uses several different techniques for March's transformation from Jekyll to Hyde. The most clever is a filter done while filming that allows actor March to transform into Hyde right before our eyes.  It is startling metamorphosis.  Later, Mamoulian reverts to the time lapse change for Hyde that worked so well for Lon Chaney Jr as THE WOLFMAN.

The 1941 version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE has a more famous cast and director and a bigger budget.  Spencer Tracy plays both Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The stunning Lana Turner is Jekyll's fiancee now called Beatrix Emery and playing against type Ingrid Bergman is the bar girl Ivy Peterson (not Pearson like the first film). Directed by Victor Fleming (who directed THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND both in 1939), this JEKYLL AND HYDE follows the 1932 version closely in some aspects and differs in others.

This version does a better job of showing Jekyll's scientific interest in the good and bad side of the human soul.  In the film's opening sequence, we see Jekyll take an interest in a parishioner at his church, injured in a work accident months earlier, exhibits wild behavior when before the accident he had been a loving husband. Director Fleming shows Hyde as a workaholic, already experimenting with animals as he tests serums that make a docile rabbit violent and back to being docile.  The medical establishment as well as Beatrix's stern father Sir Charles Emery (Donald Crisp) won't allow experiments on humans so Jekyll uses himself as a test case.

Tracy's Mr. Hyde make-up is more subtle than March's with just wild hair and thicker eyebrows doing most of the work.  Tracy uses his voice very well to create his own misogynistic Hyde. As he continues to change into Hyde, the make-up gets a little more elaborate.  This JEKYLL AND HYDE has some incredible Freudian dreamscapes during Jekyll's early transformations.  The most outrageous dream montage has Jekyll on a cart pulled by a white and black horse.  He whips furiously at them and the horses transform into the two women in his life - Beatrix (Turner) and Ivy (Bergman).  Another dream sequence has the sexually frustrated Jekyll uncorking Beatrice from a champagne bottle juxtaposed with images of waves crashing and fire billowing.

There's a nice dynamic in the triangle of Jekyll, Beatrix, and Beatrix's father Sir Charles.  Jekyll and Beatrix flirt and sneak kisses at every chance much to the consternation of Sir Charles played with great prudeness by Donald Crisp.  As he holds up their engagement and wedding plans, Sir Charles unwittingly drives Jekyll to cave in to his baser desires and urges, ultimately causing Jekyll to find within himself the terrible Mr. Hyde.

When we first meet Bergman's Ivy, Jekyll (Tracy) and his best friend Dr. John Lanyon (Ian Hunter) rescue her from a drunken thug. Bergman just didn't seem right for the part compared to Miriam Hopkins in the earlier version.  Bergman's Swedish accent is a bit too thick and she doesn't ooze sexiness.  But Bergman's perfomance grows on you. Tracy plays Jekyll a bit more as a charming rogue and sparks do fly when Ivy seduces Jekyll in her apartment.

It's easy to see why great actors like Fredric March or Spencer Tracy wanted to play Dr. Jekyll.  It's two roles in one with each character so vastly different than the other. Tracy's Jekyll is charismatic and sympathetic. His Hyde is chilling as he taunts and harasses waiters and patrons in his quest for Ivy, even bribing the owner of the Palace of Frivolities to fire Ivy so Hyde can control her.  "He ain't a man. He's the devil," Ivy tells Jekyll. Tracy and Bergman have some great scenes as Hyde and Ivy in her apartment and in one terrifying sequence, Hyde (Tracy) throws a bunch of grapes violently at Ivy's (Bergman) face, the fruit hitting her hard, bringing her to tears as he  proclaims, "The world is yours, darling...the moment is mine."  It's a shocking scene.

Director Fleming keeps the mood interesting with plenty of foggy London street sets and Jekyll's impressive laboratory. He's not quite the visionary that Moumalian was but the pace and style of his JEKYLL AND HYDE is comparable to the former.

I was thinking that Dr. Jekyll is a much braver scientist than Dr. Frankenstein in that Frankenstein experiments on dead bodies whereas Jekyll uses his body for his experiments.  Throughout film and pop culture, Jekyll and his alter ego Hyde will materialize in many forms. Comic book characters like Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter ego The Incredible Hulk or Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider Man owe some thanks to Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde.  Films like THE FLY (1958 or 1986) or ALTERED STATES (1980) take the Jekyll/Hyde formula to new levels as good men of science go awry with their experiments.

So which DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is better?  I don't think you can go wrong by watching either one. The first version is a bit more raw and audacious.  The latter film is more slick with bigger stars. Both films have fine performances by all the actors.  So watch the newer version with Spencer Tracy or the older one with Fredric March, whichever one suits your fancy and mood.  Or better yet, be your own Jekyll and Hyde and watch them both.

1 comment:

  1. The first film is very intense. In my past I lived riotously with drugs, crime, manipulation, fear, hate, struggles, debauchery, incontinence and finally salvation. This film comprehensively portrays the way of man to a point that is frighteningly accurate. I do not think a person can fully understand what a profound movie this is unless they have lived two lives- one good and one evil. Bravo! My new fav film.