Skip to main content

Film Fri(Satur)day: "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931)

This week's "Film Friday" is a very special one. Since it is Halloween, I thought it was only fitting if I told a little bit about what is considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time (incidentally, this is the only classic horror picture I have seen so far). However, with the Universal Pictures Blogathon, I was not able to post this on time, so this week's "Film Friday" is actually a "Film Fri(Satur)day," which makes it even more appropriate.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) tells the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March), a respected physician in Victorian London who is convinced that man lives with an eternal struggle between his good and evil sides. One evening, Jekyll attends a party at the home of his fiancé, Muriel (Rose Hobart), and asks her father, Brigadier General Sir Danver Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), permission to marry her earlier than they had originally planned, but he sternly refuses. Later, while walking home with his colleague, Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert), Jekyll saves bar singer Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins) from the advances of a brutish attacker. Ivy then tries to seduce Jekyll, but he resists her charms.

Meanwhile, the Carews leave London for a few months and Jekyll develops a potion to bring forward the evil persona within himself so that it can be anihilated. In doing so, however, he transforms into Mr. Edward Hyde, a hideous creature without compassion or remorse. As "Mr. Hyde," Jekyll then goes to the music hall where Ivy works and promises to tend to her financial needs in return for her company. Although repulsed by him, she accepts his offer, but Hyde soon becomes violent, torturing her physically and pshycologically. When Ivy goes to see Jekyll and begs him to save her from Hyde, he realizes the pain that he (Hyde) has caused her and gives his word that she will never see Hyde again. Later, however, on his way to the Carews' home to celebrate their return, Jekyll suddenly changes into Hyde again, without the use of his potion, and kills Ivy. Turning back into Jekyll, he realizes the monster that he really is and goes to the Carews' to break his engagement. As he arrives, he transforms into Hyde again and assaults Muriel, who is saved by her father. Enraged, Hyde viciously murders Sir Danvers and then runs aways, just as the police arrive and chase him back to Jekyll's lab. He changes back into Jekyll, but when the police reach the lab, he becomes Hyde again and is fatally shot by one of the officers. As the evil Mr. Hyde dies, he transforms one last time into the good Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Henry Jekyll: Oh, God. This I did not intend. I saw a light, but did not know where it was headed. I have tresspassed on your domain. I've gone further than man should go. Forgive me. Help me!

One day in late 1885, Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson announced to his family that he was "working on a new story that came to him in a dream, and that he was not to be interrupted or disturbed even if the house caught fire." After writing furiously for three days, he revealed that his new story told of a "seemingly respectable" Dr. Jekyll, who invented a potion that transformed him into another person, the "bestial murderer" Mr. Hyde. Upon hearing this, Stevenson's wife, Fanny, pointed out that he had "missed the allegory" and suggested he turn the wicked Dr. Jekyll into a good man who has trouble controlling his evil instincts, as though he represented "the dual nature of Victorian society: prim and proper on the surface, unrestrained and lewd underneath." Following Fanny's advice, Stevenson threw his manuscript into the fire and re-wrote the story in six days, naming it Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Published in January 1886, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was an instant success on both sides of the Atlantic. The Victorian England which birthed the novella was both shocked and fascinated by it. While the story openly defied the concept most valued by the Victorian rulling class, "moral propriety," it was also the perfect description of the "outward respectability and inward lust" that characterized the largely hypocritical English society of the time. In 1888, Stevenson's short novel was adapted for the London stage, but its run was cut short by accusations that it encouraged a series of gruesome murders by the killer known as Jack the Ripper. Since then, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become a worldwide favorite and the phrase 'Jekyll and Hyde' has even entered the language of psychiatry in association with the rare mental condition called dissociative identity disorder, or "split personality," where within the same body there exists more than one distinct personality.

Fredric March and Rouben Mamoulian
on the set
As Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson's novella has been adapted for the screen numerous times, beginning with a now lost one-reeler released in 1909. Two of the earliest surviving versions include a 1912 short starring James Cruze and a silent film made by Paramount Pictures in 1920 with John Barrymore in the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde. However, neither of these adaptations nor the subsequent ones have the same prestige as Paramount's 1931 Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, widely regarded as the most remarkable screen version of Stevenson's story.

Paramount's decision to produce a second adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was in response to the enormous success of Universal's Dracula (1931), which had whetted the American moviegoing public's appetite  for horror pictures. To helm Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Paramount hired newcomer Rouben Mamoulian, who had been a stage designer and director before coming to Hollywood in the late 1920s. Mamoulian's morally complex interpretation of Stevenson's novella did not involve the usual theme of "good versus evil," but "the spiritual versus the animalistic," with Hyde representing a "primeval man" rather than a monster. As a result, his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde focuses on the relationship between man and nature and the consequences of instinct repressed and distorted, transcending the horror genre by aiming "not to frighten, but to entertain and disturb." Mamoulian's version also emphasized something that was absent from the original story, the contrasting characters of two leading ladies, Jekyll's upper-class fiancé and Hyde's promiscuous music hall singer, both of which had been created by playwright Thomas Russell Sullivan for his 1887 stage adaptation.

Transformation from Jekyll to Hyde
Paramount wanted middle-aged character actor Irving Pichel to star, but Mamoulian thought "Jekyll should be young and handsome" and pursued instead 34-year-old Fredric March, who had just received his first Oscar nomination for his performance in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930). Although hesitant to play a monster, or even an animal in Mamoulian's term, March was attracted to the psychology of the role and soon accepted the offer. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also provided a golden opportunity for him to break away from the mostly light comedies he had appeared in until then and showcase his dramatic acting abilities.

The shambling image of the Neanderthal man was Mamoulian's model for Hyde's appearance, complete with protuding false teeth and hairy hands created by make-up artist Wally Westmore, who also used pieces of surgical cotton to force open his eyes, drooping the lower lids to suggest "an animalistic leer." To accomplish the remarkable Jekyll-to-Hyde transition scenes, Mamoulian and expert cameraman Karl Struss, winner of the first ever Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on F. W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927), covered March's face with specially toned make-up, exposed in stages to a series of variously colored filters to reveal the beastly aspect of Hyde. As an eerie accompaniment to the transformation sequences, Mamoulian applied a sound collage combining the recorded sound of his own heartbeat with the reverberations of a gong played in reverse. Because of the heavy make-up that almost damaged his face permanently, March later called Hyde the most "unpleasant" role of his career.

I conceived Mr. Hyde as more than just Dr. Jekyll's inhibited evil nature, I saw the beast as a separate entity — one who could, and almost did, little by little, overpower and annihilate Dr. Jekyll [...] To me, those repeated appearances of the beast within him were more than just a mental strain on Jekyll — they crushed him physically as well. I tried to bring this out by increasing lines and shadows of Jekyll's makeup as the picture progressed, until, in the last scenes, he looked as though he already had one foot in the grave. Hyde was killing Jekyll physically as well as mentally.
(Fredric March)

Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson
Mamoulian wanted the "big-boned and bovine" newcomer Miriam Hopkins to play Soho temptress Ivy Pearson, but she thought the part was "unsympathetic" and campaigned instead for Muriel Carew, "the safe character." To convince her to take on the role, Mamoulian "walked out on her and snapped: 'All right, that makes it easy, I'll have no trouble finding someone to play Ivy. Half the actresses in Hollywood would give their eye teeth for the part.' She called me back and gave in." The role of Muriel was then given to another newcomer, Rose Hobart, who had recently made her film debut in Frank Borzage's drama Liliom (1930).

Although at the time "censorship was lax and Hollywood made the most of it," the erotic nature of Ivy's scenes still caused some agitation within the Hays Office. In August 1931, the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP) advised Paramount studio chief B. P. Schulberg against the line in which Ivy tells Hyde, "Take me!" and Hyde's line, "I am going to take you!" deeming the dialogue "overly brutal" and "too suggestive." Additional caution was recommended for the scene in which Hyde snaps Ivy's garter, as well as for the reference to her "customers." The censors also objected to a sequence that showed Ivy undress in front of Jekyll when he first comes to her room because it was too long, stating that it should not drag "simply to titillate the audience." Despite the warnings, the Hays Office praised Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as "magnificently done" and passed it without making any cuts to the finished product. However, the unbridled violence and sexual undertones of the story finally alarmed the Hollywood censors in 1935 during a crackdown on films released before the Production Code was rigorously enforced. In order for the picture to be re-issued, Paramount had to eliminate the undressing scene and the line in which Jekyll tells Ivy he "wants her."

The set of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Paramount was confident enough in the film to grant Mamoulian seven weeks of shooting time and a budget of $500,000, twice the cost of most A-pictures at the time. Art director Hans Dreier brought a German expressionist aesthetic of menace to the streets and interiors of Victorian London in 35 historically accurate sets constructed to allow the greatest variety of camera angles and control over lighting, rain and fog. Mamoulian explained that camera angles "must be used to match the dramatic angle of the scene, never for their own sake," adding that the angle "definitely enters the realm of the psychological. It can convey the underlying significance of a sense as nothing else can."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York on December 31, 1931 and it was an instant critical and commercial hit, becoming one of the biggest money-makers of 1932. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, for instance, wrote that the film "emerges as a far more tense and shuddering affair than it was as John Barrymore's silent picture." Much of Hall's praise was directed at Fredric March, whom he called a "stellar performer," adding that "[his] portrayal is something to arouse admiration, even taking into consideration the camera wizardry. As Dr. Jekyll he is a charming man, and as the fiend he is alert and sensual." Hall finished his review by noting that "Miriam Hopkins does splendidly as the unfortunate Ivy [and] Rose Hobart is clever as the sympathetic Muriel," additionally commending the detailed settings for enhancing the scenes.

At the 5th Academy Awards on November 18, 1932, March won his first Oscar for Best Actor, "tying" with Wallace Berry for his work in the boxing drama The Champ (1931), though the Academy later revealed that March had in fact topped Beery by one vote. In addition, Karl Struss received a second nomination for Best Cinematography, while Percy Heath and Samuel Hoffenstein were mentioned for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although Miriam Hopkins did not win an Academy Award for her acclaimed performance, her Ivy reigns as the top "bad girl" of Horror's Golden Age, even though Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was largely "lost" for decades. As Gregory William Mank writes, "the theatricality and ferocity of the actress work in the character's favor; those piggy eyes and hungry smile suit a Soho streetwalker making her all the more striking in her climatic humiliation and horror."

Publicity still for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

While I am not a huge fan of the horror/gothic genre in general, I did like Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, which I think captured the decadent charm of Victorian London perfectly, in addition to offering a reasonable examination of the duality of human nature. In contrast, I did not enjoy Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at all. Firstly, I think the female characters are a pointless addition to the story and Ivy ultimately turned Hyde into an oversexed creature rather than the menacing beast that he should have been. Furthermore, Fredric March, although effective as the tormented Jekyll, was too twitchy as Hyde, making the character look a bit silly at times. Neverthless, I do have to praise the film for its amazing sets and visual effects as well as Mamoulian's expert direction, all of which succeeded in imbuing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the same dark atmosphere that is present in Stevenson's original story.


_______________________________
SOURCES:
Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film by David J. Hogan (1986) | Horror and the Horror Film by Bruce K. Kawin (2012) | Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen by David Lurhssen (2013) | "On My Way": The Untold Story of Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin and 'Porgy and Bess' by Joseph Horowitz (2013) | Robert Louis Stevenson: Finding Treasure Island by Angelica Shirley Carpenter and Jean Shirley (1997) | Women in Horror Films, 1930s by Gregory William Mank (1999) | IMDb | TCMDb (Article) | TCMDb (Notes) | The New York Times contemporary review by Mordaunt Hall

Comments

  1. I'm puzzled how you think Hyde isn't menacing at all in this version, you sell this, objectively speaking, masterpiece of horror quite short in your review.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an