Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story: Doctor Henry Jekyll's enthusiasm for science and his selfless acts of service have made him a much-admired man. But as he visits Sir George Carew one evening, his host criticizes him for his reluctance to experience the more sensual side of life. Sir George goads Jekyll into visiting a music hall, where he watches the alluring dancer Gina. Jekyll becomes fascinated with the two contrasting sides of human nature, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of separating them. After extensive work in his laboratory, he devises a formula that does indeed allow him to alternate between two completely different personalities, his own and that of a brutish, lascivious person whom he names Hyde. It is not long before the personality of Hyde begins to dominate Jekyll's affairs. Written by
When Jekyll is pondering to drink the potion for the first time, we see the glass he's to drink from is half filled with potion. In the next shot when Jekyll brings the glass up to his lips the glass is empty. See more »
Sir George Carew:
[Obviously attracted to her]
My dear Lady Camden, a beautiful woman like you is Paradise for the eyes - - but Hell for the soul!
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Except for John Barrymore whose name appears above the title, actors were not originally credited in this movie at the start or at the end. Instead, four additional actors and their character names are credited in the inter-titles right before they appear on-screen. See more »
Directed by John S. Robertson and starring matinée idol John Barrymore in the dual title role, 1920's DR. JECKYLL & MR. HYDE is sometimes described as the "first American horror film." That description is more than a little problematic, but whether it was or it wasn't, DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE certainly put the horror genre on the Hollywood map.
Whether or not you happen to like this particular version of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson tale will depend a great deal upon your tolerance for the change in acting styles that has occurred between the silent and the modern era. Some silent stars--Lillian Gish, Ramon Novarro, and Louise Brooks leap to mind--were remarkably subtle and worked to create a new style of acting appropriate to the screen, but most actors played very broadly. John Barrymore, considered one of the greatest actors of his day, is among the latter, and was noted for his larger-than-life performances on stage. He brings that same expansiveness to the screen, where it inevitably feels "too big" to the modern viewer.
At the time, Barrymore's transformation into the evil Mr. Hyde was considered shocking in its realism, but today these celebrated scenes are more likely to induce snickers than thrills--as will much of Hyde's make-up, which seems excessive to the modern sensibility. Even so, there are aspects of the film which survive quite well, scenes in which one is permitted a glimpse into the power this film once had. For Barrymore's Hyde is, for all his bizarre ugliness, a remarkably seductive creature--and Barrymore uses his hands and eyes in a remarkable way. One feels the sexual pull as much as one feels the revulsion.
The 1920 DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE is available in several VHS and DVD releases. Some of these are quite good, but I generally recommend the Kino version, which offers a good picture, good soundtrack, and several interesting bonuses. Although other releases may seem attractive in price, it's been my experience that you generally get what you pay for.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, reviewer
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