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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr. Henry Jekyll experiments with scientific means of revealing the hidden, dark side of man and releases a murderer from within himself.

Director:

(as Charles J. Hayden)

Writers:

(scenario) (as Charles J. Hayden), (novel)
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Cast

Cast overview:
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Alex Shannon ...
Dr. Lanyon (as Alexander Shannon)
Dora Mills Adams ...
...
Harold Foshay ...
Edward Utterson (as Harold Forshay)
Leslie Austin ...
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Storyline

In this third version of the classic Stevenson novel filmed in 1920, Jekyll, dreaming he develops a potion which separates the good and evil sides of his personality, decides upon awaking that the consequences of his experiments are too dangerous and abandons them. Written by Doug Sederberg <vornoff@sonic.net>

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A Brilliant American Version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Great Morality Masterpiece

Genres:

Short | Drama | Horror

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Release Date:

April 1920 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dr Džekil i g. Hajd  »

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1.33 : 1
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The setting is contemporary New York. See more »

Connections

Version of Mary Reilly (1996) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Sheldon Lewis takes his place among the immortals, alongside Pia Zadora and Ed Wood, Jr.
23 March 2003 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

I've seen this version of R. L. Stevenson's famous, much-filmed story only once, over 30 years ago, but it was a truly memorable experience. There are moments which remain vivid in my memory even today, not because it was a great film or even a good one, but for quite the opposite reason. Before describing the circumstances under which I saw it, however, I should clarify that this particular version should not be confused with the far superior one starring John Barrymore that was also produced in 1920. Certainly anyone who has seen both movies could not mistake one for the other, any more than one could mistake a two-dollar bottle of Malt Liquor for fine claret, and yet I know of one occasion when this occurred . . . concerning the films, I mean, not the booze.

When I was a kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was a local museum that offered a silent movie every Sunday afternoon. The prints tended to be battered, washed-out 16mm dupes, projected at the wrong speed and without music in a room which could not be adequately darkened. Needless to add, these were not optimum conditions for one's introduction to the works of Griffith, Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, etc., but in those pre-cable, pre-video days, it was just about the only way to see the films. Comedies usually transcended this treatment, but silent dramas suffered badly. To make matters worse, most of my fellow viewers -- and usually there weren't many -- seemed to believe that all silent films are, by definition, funny, so accordingly they'd hoot 'n' holler at them silly Old-Time flickers.

Nonetheless, it was exciting to learn that the museum would be showing the John Barrymore version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for I'd wanted to see that one ever since I first heard about it. I attended the screening with a friend, both of us in a state of high anticipation. But perhaps you've already guessed the punchline: Yep, they got the wrong print. Imagine our disappointment when, without explanation or apology, the projectionist started the film, the opening credits flashed on the screen, and we learned that our featured player for the afternoon was someone named Sheldon Lewis. Who the hell is Sheldon Lewis, you ask? Well, as it turned out, he was a guy who starred in a really bad version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and this was one occasion when our fellow viewers' mockery of silent drama was fully justified and richly deserved, for this movie proved to be one of those so-bad-it's-funny experiences that gets better (i.e., worse and therefore funnier) as it goes along. Indeed, once we'd recovered from our disappointment at missing Barrymore, my friend and I couldn't help but join in the laughter.

The casting was only the first of several surprises we encountered. The second was that, instead of setting the story in late Victorian London, the producers had updated it to "contemporary" New York, doubtless because it was easier on the budget that way. Next we found that, in place of the kindly if somewhat repressed Dr. Jekyll we were accustomed to, this Jekyll was a wild-eyed radical, a Free Thinker full of decadent liberal notions who boasts of his atheism. Hmmm, we wondered to ourselves; if this is Sheldon Lewis' Jekyll, what is his Hyde going to be like?

We soon found out. And folks, you haven't lived until you've seen Sheldon Lewis' Mr. Hyde, a hairy, eye-rolling, quivering spazz, a crazed Proto-Hippy Clown of Evil. It's an astonishing performance, a thing of twitches, tics, and conniption fits for which the term "hammy" is woefully inadequate. Jerry Lewis (any relation?) could only dream of being this funny. I cherish indelible memories of watching Sheldon Lewis spazzing his way down streets and through alleys while the museum audience, we happy few, roared with laughter. Two images I retain: towards the end, when cops show up to break down the door of Hyde's laboratory, they're dressed in the genuine uniforms of the era which we couldn't help but associate with the Keystone Kops, which of course added to our amusement, but these cops earned their laughs by performing the clumsiest, most inept job of door-crashing ever captured on film. And then, so help me (Warning, "spoilers" ahead, unless you were at the museum that day) Dr. Jekyll wakes up, back in his study where he'd fallen asleep before his fireplace, only to realize that none of it -- the potion, the transformations, the murders, the ludicrous over-acting -- none of it had happened because, yes, It Was All a Dream, a Horrible Dream! Instantly reformed, Jekyll leaps up a changed man, throws his notebooks into the fire, renounces his Free Thinking ways and yelps: "I believe in God!" And for the finale, unless my memory deceives me, I believe Jekyll actually sees a glowing figure of Jesus over his fireplace, and kneels humbly before the Savior as the image fades out.

Just an hour or two earlier none of us had ever heard of Sheldon Lewis, but by the end of the screening that day the man was a hero and his work had conquered all skeptics. I recommend this film heartily, but respectfully suggest that, for best results, it should be viewed in the appropriate frame of mind, i.e. at least three sheets to the wind, in a room full of like-minded, Free Thinking bad cinema enthusiasts.


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