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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Paramount doing Universal better than Universal
did themselves. While this was a cash-in on the genre success of the smaller
studio, if all bandwagons were this well made then cinema would be a much
Oh, it's dated of course. A form of stiff melodrama where women still said things like "Darling... I wish this moment would last forever" and men replied "Oh, I love you... be near me always." And I love how the camera coyly veers away during the kissing scene. An odd dialogue gem is Dr.Jekyll (Frederic March) proclaiming: "We'll be so gloriously happy that even the French will be jealous of us." Look out too for Edgar Norton as Poole, offering advice to Jekyll when told his fiancée will be away for a month. "I beg your pardon, sir," he says, "but may I suggest that you ought to amuse yourself?" Yes, the dialogue is overblown, but in a wonderful, glorious way. Like a great stream-of-consciousness from the pen of a man who sees screen realism as just a petty distraction.
But what really works is the innovation of the film, almost dripping off the celluloid. I don't know if those wipes from scene to scene, the fades and the first-person perspective were originated here, but they're used superbly nonetheless. Often the frame hesitates between wipes, carving the illusion that so much is going on simultaneously that one screen cannot house it all. And the single take transformation (As Hyde says, "What you are about to see is a secret you are sworn not to reveal" it's tinted lens effects were kept hidden for many years) is absolutely magnificent, even 70 years on.
Every single shot is worked out with a mind to an unusual angle, or a unique way of framing things, but never so that it's showy. Often the main action will be taken via longshot, the camera choosing to focus on a sole candelabrum in the foreground while the scene plays out. It's subtexts of bare backs; cleavages, thighs and garter belts are also quite racy for the time. Look how even when Jekyll has left Ivy behind, her seductively rocking leg is merged with the next scene for nearly half a minute to indicate temptation is lingering in his mind. Outstanding.
The sets, too, are unparalleled, street settings often running to several levels and making a mockery of the rival studio's sub-realist fare. The outdoor segments set to rain are exquisite, and look out for an amusing scene the first between Miriam Hopkins and Hyde where they engage in an accidental spitting competition. As he says the phrase "pig sty" an unintentional (?) spray of saliva coats his co-star, while a large globule of phlegm hits him in return as she says "Buckingham Palace."
Weirdly, the Doctor's name is pronounced "Gee-kul", not the commonly held "Jek-ull". I've always thought Jekyll seemed a creepier name than the passive-sounding Hyde. Maybe that's the point, and the duality of such a concept is passed forward by many shots of Hyde seeing his face via a mirror. March is not without the wit to add humour to his other persona (who resembles more Dick Emery's comedy Vicar than anything truly horrific), and is in equal terms expert in both pathos and menace. His physicality in the role also cannot be overlooked. Not only that, but you get the real feeling that you're joining March on a discovery; with each new turn of plot as much a surprise to him as it is to us. This is a real loving performance, a far cry from the "take the money and run" sensibilities of The Wolf Man.
Hyde has his violent moments, threatening to glass a man with a broken bottle "His face was made for it" and intimating rape. It's a showstopping performance and there's even one scene where Hyde appears to break the fourth wall yet he's looking through the camera and into the next room. Mere technicalities are beneath the thoroughly insane Hyde. "I shall go only as far as the door, and the sight of your tears will bring me back" he hisses to a terrified Hopkins with double-meaning menace.
With it's literary script that encompasses both Bach and Shakespeare, it's a lovably fluid, fast-paced piece. Sometimes it's not always subtle take the scene where Hopkins tells Jekyll he's got "the kindest heart in the world" and asks him for a bottle of poison "so I can kill myself, sir." But look at the anguish on March's face as the guilt of his alter ego's actions bleed through. If only all films could be made with such care and love in their craft. Absolutely Tremendous. 9/10.
What happened to movies in the late 30's and early 40's? Why did they
become so stale and stagey? "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" would be
considered downright antique to many of today's casual filmgoers, but
it feels so much more dynamic technically and thematically than many
films that came out later in its decade. The answer, of course, is that
this movie came out before enforcement of the Production Code, at which
time artistry in films--both style and substance--took a nose dive.
This film is worth watching for its stunning camera work alone. It doesn't suffer from any of the awkwardness other films working in the early years of sound do. The camera's always moving, there's terrific use of light and shadow, and the scenes showing the transformation of Jekyll to Hyde are seamlessly filmed in what appear to be uninterrupted shots, leaving you to ponder the sheer physical behind-the-scenes mechanics of them.
But this movie isn't just more technically advanced than films later in the decade; it's more adult in content too. No filming of this story ten years later (I've not seen the Victor Fleming version for comparison) would dare add the level of sexuality that this story does. Fredric March is very good in the dual role, and when he transforms into Mr. Hyde, you can see that it's everything within his power not to rip the dress right off whatever female he happens to be with and mount her right there. I'm not exaggerating; the film is really that frank.
Creepy good fun.
As this film demonstrates, director Rouben Mamoulian (Applause (1929))
and cinematographer Karl Struss (Sunrise (1927)) were two of the great
innovators in renewing the role of the camera for the talkies. Lesser
talents began the talkies much the same as silent films began: with a
static camera. The sound is still creaky, as usual, with awkward
silences, but it's not bothersome. The editing isn't always seamless
here, either, and, at times, makes the film seem unpolished, but that,
too, is minor. This is the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson's
novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", in my opinion,
and that has very little to do with the actual story adaptation, which
comes more from the stage, anyhow. It's the role of the camera that's
I don't mean to say that this adaptation is of little interest; it's especially interesting when compared to the novella and its other adaptations. The 1920-John Barrymore version features a more grotesque Hyde and a stiffer Jekyll. Here, Jekyll is, at first, full of gaiety and youthful exuberance. That's more faithful to the novel, but also reflects the filmmakers' intentions and the changes in Hollywood. The 1920 film was bolder in content in some respects; it was a mood piece of horror and atmosphere. The fogy lamp-lit slums of London are still realized vividly in this one, but much of the feeling in them is lost. On the other hand, the mirror motif comes out more here, which corresponds nicely with the doppelgänger (or doubles) theme inherit in the story. This 1931 film is of the classic Hollywood era. The added emphasis on the romance between Jekyll and Muriel is a result. This version is about more than the story, though; the major focus is in the camera-work.
The film begins with about three and half minutes of long point-of-view takes, with a mobile camera, from the perspective of Dr. Jekyll. It establishes the camera as an active participant in the film, rather than merely a static recorder. Throughout the picture, the camera continually moves--from slight zooms, dollies, pans and tilts to dance-like tracking shots during the party sequence. Additionally, some extreme close-ups show only a character's eyes. A POV shot during Jekyll's first transition into Hyde turns into spinning memories, which is in addition to the special effects that allow for transformations that are seen with fluent, unbroken rhythm from the camera's eye.
The camera positioning is varied, as well, and some shots are extraordinary just in their positions. The photography exploits the sets to greater effect occasionally, and the filmmakers position props with the camera especially well and in rather thematic ways that apply to the story. Yet, the photography is most brilliant when not subject to much scene dissection: long takes that are unbroken and add more fluency to the already tight plot.
One could say this is showy film-making; even the transitional effects seem to draw attention to themselves: lengthy dissolves that linger as superimposed images (such as the image of Ivy's legs over the image of Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon's debate) and wipes that create brief split-screen shots. But, the camera is the most essential part of film-making (along with editing), and it seems negligent to subject it to a role of impotence--to just recording an enacted play. This 1931 "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a cinematic artwork and shows what film should be concerning the role of its most basic apparatus.
It's amazing that years before Sigmund Freud was writing about stuff
like the ego and the id, Robert Louis Stevenson, a great writer, but
not a man of science, was able to grasp at what Freud later said about
human behavior. There lurks in all of us a beast capable of doing great
evil, that man's civilized self is forever trying to control.
Henry Jekyll, London society doctor, is engaging in experiments to prove that theory. He's a gentleman in every sense of the word, engaged to a proper English girl played by Rose Hobart here. It's funny, but in none of the adaptions of this story is it ever explained what could be in the potion that Jekyll concocts and drinks. But drink it he does and Jekyll becomes the simian like Mr. Hyde, evil incarnate itself.
Another reviewer pointed out the film is actually based on a play adapted from the novel and done originally on stage by Richard Mansfield in London. In that play the character of Ivy, a girl no better than she ought to be attracts the attention of Jekyll when he stops a man from assaulting her. He takes her up to her flat and she makes an effort to seduce him. He resists, but the beast within remembers.
This film becomes one of the first to deal with the phenomenon of stalking. Miriam Hopkins is a comely Ivy and Ivy herself is one of the most luckless characters ever created in fiction whether she was in the original story or not.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made movie audiences and critics start to take Fredric March seriously as actor. Up to then he had played a variety of lightweight parts on screen. Even so Paramount after this still insisted on still casting him in those roles after he won an Academy Award for Best Actor. When he got free of that studio contract March got the parts he was so capable of.
When MGM wanted to remake the film for Spencer Tracy they bought not just the rights from Paramount, but the film itself. It was not seen for many years and the VHS version I have of it has an MGM opening logo, but the cast at the end says Paramount. Kind of unusual to say the least.
I do disagree with the application of the term science fiction to this story. Hyde is a beast. But he's not something created by nature or man, nor is he an alien from another world. We all have a Hyde within us, it's how well we control him in our selves, and how well as a society we control the Hydes that would do us harm that deems whether we survive as a society or not.
Hyde is very human, with no superhuman powers and no created weaponry. Takes an extraordinary actor to play Jekyll and Hyde and do it well. Only the best take a crack at it like John Barrymore, Spencer Tracy, Jack Palance, and Kirk Douglas. And March is one of the very best. See for yourself.
A neglected masterpiece. When I picked up the two sided DVD I was excited because the Fleming/Tracy version is on the order of a guilty pleasure. But I soon realized that I had never seen the 1931 version. This is a film that lingers in the memories of many film goers as still photographs of Frederic March in his makeup. Watching it was a revelation. The same changes to original content - Jekyl's bride-to-be and her family - continue to wear wearily on the production, but nothing could prepare me for March's work. As often as we've seen "transformations" - this one is the BEST. Then young lion director Rouben Mamouilan pulls out some dandy tricks. And the sexually charged atmosphere before the Hayes code - was well - sexy as hell. Do yourself a favor and watch it.
An exceptional cast and intelligent direction seals the quality of the first 'talkie' version of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale. Often hailed as the best of the many screen adaptations of the story, director Robert Moumalin exploits the symbolic potential of the tale as well as boldly tapping into popular Freudian trends concerning sexual repression. The result is not a by-the-numbers rendition but an effective interpretation with quirks and dimensions of its own. Yet the film belongs to Frederic March who scooped an Oscar for his sensational dual role. Although as Jekyll he unfortunately has to trade flowery romantic dialogue with Rose Hobart, there can be no disputing the menace of his Hyde, with his simian-like appearance, top hat, cloak and cane, who turns cockney hooker Miriam Hopkins' life into a nightmare. It's a breathtaking transformation both physically (thanks to stellar make-up and special effects) and artistically and is undoubtedly the centrepiece of this excellent vintage classic.
For all the existing film versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" (1886), this 1931 Paramount
offering starring the incomparable Frederic March is probably the best.
None quite follow the original book, whose tale is actually told
backwards in a way. The book does not follow a series of linear events
that lead to the so-called "transformation". Instead, rumors of a
strange man surface between two characters in the very opening. We
learn about Hyde first before Jekyll, which is not the way any film
adaptation has ever told the story.
Still, the present film has a lot going for it. At the forefront is Frederic March in the classic dual role of good and evil. When he first becomes Hyde, I thought another actor was playing the role, it's that good! Another distinctive aspect is the camera work which must have been extremely innovative for its time. The opening moments are shot with a first person perspective. The transformation is done relatively seamlessly considering CGI effects had yet to be invented. There are other moments of shadows and dark corridors. The atmospheric fog that permeates the entire film is worth the price of admission.
As stated by other reviewers, some of the dialog hearkens back to an earlier era of the Vaudeville Melodrama. Characters didn't just love each other, they loved each other for eternity! Still a fine film all things considered, dated perhaps in places, but still March's performance is unbeatable, and definitely deserved of the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of split personality has been filmed before in 1920 with John Barrymore and in 1941 with Spencer Tracy, but Rouben Mamoulian's expressionist 1931 version stands head and shoulders above the rest. First of all, you have Fredric March, whose tour-de-force performance as the good-natured Jekyll and the monstrous Hyde earned him the Best Actor Oscar. Second, the camera work by Karl Struss brilliantly captures the mood of the story. And lastly, the transformation sequences set an enormous precedent for the later monster movies. It all blends together to form one of most amazing horror movies of the 1930's. Even today, it still has the power to mesmerize and send chills down the spine of even the most hardened horror fan.
I haven't read Stevenson's famous novel, but this film is adapted from a play which is supposedly a lot different anyway. The story is really not especially great. A scientist makes a potion that turns him into a total spazz. The spazz version ruins Dr. Jekyll's romance with Rose Hobart and tortures a loose woman, played by Miriam Hopkins. The film turns out to be completely amazing, however, thanks to the lead performance, by Fredric March, and the elegant direction by Rouben Mamoulian. Every time I see March in a film, I become more impressed by his range. Of course, this is a perfect vehicle to demonstrate one's range, and he excels as both Jekyll and Hyde, though his Hyde is what most will remember. Looking at his filmography, Mamoulian directed relatively few films for a director of his era (not to mention talent). I need to see more, most notably Love Me Tonight, but he will always be a genius in my book for Queen Christina. His direction of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is beautiful and nearly flawless. A lot of the film is made from the direct point-of-view of Jekyll, and he uses a first-person technique that works brilliantly. Between March and Mamoulian, the general silliness of the story is completely made up for. March's female co-stars, Hopkins and Hobart, are quite good, as well.
I recently picked up a DVD with both copies of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde one starring Frederic March from 1931 and the latter with Spencer Tracy in 1941. What I found interesting is how great the special effects were as Jekyll transformed into Hyde. It was amazing considering that it was 1931. Miriam Hopkins was vivacious and appealed nicely to the dark sexual side of Hyde. This version gave a fleeting glimpse of skin that would not be seen post code. But that is not the appeal the real attraction is March who is stellar in his portrayal of both characters. The pennance Jekyll does as he laments his murder makes for a neat ending and his transformation as he dies back to the good doctor.
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