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Dr. Jekyll believes good and evil exist in everyone. Experiments reveal his evil side, named Hyde. Experience teaches him how evil Hyde can be: he kills Ivy who earlier expressed interest in Jekyll and Sir Charles, Jekyll's fiancée's father. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Best Large Screen Version of DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE?
The 1931 version of DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, and it starred Fredric March in the dual title role. It won the star the Best Actor Oscar, the only time that award was won for a horror film role (or a science fiction part). Mamoulian experimented at the start, and in one key sequence with the "I am a camera" technique, wherein the viewer was treated like he was seeing things from the perspective of the character of Jeckyll. Jeckyll himself was supposed to look like an early form of prehistoric man - nearly an ape. It's still a good performance, but many feel it is too stylized.
Ten years later MGM decided to do the property again, this time with Spencer Tracy. Tracy actually decided to follow a more classical approach to the role. He eschewed the make-up that March (and in the silent film, John Barrymore) used for the evil Hyde, and used a combination of facial contortions and lighting to change his appearance from the good doctor to his evil counterpart.
One would like to say that it works. It worked pretty well in 1888 for Richard Mansfield in his celebrated stage performance. But Mansfield could play with the theater lighting to create the physical change on stage. It was an amazing stage effect. It can't be done as well on film (or at least in a 1941 film - computerization might help today). Tracy's grimacing face does not look much different from his serious, good natured face for the Doctor. Even with the lights concentrating on his eyes it still doesn't look that different.
The result is that the audience has to make a logical jump and say that there was a physical change, in order to accept the story line. Otherwise, everyone would say that Jeckyll and Hyde is the same guy in the movie.
Fortunately Tracy's acting allows us to make such a logical jump. He was a terrific actor, and he certainly uses a subtlety in his evil that is unnerving. Except for his Arnold Boult in EDWARD MY SON he never portrayed as evil a character.
The best scene to catch Tracy's Hyde at it's best is when he is visiting his mistress Ivy. She had been hoping he would not come, but she was drinking when he arrives - to steady her nerves. No wonder - Hyde is like a cat toying with a mouse as he plays with Ivy. He plays the piano and keeps discounting various things that he and Ivy could do if they leave the apartment (as she would hope - if they are in public she has a better chance for help). But he keeps finding reasons not to do things, so that (in his opinion) it is better for them to stay at home. And even at home, they have limited options. "You could read to me," Hyde sweetly says, "But we do not have the book!" A later scene where he surprises a sleeping Lana Turner on a park bench, leering at her, is also unnerving. You never see Tracy like that in other films.
Bergman's Ivy is to be compared with Miriam Hopkins in the earlier film. Both realize that Dr. Jeckyll is sexually interested in them, and both secretly hope to catch him (not realizing that he has caught them in his bad personality). But Hopkins always seemed prepared to act like a prostitute (in the 1931 film she readily shows off her leg for March's Jeckyll). But Bergman is more tragic in a way. She has a job as a bar maid that she is serious about (Hopkins was more of an "entertainer"). Bergman's Ivy is friendly but seemingly careful, and unfortunately she falls under the gaze of an unscrupulous man.
Interestingly in the 1931 film Hopkins was singing a version of an actual tune called "Champaign Charlie is my name", changing it to "Champaign Ivy is my name." She sings it happily at first, but when March demands her singing it, she sings it haltingly and frightened. Bergman sings a jaunty number, "Do you want to dance the polka?" at the bar, but is forced to sing it (as Hopkins did the other song) in a broken version for Tracy. Interestingly enough, when Michael Caine appeared in 1988 in a two part television film about Jack the Ripper, the music in a scene involving three of the Ripper's prostitute victims used "Do you want to dance the polka?" as background music, and I believe it was not a 19th song at all, but composed for the 1941 film.
Rose Hobart played the role of General Carew's daughter (Jeckyll's respectable fiancé) in the 1931 film. There was nothing especially interesting about her (except she was pretty), so she did not do much in that film. But Lana Turner was was a rising star, and her part got built up a bit with some scenes alone with Tracy. She also appears in a sexual fantasy sequence as one of a pair of "horses" (with Bergman) that Tracy is riding. And there is that "leering" sequence where Tracy as Hyde frightens her. Turner did nicely in the role, although Bergman's part was more interesting.
The supporting parts are equally good, with Donald Crisp as the doomed father of Turner, Aubrey Smith as the righteous Bishop Manners (who is thrown momentarily by a noisy Barton MacLane in his congregation, jeering at the Bishop's homilies about Christian goodness), and MacLane himself in the brief sequence as the insane man with no compunction about doing evil.
I like Tracy's version - on most points it is better acted than the 1931 version. But March's make-up, no matter how strange it looks, still is more acceptable than Tracy's dependence on light and shadows.
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