Thomas Bailey Aldrich's poem is dramatized in triptych. In the center panel, a young man muses on the seashore where mermaids beckon, then he walks through the woods, accompanied by ... See full summary »
Dr. Pyckle, a respected British scientist, searches for the correct combination of chemicals for a powerful potion. Once he finds it, he tries it on himself. But instead of the wonderful effect the doctor had hoped for, the potion turns him into the diabolical Mr. Pride, a fiend who outwits police at every turn while scouring London for fresh victims -- of practical jokes.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Stan Laurel (pre-Hardy) appeared in several short comedies that were parodies of big-budget Hollywood dramas. Although most of these are quite funny, all (with one exception) are seriously weakened by extremely low budgets. 'Dr Pyckle and Mr Pryde' is the exception; not only is this movie hilarious, but it benefits from some elaborate exterior and interior sets evoking Victorian London. In the early 1980s, when I interviewed Joe Rock (this movie's producer), he recalled that he had obtained access to sets on the Universal Pictures lot, and costumes from Universal's wardrobe department.
By 1925, there had already been several film versions of 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', including the bootleg 'Der Januskopf' and at least one parody. Modern audiences, who know Jekyll and Hyde from films rather than from literature, usually miss an important point: in Stevenson's original novel, Mr Hyde is clearly much shorter and much younger than Dr Jekyll, making it truly a shock when we learn that they are the same man. In film adaptations, Jekyll is usually played as a comparatively youthful man, and nearly always portrayed by the same actor who also plays Hyde ... so we find it implausible that the other characters fail to guess they're the same person.
Although Stan Laurel is playing for comedy here, his performance as Mr Pryde is a revelation. Rather than wearing elaborate make-up, he merely puffs out his expressive face, dons a wig and hunches his head into his shoulders. There's also some extremely subtle padding under Laurel's coat, making Mr Pryde a slightly bulkier man than Dr Pyckle. At this point in his pre-Hardy career, Laurel was learning that he'd get bigger laughs by underplaying rather than by chewing the scenery. Here, though, he still has a couple of hand-to-brow moments ... acceptable because he's guying a serious story.
There's a dog here cried Pete the Pup, who may or mayn't be the same canine who appeared as Pete the Dog in some Our Gang comedies. I've never understood why it's allegedly so funny that a dog in the movies has a ring painted round one eye ... did any real dog ever have such a mark? Still, I was intrigued here to see a packet labelled 'Dog Cakes', a phrase one doesn't see very often these days.
I was delighted to spot the London-born Syd Crossley in this film, under Victorian side-whiskers. Two decades later, Crossley would be back in his native England and working with George Formby and Cicely Courtneidge. Joe Rock told me that Crossley had been his assistant in Los Angeles, and supplied entree to British film circles when he accompanied Rock to England in the 1930s.
'Dr Pyckle and Mr Pryde' is hilarious from start to finish. If all of Stan Laurel's early comedies had been this good, he would never have needed to team up with Oliver Hardy. I'm certainly glad it happened, though. My rating for this one: 9 out of 10. I wonder if this hilarious movie influenced the classic Two Ronnies sketch 'The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town'.
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