Based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Henry Jekyll believes that there are two distinct sides to men - a good and an evil side. He believes that by separating the two man can become liberated. He succeeds in his experiments with chemicals to accomplish this and transforms into Hyde to commit horrendous crimes. When he discontinues use of the drug it is already too late...Written by
Mark J. Popp <email@example.com>
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 richer experience.
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.
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