I've seen many Spencer Tracy films, but he isn't one of my favorites. He was rarely convincing. Couldn't buy him as Portuguese in "Captain's Courageous," less convincing in "Tortilla Flat" as a Mexican-American, too old for his role in "Bad Day at Black Rock," and not believable as a Cuban in "The Old Man and the Sea." He was better in comedies like "Libeled Lady," and "Adam's Rib," but where he really shined was as doctors. He plays opposite Hedy Lamarr in "I Take This Woman," a not very good film, but with a fine and believable performance by Tracy as the doctor in love with her.
His finest performance, however, is "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," a film often unfavorably compared to the '31 film. Frederick March is on par with Tracy as an actor. He too overplayed, but Tracy could reach a higher level when he was in top form, and there is no better example of this than the two "Jekyll and Hyde."
Part of the problem with the '31 directed by Rouben Mamoulian was the concept for Hyde, a hairy Simian type beast. March does the best he can with that mouthful of teeth, but his Hyde is too much a monster and less human than the Tracy. This is where the '41 directed by Victor Fleming, excels. March overplayed Hyde, and his Jekyll had many corny moments. What Tracy brought to Jekyll was believability as someone in the medical profession, someone who even before transforming himself, somehow conveys a perverse longing to visit the dark side.
March never scares me like Tracy. What Tracy brings to Hyde is subtle and insidious. Remarkably evil. You can see it in his eyes, in his smile, in how he uses his voice like a snake constricting around Ivy. Tracy's scenes with Ingrid Bergman are uncomfortable to watch because of the hideous way he plays with her sense of well-being. These same scenes were in the March version, but don't create the same pathos.
Miriam Hopkins was a fine actress, and she did very well opposite March, but she's no Bergman. Neither was the character Ivy in the early film as well conceived. Hopkins' Ivy is a somewhat unhappy tart, and her tease of Jekyll at the beginning where we see her swing her leg back and forth is more a conniving entrapment than Bergman's playful Ivy. The 1941 version is far more emotional because of Bergman's Ivy. Her Ivy may be a tart, but Bergman convinces us she's got a sweet inner core deep within. When she is terrorized and murdered by Hyde, it's hard to take. The girl Hyde destroys in the '41 has a steeper fall from grace, and her end is more pitiable.
The scene where Ivy comes to visit Dr. Jekyll and shows him the wounds inflicted on her back by Hyde has more resonance than the earlier film. This is not because of Hopkins, who is on a par with Bergman in that scene, but because March lays it on thick. Tracy's guilt is more palpable, and we want to believe him when he tells Bergman's Ivy that she will never see Hyde again. When Hyde does return to Ivy, his appearance is all the more hurtful for we, like Ivy, wanted to believe Jekyll.
I do prefer the '31 gas lit London and its enclosed, more claustrophobic, rickety streets, but the fog enshrouded London of the '41 is suitably moody and depressing.
Years ago I saw a screening of the '41 with a friend who was put off by how depressing it was. Yes, this is true. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a very dark, depressing story. Hyde kills Ivy, he kills his fiancé's father, and he actually kills Jekyll as well. He's a vicious brute that brings calamity wherever he goes. I've seen both films many times, but the '41 is the one that continues to pull emotion. This is due to Tracy and Bergman, as well as Fleming's direction. Mamoulian was a great director, but Fleming was his equal.
The score by Franz Waxman is beautifully tragic, something missing from the '31. In the earlier we have Bach's Toccata and Fugue as a segue to the famous POV sequence reveal of Dr. Jekyll. The Waxman score works in the song "Can You See Me Dance the Polka," and it becomes a taunt for Hyde to invade Ivy's soul. "Champagne Ivy" in the '31 doesn't have the same gaiety.
The '41 has some laughable symbolism during the first transformation of Jekyll riding a carriage and whipping his horses, which become Bergman and Lana Turner (the fiancé). This stands out as a bad decision by the screen writers. Fortunately, that sort of thing is not repeated. The '31 has more of it. There's the statue of the angel embracing a woman that we see as Hyde kills Ivy, the cat attacking the bird when Jekyll is overwhelmed by Hyde in the park and the boiling cauldron at the end. These are just as heavy-handed. The park scene in the '41 is improved by Jekyll's whistling suddenly becoming Ivy's song, the suggestion Hyde is taking over. Much better.
The '31 is lauded for it's transformation scenes, but the makeup is obvious, particularly the painted nostrils and the use of filters to reveal the make-up. Tracy depends more on his performance. He brings believability to both Jekyll and Hyde.
There have been many versions of this story and I've seen most, but the Tracy remains my favorite. It's main drawback is it's similarity to the '31, but in just about every case, the '41 has more impact. If you haven't seen the '31 see the '41 first, then go back and see the older. You'll see how much subtlety gets lost.
7 out of 8 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.