One man is a paragon of virtue. The other is a murderous creature of the London night. They are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And they are the same person. Best Actor Academy Award winner Fredric March plays the man/monster in the exoressionistic, pre-Code 1932 version (Side A), morphing before your eyes into a fiend that impacted the look of Creature Features to come. Spencer Tracy headlines the 1941 film of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale of mind and madness (Side B). It's a glossy, star-powered work whose Freudian undercurrents include a dreamscape in which carriage horses whipped by Hyde transform into the women in his life (Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner). Two of the very beast from horror's archives. Two ways to watch and appease your inner monster!
Spoilers follow ...
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde review by NP
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You rated this film: 4
Filming styles and techniques may have changed in the (as I write this) 75 years since this Victor Fleming directed (very loose) adaption of RL Stevenson’s famous story was released; the soft-focus, dough eyed matinee melodrama with clipped accents and chirpy cockneys may now seem something from a bygone age – but, good grief, what a timeless cast.
Three acting legends head the list. Spencer Tracy uses only a modest amount of make-up to transform him from opinionated but kindly Dr Jekyll into snarling, crouching Mr Hyde. Lana Turner steals every scene she is in as the cheeky but enraptured Beatrix, his fiancé. And Ingrid Bergman (originally cast as Beatrix, but happy to play a role that gave her a break from her ‘goody two shoes’ roles) is a compellingly intense presence as rough Ivy, the passionate but mannered strumpet who appeals to Jekyll’s baser instincts. With such a mighty trio, any other cast members might have been drowned out, but the supporting players are every bit as effective as they can be in MGM’s lavish adaption of a story still in the minds of the audience in the form of 1935’s extravaganza which earned Fredric March an Oscar in the pivotal role.
Hyde’s hold over Ivy happens a little too quickly, her chirpy demeanour replaced by un-questioning compliance occurs almost from one scene to the next. It is also surprising she doesn’t note the similarity between Jekyll and Hyde – so much so that she comes to Jekyll to seek treatment for the wounds inflicted on her by his alter-ego (although her performance allows her a few subtle double-takes which indicate she may suspect a similarity). Rather than casually take his frustrations out on anyone who got in his way, in this version Hyde focusses his loathing mainly on Ivy in a way that reminds me of the 1944’s ‘Gaslight’, also starring Bergman, in which a woman’s spirit is almost completely crushed by a vindictive ‘control freak.’
This is a lively, lavish production that doesn’t feel the need to stay too faithful to the original source material which was seemingly overshadowed by the monumental 1935 production. Once out of the shadow, it can be appreciated for merits all its own.