DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: THE 1931 AND 1941 VERSIONS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS IN A DOUBLE BILL OF CLASSIC HORROR. © BOTH BASED ON THE 1886 NOVELLA BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: A PARAMOUNT FILM. (1931) DIRECTED BY ROUBEN MAMOULIAN. STARRING FREDRIC MARCH, MIRIAM HOPKINS AND ROSE HOBAR.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: A METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER FILM. (1941) DIRECTED BY VICTOR FLEMING. STARRING SPENCER TRACY, INGRID BERGMAN AND LANA TURNER.
These two films are screen adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. The later one is a direct remake of the first one. Though I prefer the earlier version, they’re both superb. Do you know the story?
There’s this attractive, highly eligible and mild-mannered Victorian doctor/scientist, right, and he has these theories about human nature that you might be interested in. His ideas that the evil in man can be separated from the good and manifested corporeally certainly baffle, bemuse and bewilder his friends, his faithful retainers, his colleagues in the medical profession and his beautiful girlfriend and her stern, staunchly conventional and oh-so-Victorian papa.
But he barrels ahead with his experiments anyway, so convinced is he of the rightness of his ideas. Believe it or not, he comes up with a potion that actually turns him physically into his evil alter ego, a hideously-visaged scoundrel called Mr. Hyde in whom the vein of cruelty and nastiness go all the way to the core of his being.
His ugliness has to be seen to be believed. Fredric March’s transformation in the earlier film is so wonderfully dramatic and frightening that you’re actually left wondering how the hell they managed it, all those years ago. Spencer Tracy’s transformation is less dramatic but it’s still good and well-acted.
Bushy hair, wild bulging eyes and sticky-out teeth are the order of the day as the evil in both men is made manifest and the devil known as Mr. Hyde dons his top hat and cape and goes out on the town…
Both versions are utterly shocking in the sense that Mr. Hyde’s abuse of the woman he meets in the city’s underbelly is openly referred to, even if we only see a small part of it ourselves. In both films, Hyde sets up a beautiful woman of the lower classes in a flat.
He visits her here for the sole purpose of physically abusing her, mentally torturing and tormenting her and there are references to things the women cannot put into words, clearly indicating sexual domination and abuse as well.
Both women turn to Dr. Henry Jekyll, the doctor they hope can save them from the cruelties and vicious excesses of Hyde, each with horrific injuries incurred through the whipping of their bare flesh by Hyde. Both Miriam Hopkins in the 1931 film and Ingrid Bergman in the later film do a truly magnificent job of expressing the terror they feel at the thought of Hyde and his evil character.
The scene where both women are forced to sing, actually sing gaily in the midst of their fear, by the vicious Hyde is genuinely gut-wrenching. Their elation when they think they’ve seen the last of him is so sad because we the viewers have a pretty good idea what’s coming.
And check out the naughty scene in which a nudie Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner are whipped by Spencer Tracy in his evil turning-into-Mr.-Hyde fantasy! I can imagine that there isn’t a man alive today who wouldn’t want those two naked beauties pulling his chariot for him…
The scene is so risqué I’ve always marvelled at the fact that the censors of the day deemed it fit for public consumption. Both films, in fact, go so far in their depiction of Hyde’s wickedness that they each have a 12s rating and are almost equally shocking (the earlier one has the edge) in their portrayal of the relationships between the two terrified, abused women and their so-called ‘protector,’ who can flash the cash to beat the band but who is otherwise merely a demon in a fancy suit.
I think the 1931 film is the better version, though they’re both excellent. Both have foggy dark nights and gas-lamps, splendid sets and interiors and terrific character actors in abundance, but Fredric March, who actually won an Oscar for his performance, is nothing short of a powerhouse as he takes us with him on his dreadful journey to the dark side of the human psyche. There are some great shots from March’s point-of-view as well that really add to the drama and tension.
He’s so incredibly handsome too, looking every inch the silent movie dreamboat (yes, I know this isn’t a silent movie…!) with his perfect features, shadowed eyelids and lipsticked mouth. His transformation into the monster, as I’ve already remarked, is decidedly more startling than Spencer Tracy’s.
And, forgive me, but I’ve always thought Spencer Tracy to be a little wooden in his acting style. I don’t feel his pain and suffering as much as Fredric March’s, if you know what I mean.
A big shout-out too to Rose Hobar and Lana Turner as the saintly girlfriends in both films who are prepared to do absolutely everything for the dashingly handsome Harry Jekyll but ask him straight out what the f**k he thinks he’s playing at with his constant disappearances and mysterious shenanigans. They each allow him to dance frustratingly around the subject with veiled references and half-truths in a way that one hopes wouldn’t be acceptable to modern women…!
And the faithful retainers in both films are wonderful actors (Edgar Norton and Peter Godfrey) who do a top job of portraying undying loyalty to their respective beloved masters. Dr. Jekyll’s relationship with both butlers (each called Poole) is a key part of each film version.
I have both these films in a two-disc box-set and I enjoy watching ’em back-to-back. There’s nothing like a good monster movie to get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. And if they stand up anywhere else as well, well, I’d call that a result, wouldn’t you…?
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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