Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


This is no less than the tenth film version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella. But the only predecessors that really count are one in 1920 starring John Barrymore, and one in 1931 starring Frederic March. March won the fifth Best Actor Oscar, in a tie with Wallace Beery. I would like to see that one, for several reasons. The famous transformation scenes were done so cleverly that no one could figure out how they did it for decades, and in fact never figured it out until Rouben Mamoulian, the director, spilled the beans himself. Also, it was Pre-Code, and considerably sexier than films made later. When it was re-released, in 1936, eight minutes had to be cut. Even stranger, when the Spencer Tracy version was made by MGM they searched for and bought all the copies of the 1931 version … and destroyed them! It was thought to be a lost film for a long time until a copy was found, and the eight minutes were restored.

This version is not really a success. Spencer Tracy didn’t want to play it, and he was right. He isn’t believable as an English doctor. Ingrid Bergman is also miscast as Ivy, a barmaid. (In the book she was a prostitute.) The make-up is pretty good, with a series of lap dissolves gradually making him more sinister, sort of ape-like. I couldn’t help being amused, though, that turning from a good man to an evil one had such an effect on one’s hair. In the final scene, the dead man goes from looking a little like a troll doll to having hair that might have been styled by Sassoon.

There is also the question of Dr. Henry Jekyll’s “goodness.” To my mind, he wasn’t such a paragon. Never mind his obvious fascination with Ivy when he was engaged to another woman. We all have our weaknesses. But he was very eager to perform experiments on human subjects, which, in my mind, is a no-no. Then it wasn’t made completely clear to me whether or not he continued taking the potion after the first time. I am pretty sure he did. In which case he, Henry Jekyll, model citizen, was directly responsible for all the outrages Hyde visited on Ivy. I mean, when we first see Jekyll undergoing the change involuntarily, he seems shocked by it, and is considerably sobered when he changes back and realizes what he has done. The parallels with his condition and that of a junkie are very strong. A junkie will do anything, absolutely anything, to get what he needs. It looks to me like that’s what Jekyll did. In which case, he has to own every murder Hyde does. And when confronted with the accusations against him, he lied. So I was not sorry to see that bastard go.