Rouben Mamoulian directed the 1931 version, which won an Oscar for
Fredric March's performance as the dual doctor. The movie is stunningly
cinematic, with Mamoulian employing many experimental techniques and
stylistic touches that at times make the movie breathtaking to watch.
It's easily one of the best horror movies of all time, and March's
performance as Hyde has never been equaled, certainly not by a miscast
Spencer Tracy in the 1941 version. (The story goes that after his film
wrapped, Tracy called March to say "Your Oscar is safe.")
It's amazing, even revelatory, how fresh and modern the March-Mamoulian
version seems even today, more than seventy years after it was made.
What movies of 2003 will anyone still be watching seventy years hence?
Mamoulian was an erratic movie director, but in the early thirties, he
was a phenomenon, making "Applause," "City Streets" and "Love Me
Tonight" in a few short years. He later directed "Becky Sharpe" (the
first 3-strip Technicolor feature), "The Mark of Zorro" with Tyrone
Power and "Blood and Sand." After that, he largely returned to the
stage where his reputation was as great or even greater; he directed
the Broadway debuts of "Porgy and Bess," "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel."
From literally the first shot onward, Mamoulian's direction seizes and
holds the attention: the first few minutes of the film are shot with a
"subjective" camera -- it takes the place of March, who isn't seen
until Jekyll glances into a mirror. Still as Jekyll, the camera even
boards a horse-drawn carriage and starts down a back-lot street. When
Jekyll arrives at the medical school where he's to give a speech, there
are a few closeups of audience members, then the camera turns to see
March giving the speech. During the first transformation scene, the
camera again becomes subjective, and our first sight of Mr. Hyde is
also in a mirror.
Mamoulian uses carefully-timed dissolves, angled wipes and artificial
and altered sound with immense creativity -- this is one of the few
studio movies of the 1930s that's exciting to watch just because of the
way it is made.
script by Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath only roughly follows
Stevenson's original story, but it's full of invention and imagination
anyway. Jekyll is convinced that there are two sides to man's nature,
the noble, human side, and the baser, animal side. (Most versions
feature the division as Stevenson did, between good and evil. Not so
here; Hyde is less evil than a rampaging, heedless animal.) His friend,
Dr. Lanyon (Holmes Herbert), urges him to try other approaches. Jekyll
is eager to marry his fiancee, Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart), but her
staid, proper father, Gen. Danvers Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), wants them
to wait for eight months.
night, Jekyll completes his experiment -- the lab scenes here are more
convincing than in the 1941 remake -- and downs his potion. Mamoulian
and his brilliant cinematographer, Karl Struss, used an idea that
Struss originated in the silent "King of Kings." March was made up as
Hyde with red makeup, then shot through a red filter, making the red on
his face invisible. While the camera rolled, the red filter was
gradually replaced with a green one, and the Hyde makeup appears like
magic. There's then a cut, and the full makeup (by Wally Westmore) is
applied. Each time Hyde appears, he looks worse, more animalistic; in
his last two transformations, he doesn't even seem able to talk.
this scene, Mamoulian also experimented with sound; the ring of a gong
was played backward with the strike removed, Mamoulian rushed up and
down stairs and recorded his own heartbeat, and some sounds were
invented by flashing light onto the soundtrack. It's all of a piece,
here, swirling and hypnotic, as the Neanderthal-like Hyde makes his
Jekyll tended to roughed-up prostitute Ivy
(Miriam Hopkins), who's attracted to the handsome doctor (and few
actors have been as handsome as the young Fredric March). There's a
dissolve of her swinging leg, naked but for a garter, over the
following shot of March and Herbert, the idea of Ivy lingering in both
When Jekyll again becomes Hyde, he goes out into the rain, exultantly
turning his face upward, and then finds Ivy singing in a pub....
Hyde's later brutal treatment of Ivy is shocking and disturbing, one of
the few areas in which the 1941 movie is the equal of this one. Hyde
loves having power over her, loves terrifying her. Jekyll is submerged,
but we know he's there, and he's enjoying it, too. Here, Jekyll and
Hyde are not two different people, but two aspects of the same person,
controlled and uncontrolled. Hyde is so uncontrolled, so heedless of
what anyone might think, that he's often very funny, but he'd just as
soon cut the throat of anyone who laughs. At the apartment he's set up
for Ivy, he stuffs a whole muffin into his mouth, and later preens in
front of a mirror, combing his hair over his pointed head.
It's one of the most courageous performances any actor has ever given
-- and at times damned near impossible to believe that March plays both
roles. His Jekyll is a bit much, rather too virtuous, too enraptured
with his love for Ivy, but it's an appropriate performance for the
period. His Hyde is something else altogether; not only does March
change everything about himself, his face, his stance, even the way he
moves, but the technique is timeless. It may be the greatest
performance in horror movie history, rivaling Boris Karloff as the
Miriam Hopkins as the randy but sweet Ivy is also astonishing, with
instantaneous changes of expression, and a haunting, quaking terror of
Hyde. It's almost painful to watch her as he torments her.
Like a lot of films from the very early days of sound, "Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde" does not really have a musical score; it opens as March plays
Bach's Toccata and Fugue on Jekyll's pipe organ, and source music is
heard occasionally. Only in the scene in which Jekyll, at last
horrified by Hyde, gives up his love for the stunned Muriel, does any
music creep in. It's from an earlier, happier scene with the two of
The sets are well-designed, particularly those in the slum where Ivy
lives, and there's a creative use of shadows, and light and dark. The
movie is practically a course in filmmaking.
The 1941 version is a true remake; it was not based on Stevenson's
novella but on the script for the 1931 movie. (To me, a remake is based
on another movie; a new version is based on the property an earlier
movie was based on. But your mileage may vary.)
This wasn't intended as a horror movie, really, but one of MGM's long
series of plush, lavish adaptations of classic novels. The sets are
even more extensive than in the 1931 movie; there's a lot of fog, and a
huge cast full of talented character actors. It was directed by Victor
Fleming of "Gone with the Wind" and "Wizard of Oz" fame. Fleming was a
good, but staid, director, handling actors well but not showing a
mastery of inventive film technique.
Spencer Tracy was a big star at the time, and regarded as one of the
best actors in movies (which was true). But while his performance as
Hyde here is inventive, it's also essentially uninteresting. The
transformation is not extreme; Somerset Maugham visited the set, and
after watching a scene being shot, asked, "Which one is he playing
now?" In the 1931 version, it's easy to see why no one recognized Hyde
as Jekyll; in the 1941 version, is hard do understand why anyone
DOESN'T. Also, Hyde here isn't like March's vigorous, lusty, brutal
young animal; Tracy's Hyde is a libertine and a brute rather than an
animal or an embodiment of evil. Aside from his sneering torment of
Ingrid Bergman's Ivy, about the worst thing he does is to spit grape
skins at her.
The cast is excellent, and Bergman gives one of her best performances
of the period as the tender, ignorant Ivy, tortured by the sadistic
Hyde. Lana Turner makes a rather mild "good girl" (here called
Beatrix), but Donald Crisp is authoritarian as usual as her
conservative father. The script, from that of the 1931 version, is
credited to John Lee Mahin, and the handsome cinematography is by
Joseph Ruttenberg. It's excellent, but doesn't measure up to the
creativity of Struss' work on the earlier film.
The 1941 "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a good movie, but oddly a minor
one, especially when compared to the daring and exciting Rouben
Mamoulain-Fredric March classic. Still, it's very good to have them
both in such good shape on this two-movie (but one disc) DVD. The March
version was unavailable for 25 years, then turned up in a print that
had been heavily censored. Most of what was cut has been restored,
hallelujah, and is now available to everyone.
The earlier film has an excellent commentary track by film historian
Greg Mank. He fills us in on the careers of Mamoulian, March and
Hopkins, talks about the inventive makeup, the striking photography and
other aspects. However, he can't quite bring himself to pronounce
"Jekyll" as "jee-k'll," as it is said in the 1931 version -- and
evidently by Stevenson himself. In the 1941 version it's the usual
"jeck-k'l." However you pronounce it, this DVD is one of the best
packages Warners has released to date. A classic and a near miss, major
movies from Hollywood in its prime. If you like older films, this DVD
is one you really must purchase.
|Dolby Digital 5.1 sound; says surround but both movies predate that
||includes trailer for the 1941 movie and a commentary track for the 1931 movie by film historian Greg Mank
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||36-inch Sony XBR