Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

Dr. Lanyon: Perhaps you're forgetting, you're engaged to Muriel.
Dr. Jekyll: Forgotten it? Can a man dying of thirst forget water? And do you know what would happen to that thirst if it were to be denied water?
Dr. Lanyon: If I understand you correctly, you sound almost indecent.
Dr. Jekyll: What names you give things!

Dr. Jekyll is one of the most preeminent minds in his field. He's pushing the boundaries of science by trying to split the human psyche into his good and evil parts. He also happens to work pro-bono in the free med wards and is engaged to the lovely Muriel Carew. But one night while experimenting, he stumbles upon a formula that transforms him into a monster. His alter ego, Hyde, goes about committing crimes of violence. Jekyll is horrified but finds that he now tranforms against his will. Who can stop him before he attacks someone else?

First let me say this is an amazing movie. More than 70 years later it's still entertaining. At times the lighting does make one wonder if they lit the whole set with tea candles but overall it's very impressive for the time. I'm mainly speaking of the cinematography and special effects, peppered throughout the film. The sets are beautiful. This is especially true of Jekyll's lab. It feels like an underground lair stacked full of test tubes and beakers. As well, the mirror scenes, the carriage ride and the transformation scene make you wonder how they were accomplished. Just watch Dr. Jekyll turn into Hyde and you'll see why it took decades for people to figure out how it was done.

The scene was accomplished by using various colour filters in front of the camera lens. Freddie already had the makeup on and it was by manipulating the filters that the makeup became visible. As for the mirror and carriage scene, I'll leave that for you to figure out.

Fredrich March was the perfect choice to play the lead. First off, he's a total stone fox and second, he was able to convincingly pull off both characters. His acting is amazing, if a little over the top at times. He even won an Academy Award for the performance. Director Rouben Mamoulian does a good job of building up Jekyll's character, giving him almost godlike powers when he helps a little girl to walk again. It shows how far he falls when he becomes Hyde.

Something to note is that this movie was made in 1931, three years before the Hayes Code came into effect. This meant that a lot of racy footage was shot for the movie. but then cut from the movie due to censorship. For example, restored footage shows Miriam Hopkins who played Hyde's kept woman, taking off her stockings and garters. We then cut to her naked in bed, having supposedly stripped in front of our good doctor. This whole scene was not in the original release. As well, the movie was remade ten years later with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman. Tracy's makeup is less comical but the movie overall feels more commercial and less artistic. The real story here is how the producers of the remake tried to destroy all traces of the 1931 version. A completely blasphemous act but fortunately the '31 version survives.

There's very little wrong with the film. The butler Poole, is perfectly self-deprecating. The acting is wonderful, especially Miram Hopkins who wasn't elegible to be nominated for an Oscar as most of her footage was cut from the original film. Freddie's makeup looks foolish. He looks more caveman than man and his actions are more comical than anything.

Rating: 4/5


celi.a said...

I've never seen this version, but it sounds impressive. I'll have to add it to my Netflix queue! Also, silly question...what does 'stone fox' mean? Great review!

theduckthief said...

Basically it means a fine looking man and freddie is definitely fine in this movie.