Sunday, December 16, 2012
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
Dr. Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a scientist with a heart of gold yet something dark and malicious lurks in his nature, ultimately bringing ruination upon him when he goes looking for it. He begins as a fairly mild character, helping the poor and unfortunate and finding love with a kind young woman. Troubles arises when her father takes him to a dance hall in the seedier part of town and Jekyll finds himself attracted to a dancer (Nita Naldi), awakening within him a hunger that makes him fear for his soul. He is tempted though and in order to secure his immortal salvation as well as indulge these stirred passions, he endeavours to separate man’s two halves.
here to see what I thought of the 1932 Rouben Mamoulian version with Fredrich March. As for this film, I was left feeling disappointed. John Barrymore plays Jekyll and Hyde and is really the only stand out part about the movie. Everything else from the other actors, to the sets to the lighting and cinematography is sub-par and felt like background noise. I did like that this version has Jekyll as a greyer character than a complete goody-goody. Other versions I’ve watched were either all about the science aspect of the experiment or about expunging man of his evils. This version has Dr. Jekyll wanting to experience his base desires without endangering his soul, essentially exploiting a loophole to get what he wants. This creates a more complex character and makes his actions and dialogue more interesting to watch.
The plot was a little difficult to follow. I loved the title cards, what few there were because most had pictures on them, making them more dynamic than one would usually expect to find. The problem came when I got further into the movie and there are fewer and fewer title cards. In some parts I had to guess what was going on. For example, the scene where Hyde stops off at a bar and paws at several women was great but I have no idea what he was saying to them or what the scene with the mirror was about. It can be fun to try and interpret what's going in a film but the risk is that you will lose the audience. There were some great scenes though. One involved a child that I thought was very bold for 1920. Also, I enjoyed the confrontation scene between Jekyll and his girlfriend’s father. There’s a somewhat similar scene in ”The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. Then there’s the scene with the spider. A double exposure shot shows this ghostly gigantic spider creeping up onto Jekyll’s bed as he sleeps, supposedly a nightmare and possibly a manifestation of the evil that has taken hold of him.
What suffered the most in this movie was the score, which was atrocious and ruined several parts of the film. Consisting entirely of organ music it contained neither nuance nor subtlety. In several places that called for sad and meaningful music there was a gregarious, cheerful tune that couldn’t have been more out of place. I wasn’t able to find any information about whether the score was original to the movie or a later addition but let me just say that it was entirely inappropriate. I can only hope that one day some composer will re-score this film with far more care and attention to the subject matter.
Overall I would only recommend this film to die-hard Barrymore fans. As a Jekyll and Hyde adaptation, it's not worth watching.