Film Reviews

The Essential Jekyll and Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde began life when Robert Louis Stevenson, living in Edinburgh and broke, wrote the story as a potboiler. It's said that the original draft so horrified his wife that he burned it and then--in a fit of commercial savvy--rewrote it. He structured the story as a mystery, with the weird link between Jekyll and Hyde not being revealed until the end. Stevenson could not have known that the very names of his characters would one day become, for our culture, the archetypical personifications of human duality.

The yarn has been a movie perennial since the silents. Here are some notable Jekyll and Hyde films, all--except for the first--out on video:

Der Januskopf--This 1920 German version of the tale (the title translates as The Head of Janus) starred Conrad Veidt and was directed by F.W. Murnau, better remembered for his great vampire film Nosferatu. The role of Poole, Jekyll's butler, was played by a young Hungarian actor named Bela Lugosi.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)--John Barrymore's status as a handsome leading man and his personal fondness for grotesque character roles found a perfect meeting ground in this first-rate silent. His Hyde was a malevolent, crook-nosed cockney ne'er-do-well straight out of Charles Dickens.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)--This, probably the best film version of the story, places the "duo" (Fredric March) in between two women who symbolize the personality split--Muriel (Rose Hobart), Jekyll's aristocratic fiancee, and Champagne Ivy, played with startling carnality but eventual pathos by Miriam Hopkins. Rouben Mamoulian, best known for musicals, directed with panache, and March, impenetrable in his Neanderthal Hyde makeup, won an Oscar for his vigorous turn. This provocative, pre-Code film was heavily censored for many years; a superb restored version is now available on MGM/UA Home Video.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)--Spencer Tracy took a spin in the role in this weak-tea version from MGM, with Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner as the ladies competing for his soul. Though directed by Victor Fleming of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, this Dr. J doesn't hold up well against other renditions.

Of the many other remakes for both filmand TV, at least three have been distaff and/or transsexual variations on the tale: the self-explanatory Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957); Roy Ward Baker's amusing Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1972), with Ralph Bates, as the former, transforming into the supremely elegant Martine Beswick as the latter; and last year's farceDr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, which puts Tim Daly and Sean Young through the same paces. This last has clever transformation effects, and the fetching sight of Young, but that's about all that can be said for this coarse, unfunny and rather sexist flop.--M.V.Moorhead

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead