Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Quick Plot Synopsis
Dr. Jekyll delivers a lecture in which he posits the ability to separate the "bad" within a man's soul, from the "good," so that mankind might advance further. Some scoff. Jekyll works in a poor ward, which makes him late for dinner with his fiancee, Muriel and her father. They dance. He wants to move up their wedding date. Her father refuses. While Jekyll and his friend Dr. Lanyon walk, Jekyll interrupts a man abusing a woman. He carries her up to her flat. Ivy, a prostitute, sensing a sugar daddy, turns on the flirts. Later, in his lab, Jekyll works on a formula. He drinks it and after much convulsion, turns into the simian-like Hyde. He turns himself back into Jekyll. Muriel won't marry without her father's consent (and about to go on a long vacation). Frustrated (and a pot metaphorically boiling over in his lab), Jekyll decides to vent his demons as Hyde. He looks up Ivy, but she's not home. He finds her at the bar as a singer. He has her brought to his table. Thus begins his dominance of her. "You belong to me." Upon finding out that Muriel and her father return soon, Jekyll resumes his mild persona. Muriel persuades her father to let them marry in a month. Jekyll, happy at 'getting some' soon, has no more need for Hyde. He sends Ivy 50 pounds to compensate for his abuses as Hyde. Ivy shows up later, saying she can't accept the money because if Hyde found out, he'd kill her. Jekyll promises that Hyde is gone for good. But, Jekyll turns into Hyde without drinking the formula. Hyde goes to Ivy's flat and kills her for her insubordination. Once again as Jekyll, he decides, as a murderer, he cannot marry Muriel. He "sets her free." Many tears. Jekyll leaves, but turns into Hyde outside. He returns to ravage Muriel. Her father and butler fight him off, but Hyde beats the father to death with his cane. Lanyon tells the police who the killer is (Jekyll). A man hunt and chase ensues. Hyde eludes them and returns to Jekyll's lab. He mixes up the antidote and almost fools the police, but Lanyon knows the truth. Jekyll turns into Hyde before their eyes. After an indoor chase and fight, a policeman shoots Hyde dead. In death, he returns to Jekyll form. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Fredric Marsh gives an amazing performance as both Jekyll and Hyde. The pacing is great. The camera work is a joy to watch all by itself. Director Rouben Mamoulian uses so many camera effects that DJMH is almost always visually rich.
Stevenson's novel had been adapted into many stage plays before the advent of movies. Even those early plays deviated from the novel, adding the fiancee character, etc. The early silent film adaptations were themselves adaptations of the plays more than the book. Paramount's version in 1931 was yet another variation on the themes of the prior plays. MGM bought the rights to film and remade it in 1941 with Spencer Tracy. It lacked the power of Paramount's film. Many other variations and spin-offs would follow in the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll is story with very long "legs."
Based on the Book -- Robert Lewis Stevenson's 1886 novel contained many of the same elements, but told in a different order. At the outset of the story, Hyde is already afoot. HIs connection to Jekyll comes known later. There was no fiancee or love interest. Those came from the Sullivan stage adaptation of 1887. Some elements persisted, such as Lanyon watching Hyde metamorphose and the paying reparations for Hyde's harm to a child (in the 1931 film, the 50 pounds to Ivy) and the beating death (with a cane, which breaks) of a man named Carew. The bar girl character was not in the book, but in the earlier movie versions.
Noble Man vs. Simian Savage -- The exaggeratedly "good" Jekyll did not change much from version to version -- the proper gentleman and charitable altruist. Hyde had always been the ugly, brutish "bad" counterpart. But in Mamoulian's 1931 version, he was given a decidedly ape-like appearance. This is an early example of the populist trope that pre-civilized man was an ape. The trope would underpin the two-headed man story, Manster ('62). Recall, too, the Governor's apologia to Caesar in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes ('72), that inside every man there lurked his inner beast, an ape. The various ape-man movies of the 40s took up this trope.
Skin of Evil -- Early in the film, Jekyll posits in his lecture about the possibility of mankind separating his good from his evil and thereby freeing his "good" half from his "bad" so that he might attain great things. As an example of the long reach that Stevenson's novel has, consider the Star Trek (Next Generation) episode entitled, "Skin of Evil." A race of beings manages to do just as Jekyll theorized. They distilled out all their badness, then left it behind on their planet. The badness then coalesced into a single tar-like being named Armus -- a more sci-fi manifestation of Hyde.
Sexual Powder keg -- DJMH plays up the post-Victorians notion that "sexual repression" was the root of much evil. Jekyll acts almost frantic about having to wait even a few months for his marriage to Muriel -- as if desperately hot to trot. Marriage as, essentially, a "proper" venue for sex. When frustrated at the lack of quick fulfillment, Poole suggests that Jekyll "amuse himself" in London. (ahem) Jekyll meets Ivy, a hooker, who coyly tempts him with a private striptease while she gets ready for bed. He did not avert his eyes. Hyde quips that "proper" gentlemen are hypocrites. "who like your legs, but talk about your garters." Hyde boasts that he "is the very flower of a man." Hyde goes on to possess Ivy in an almost hostage sex-slave relationship. Much of his abuse is physical or verbal, but usually takes place on or around her bed. Rape is often suggested. DJMH portray's man as a sexual powder keg about to explode, as if a bit more free sex would make mankind better. (A few decades of the "free love" era have not show mankind improved. Perhaps a shortage of sex was not really our problem.)
Good Girl / Bad Girl -- A common morality trope is to have a "good" girl contrasted by a "bad" girl: Muriel is the good. Chaste, devoted, modest. Ivy is her opposite: a prostitute, manipulative and "easy." As per usual for the trope, Muriel suffers, but survives. Ivy suffers and is killed by the immorality she lived by.
Bottom line? DJMH is a classic that's not to be missed. There is a lot to like in this film. The camera work and directing are almost a parallel plane to enjoy. It is stronger on the horror half of the hybrid, but about the same as Frankenstein did. Watching DJMH is a good foundation for later good-and-evil duality movies to come.