Friday, September 2, 2011


(December 1931, U.S.)

By the time 1932 rolls around, the so-called "talkie" is all the rage and so is the monster movie. Universal Pictures commands the reigns with hits like DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY and THE INVISIBLE MAN. So naturally, Paramount Pictures would likely compete with their latest version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE; this time with Frederic March playing the good (and bad) doctor.

By now, this is the EIGHTH version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famed novel to come to the screen. So perhaps I won't even bother going into the plot because I think I can safely assume you're all familiar, right? Instead, with this version, what I'll try to do is focus more on the psychology and philosophy behind its premise of man's dual persona of decent morality and the uninhibited desire to express his dark and ugly side. From the beginning, Dr. Henry Jekyll (pronounced "Jeekyll" for some mysterious reason in this version - don't know why) is very clear on his theories and philosophies of man's dual or "split" personality and I have to say that it's almost conspiracy-like in the way that all those around him refuse to believe such propositions of man's being. The decent man that we know Dr. Jekyll to be is conflicted with not only the need to prove those around him wrong, but to also reject the lust he feels towards women of less desirability simple because it's the decent thing to do (or not do) or as those around him put it, "It isn't done." Well, once he's transformed into Mr. Hyde, not only is it DONE, but you can almost condone the mischief and mayhem he cause because it's a rage against the moral machine of conformity that seeks to dominate his existence.

There are two particular works of the camera that I'd like to focus on for a moment and they both involve the "disolve" shot. The first one disolves from Dr. Jekyll's fiance Muriel and stays there for a long moment into the next scene, reminding the audience that Dr. Jekyll is constantaly bound to the decent moral complexities of love, marriage and honor. The second one disolves from the cheap dance hall girl Ivy and stays there for the same moment into the next scene to remind us that Jekyll is also a man conflicting with the hidden lustful desires he has for this girl and can only express when he's transformed into Mr. Hyde. It's imagery that easily captures the classic conflict of good versus evil within our souls.

As for the physical monster that is Mr. Hyde, it's difficult to judge just how scary he is. In my opinion, he looks like a cross between Lon Channey Jr. in THE WOLFMAN (1941) and the tasmanian devil from CREEPSHOW (1982). That, of course, is a scary looking monster, but it's easy to get past it because Mr. Hyde seems to come off as more of a comical mischief-maker rather than a frightening murder (but murder he does!). In watching Frederic March play Mr. Hyde, you can almost presume that Jim Carrey studied this role when he prepared to play his role in THE MASK (1994).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mr. Hyde: "Perhaps you prefer a gentleman. One of those fine-mannered and honorable gentlemen. Those panting hypocrites who like your legs but talk about your garters."

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