Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath (Novel: Robert Louis Stevenson)
Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Halliwell Hobbes, Edgar Norton, Tempe Pigott
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A classic, oft-told story, Dr. Jeykyll & Mr. Hyde found themselves in no better hands than director Rouben Mamoulian and Oscar winning actor Frederic March.
Dr. Jekyll, a conscientious scientist who wants to better understand the disconnect between good and evil, embarks on a stark journey of discovery when he uncovers the secret to unlocking his primitive side while his fiancee is away with her father who is trying to distance them from Jekyll’s incessant pursuit of marriage ahead of custom. Joining Frederic March in his dual role of man and monster is Miriam Hopkins who plays the seductive prostitute who draws the animalistic Mr. Hyde to her flat. Rose Hobart plays his intended Rose Carew and Halliwell Hobbes her father. Rounding out the cast are Holmes Herbert as Jekyll’s friend Dr. Lanyon and Edgar Norton as Jekyll’s butler Poole.
A great deal can be said about the physical transformation Frederic March goes through in order to play the ill-tempered Mr. Hyde. March shows us aspects of his inner psyche that are almost terrifying. While playing the mild-mannered Jekyll, March is calm, insightful and generous; when he becomes Mr. Hyde, jealousy, lust and anger each rear their ugly heads. It’s such a tour-de-force performance that it’s not surprising he was the only actor to win a lead Oscar for a role in a horror film for nearly sixty years (until Anthony Hopkins became only the second for The Silence of the Lambs). The rest of the cast is blissfully subservient to his talent. But the one man who holds more responsibility for the film being a success than March is the film’s director.
Rouben Mamoulian was a visionary. Not only was the superb initial transformation handled beautifully, the technique remained a mystery for decades before Mamoulian revealed all. His use of colored filters to match March’s makeup and thus slowly revealing his change of appearance was revolutionary, but would be replaced by a visual effects artist’s computer today. Yet, it wasn’t just this technique that defined Mamoulian’s revolutionary work for me. The use of tracking shots in the film as well as a long-term first person camera made for an engrossing experience. The entire first magical five minutes are a smorgasbord of newer techniques. You start out looking at the world through Jekyll’s eyes as he prepared to meet his lovely girlfriend at a party that evening. The scene where he stands checking himself out in the mirror is a delightful bit of camera trickery. It looks as if he’s seeing his own reflection in the mirror, yet he’s standing on the other side of a hole in the wild dressed to look like a mirror, complete with duplicated candles and other knickknacks.
It’s one of many outstanding scenes in the film. You not only get a sense of time and place, but watching it these 80 years later gives you a new appreciation of the strides great talents like Mamoulian made in the early years of film. This is a gem that cannot be tarnished by subsequent re-imaginings.
January 3, 2011