Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1932)

A psychologically-rich & VFX-groundbreaking analysis of the duality of mankind catalyzing gothic horror, aristocratic romance, and science-fiction with phenomenal screenwriting, macabre, twists, cinematography, and performances, Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is cinema’s definitive version of the literature and pure Golden Monster-Movie Age. 9/10.

Plot Synopsis: Experience a classic tale of deep-rooted evil as a doctor develops a drug that unleashes his murderous personality.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Classic Literature Duality Exposition

Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 Literature Analyzed The Duality Of Mankind & Psychology – Needing A Cinematic Version

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Longmans, Green & Co. published Robert Louis Stevenson groundbreaking duality-exposition ‘The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde’ back in the late-1800’s, and it has since become a classic of literature you probably ready as part of a High School or College-level English curriculum. The iconic and curiosity-provoking story of a gung-ho scientist who treads too far into the boundaries of psychology and the secrets of nature has always beckoned theatrical translations – with over 120 film and theater adaptations to-date, and really only one good one that understands everything from Stevenson’s novella while pushing boundaries in its medium and the story as well: Mamoulian’s 1931 film version. A psychologically-rich & VFX-groundbreaking analysis of the duality of mankind catalyzing gothic horror, aristocratic romance, and science-fiction with phenomenal screenwriting, macabre, twists, cinematography, and performances, Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is cinema’s definitive version of the literature and pure Golden Monster-Movie Age.

The Cinematography & Dr. Jekyll

A Respected M.D. & Theoretical Scientist Wanting To Remove Sin; A Canvas Of POV Exposition Into Our Own Souls & Duality

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The cinematography throughout Mamoulian’s Jekyll & Hyde is full of duality exposition and POV. From the opening scene of the film, we are thrust into the point-of-view of Dr. Jekyll by an uncomfortable realism of lengthy sequences unfolding in real time like we’re the ones experiencing them or being brought on this journey firsthand – it’s like we’re the ones experiencing this tale. This not only ups the horror factor and stakes dramatically now that we feel we’re involved and not a removed third-party viewer, but it also parallels the film’s thematic position that we all have a dark side or Hyde part of our soul as mankind and just as susceptible to a macabre tale like this – if we have the scientific background knowledge of celebrated Dr. Jekyll, M.D. of course. Besides the POV exposition and intensity of extreme close-ups in cinematography provoking our personal space claustrophobia and making the terror feel close & real, the film is obsessed with duality in physical leitmotifs as much as its psychological ones. For example, the camera pans across the lecture hall as Jekyll gives his big breakthrough speech on separating the two halves of man to free us from primal, sinful urges impurifying our souls diving the lecture hall itself into two halves. There are also dual-frame transitions between scenes that must’ve also been an advanced type of editing cut at the time period furthering the dual-theme of the film and foreshadowing the terrible fate to come when curiosity ensnares – and then kills – the cat.

The Experiment & Mr. Hyde

The Personification Of The Devil That Lives Inside Us All, Mamoulian’s Hyde Is Terrifying – & Gets Progressively Creepier

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

After Dr. Jekyll is laughed-at by his colleagues at the university for such an insane theoretical experiment as separating a man into two morally-divergent halves, he is driven to return to his laboratory and concoct the potion that would allow the transformation’s early-stages. The film goes pure sci-fi here – and it’s an indescribable joy to watch the Frankenstinean laboratory of bubbling potions and brews, chemistry experiments, and gothic architecture evoke classical ideologies of what science-fiction means ad infinitum as a genre. After finalizing the mixture and taking a bit, we witness a transformation sequence filmed frontally in front of the mirror such that it feels like we are the ones undergoing the morphological change – one brilliantly utilizing swirling camera pans, POV, and projection to highlight all the negative emotions in the back of Jekyll’s mind – from humiliation at the university to anger/impatience at his fiancée’s father for not letting them marry and be forced to wait for his blessing to primal urge for sexual gratification by adultery of the showgirl who beckoned him naked at her flat earlier on. This is when it becomes clear the Freudian psychology and Biblical duality of the screenplay thematically, and it’s absolutely breathtaking alongside astounding VFX transitions in the physical transformation of sweet and amicable Dr. Jekyll to the animalistic brute of Hyde.

The Transformation & Performances

An Oscar-Win Performance By Frederic March Amongst The Best In Cinematic Horror History Playing Both Jekyll & Hyde

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Of course, the transformation is elevated 10x by an Oscar-winning performance for the ages by Frederic March – as BOTH Jekyll and Hyde. I could not believe my eyes going through the credits sequence and seeing the same actor having played both antithetical roles; they are so unbelievably different both in look and feel and jaw-droppingly compelling performances I, and everyone else I’ve ever rewatched this film with, swore it was two different people. Frederic March’s Jekyll is the epitomization of class, intellect, and intelligence – a doctor the film take a great deal of time humanizing and showing the life-saving M.D. sacrifices of, while also endearing him to us by showing that even someone as wealthy, handsome, and gifted as him deals with negative emotions. Then comes Hyde: an animalistic, brutalistic, evil, physically and psychologically-abusive savage that feels like the devil-incarnate and wreaks havoc and a reign of terror across London. The rest of the performances are sensational – especially Rose Hobart’s aristocratic romance as Muriel, Edgar Norton’s fizzy and ebullient butler Poole, and most of all: Miriam Hopkins’ screen-stealing performance as a physically-abused showgirl Ivy Pearson – one of the great performances bringing cinematic light to the unconscionable terror of spousal violence and the psychological effects of what it can do to you.

A Masterclass In Atmospherics

A Thick, Foggy, Nightset London Plays Perfect Background Mimicking The Film’s Themes Of Deception, Eternality, & Mystery

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The atmospherics and location sets of Mamoulian’s 1931 Jekyll are second-to-none. A thick atmosphere of fog and night skies parallel the film’s atmosphere of deception, mystery, and eternality – the dark side of man that’s still a grave mystery to us and which we try to keep hidden behind our own self-induced fog but can enact terror within it nonetheless. The perfect background of the film that remains visually striking cinematographically as well is bolstered by the detail of its set-design and choices – like showgirl cabernets and pubs that are traditionally-sin and revelry type places that are kryptonite for our good selves. The costume-design and make-up/prosthetics are also of-note giving Hyde his classical ensemble and evolving make-up getting more malicious and dirtier the more time he gets to spend outside in the rain. The film is filled with expressive shots like the duality and POV ones previously mentioned, as well as other types working hand-in-hand with the locations like the fantastic park sequence and cat getting the bird (metaphoric of innocent and cheery birds like Jekyll himself sometimes getting unfairly bludgeoned or eaten by fate as the cat), the final Hyde kill of Ivy being remarkably showlighted to create thick shadows out of a film noir to set the mood of the final showdown, and one of my favorite shots in the film: when Hyde is running free, he runs into a backlight casting his shadow growing larger and larger than the real figure on the wall behind him – again metaphoric of Hyde gaining more and more power and becoming harder to contain the more time he spends free of chains.

The Sexuality & Abusive Themes

A Precocious B-Plot Temptation To Provoke Our Internal Hydes & Hypocrisy; True Horror Both Of Psychological & Physical

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

An achievement of the film that deserves its own recognition and exposition is the performance of Miriam Hopkins and precocious B-plot temptation – one that provokes our internal Hydes and hypocrisy, as well as highlights the true unspeakable horror of physical and psychological abuse. The first time we meet showgirl Ivy is outside a pub when her previous lover hits her for rebuking him and Dr. Jekyll steps in to save her like the comic book hero he is – of which she’s extremely thankful and tries to seduce a ‘good man’ like him into breaking his engagement and sleeping with her, a twist-of-fate where she is trying desperately to get out of her self-destructive tendency of dating bad or violent men but is denied by a very-torn Jekyll. The wildly-erotic near-naked figure of the woman with lingerie on-screen coming progressively off would’ve been bold and unprecedented to show in cinema in the 1930’s – and steamy enough to get our and Jekyll’s blood pumping. This is entirely the point: the film makes several jabs and provocations like these at our internal Hydes in the audience through the pov of Jekyll to make the point that we all have dark sides that are easily manipulated and teased by the foreplay shown on screen, one that also can’t get out of Jekyll’s mind dealing with nonsensical wait rules from his fiancée’s father when another attractive, yet rougher showgirl is ready to go. While Jekyll is able to visibly fight off the temptations on-screen – having a tough time mustering up all his internal strength to say no understandably being an attractive girl who would be the answer to all his momentary problems on the romance side, but Hyde is non-inhibited and goes after her. The two spark up a relationship against Ivy’s will – a physiological one where Hyde laughs sadistically about whipping, hitting, and bruising her and psychological one where he makes her feel and believe she would never be able to escape him and has to deal with him.

Flaws

A Hyde & Look Restricted By Its Time That Evolves & Gets Better As The Film Progresses, But Lack Color & VFX Punch

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

The psychological exposition here goes beyond the Freudian duality one beforehand into the psychology of abuse and abuse-of-power likely how primal men and male animals across the natural world became the dominant of the sexes (a purposeful point here by how regressionarily caveman-like Hyde looks in this version of the story in stark comparison to Jekyll). While a green-faced, murderous madman running around the streets of London is scary enough, the true horror of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is the experience and physical/psychological abuse of this poor girl and, by extension, many women across the centuries – of which Miriam Hopkins plays a phenomenal job personifying its terror. Flaws in Jekyll & Hyde are pretty much singularly-limited to the look of Hyde – one that is sadly restricted in possibilities by its era. The lack of color filmically back then prevents Hyde from having his signature green-faced look and theatricality that was obviously the plan, both in novel-accuracy the film is hyper-authentic to and the posters alone colorizing him with green skin. Also, while I love the fact that his look evolves and becomes more menacing and malicious as he gets more free time in the night sky – the make-up and look of Hyde could’ve been more warped/twisted to pack that punch the devil-like villain and man of the hour of Hyde deserved here to push it over the edge. Ironically, Hyde looks scarier mid-transformation sequence than he does finalized, a perplexion that sadly limits his effectiveness as a cinematic villain every time we have to see him.

Conclusion

The Definitive Film Version Of The Tale

A Psychologically-Rich & VFX-Advanced Piece Catalyzing Gothic Horror, Aristocratic Romance, Physical Abuse, & Science-Fiction. One Of The Greatest Horror Films Ever

Photograph Courtesy Of: Paramount Pictures

Overall, Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is a masterwork of macabre and duality exposition. A film decades or even a century ahead of its time, it still remains a striking and scary product nearly 100 years later – thanks to its magnificence of intangibles stemming from a lovingly-crafted script authentic to the original while highlighting its biggest horror potential in the psychology of abuse as much as its green-faced murderous madman running around on the streets of London, and Frederic March’s iconic Oscar-winning performance as both Jekyll AND Hyde – one of the greatest performances in horror history. A psychologically-rich & VFX-groundbreaking analysis of the duality of mankind catalyzing gothic horror, aristocratic romance, and science-fiction with phenomenal screenwriting, macabre, twists, cinematography, and performances, Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is cinema’s definitive version of the literature and pure Golden Monster-Movie Age.

Official CLC Score: 9/10