'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' DVD: Oscar-Winning Classic Early Talkie of Timeless Horror Tale of the Beast Within Everyone
Warner Archive continues giving Golden Age fans a chance to "catch 'em all" regarding the 1,000s of "Must See" films of that era with the aptly March 27, 2018 DVD release of the 1932 Frederic March version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr, Hyde." As the DVD liner notes remind us, the Patty Dukeesque acting of March earns him a Best Actor award for that role.
This tale has the same substantial depth as fellow classic horror films "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" of the era. This one centers around the fact that dressing man in finery and developing him to a level of refinement that makes Emily Post seem like a literal two-bit whore does not change that we all have a savage nature that includes carnal desires. The credible speculation regarding the real-life Jack the Ripper being an outwardly respectable London gentlemen (perhaps an actual royal) supports the theory of the fictional Dr. Jekyll.
The related live-stage and melodramatic vibes of "Jekyll" are very apt both for this early period in the film industry and the nature of the story. The aforementioned award-winning portrayal of Hyde as a combination of Neanderthal Man and the Wolf Man strongly contributes to this theatrical sense.
The film opens with a busy day for respected Dr. Jekyll. He is off to deliver a lecture on his theory that man (and woman) has two distinct parts. They essentially are the respectable socially acceptable portion of ourselves that we present to the world and our "dark passenger" that represents the savage nature that remains despite our lengthy evolution. The rest of the story is that Jekyll believes that he can separate these aspects of us so that we essentially have the "good" one and the evil twin with the figurative goatee.
This medical practitioner then goes to the hospital where he first helps a young girl recover the use of her legs and then works overtime to personally operate on a scared old woman. The latter humanitarian gesture makes him late for a formal dinner at the home of his fiancee Muriel Carew and her strict and humorless father Brig. Gen. Danvers Carew (ret.).
Jekyll being late already incurs the wrath of Daddy; politely but firmly resisting a demand to postpone Muriel's wedding adds fuel to the fire.
Jekyll wraps up his day by coming to the aid of damsel-in-distress/dance hall girl Ivy Pearson. This loose woman seems to be one bad performance away from working a street corner and offers our hero tit for tat regarding both his medical services and his kindness.
The hardest working man in medicine next goes to his home office/man cave to work on his formula to separate the beauty from the beast. As the film title suggests, he succeeds. Surprisingly, the transformation is one of the least melodramatic moments of the film and does not even involve smashing test tubes or beakers.
The newly born Hyde then goes on the town in search of Ivy; he soon finds her and follows the still modern tradition of having the bartender summon the object of his affliction to his table. These leads to a situation in which Hyde provides tat in the form of a love nest that is a step up for our fallen woman.
Jekyll sowing his wild oats in the guise of Hyde predictably threatens his engagement and lowers his already not great status in the eyes of The General. The Carews leaving for an extended trip to Boston is an additional complication.
Meanwhile, the Hyde side exerts himself even stronger to the extent that his behavior deteriorates and takes control even when Jekyll does not drink the transformation formula. The clear moral is to not let the genie out of the bottle.
This all culminates with a variation of the villagers storming the castle of the monster. The twists at the end that purport to deliver justice are interesting and almost definitely influence the outcome in the Hitchcock Jekyll and Hyde film "Psycho." Both films clearly show that we all go a little mad sometimes.
The most fun special feature is the 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hyde and Hare" in which the titular wascally wabbit learns the lesson about being careful about the things for which you wish. In this case, it relates to convincing kindly Dr. Jekyll to adopt him as a pet. A particularly cute scene has Bugs adopting the guise of a cute little rabbit as opposed to the stinker whom we all know and love.
Archive additionally provides the highly atmospheric and clever theatrical trailer for the 1941 Spencer Tracy version of "Jekyll."
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Jekyll" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.