Jekyll and Hyde (1941) DVD: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner Do a Remake of a Classic Horror Tale Justice
Warner Archive follows its grand tradition of not making cinephiles (or couch potatoes) wait long for "the rest of the story" by releasing the 1941 Spencer Tracy/Ingrid Begrman/Lana Turner version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" roughly two months after the release of the (reviewed) 1932 version with Frederic March. The only thing better than these separate releases would have been a two-disc set in the equally grand tradition of Archive providing these collections.
The most cool thing about watching the Tracy version after the March one is comparing the overall tones of the movies in the nine years in which time marches (of course pun intended) on in the film industry. The much more melodramatic and grotesque tone of the earlier version reflects early talkies being one step above silents on the evolutionary ladder. For their part, those intertitle wonders have the same exaggerated gestures and enunciation as the stage plays that precede them.
The best way to think about the contrast is that the Hyde of March largely is a combination of The Wolfman and The Phantom of the Opera; the evil persona that Tracy portrays is more of a Norman Bates style monster.
The Tracy version, which is 15 minutes longer than the March one, also is slower paced than the earlier film. Conversely, this later movie favors getting right to the action over exposition more than the 1932 film. This is in the form of the opening scene being in a (presumably Episcopalian) church service at which the priest is lauding Queen Victoria for elevating the British Empire to an enviable level of propriety following an apparent period of debauchery, This is in contrast to the March "Hyde" beginning with Jekyll preparing to attend a lecture of medical students at which he delivers his speech about the yin and yang of the nature of man that he presents at a dinner early in the remake.
The literal voice from the pulpit in the 1941 version increasingly agitates a clearly flocked up member of the congregation to the point that he erupts in a maniacal laugh that makes the audience believe that Jekyll has released his dark side. Jekyll quickly coming to the aid of his fellow child of Christ shows that that physician is not the only character who goes a little mad sometimes.
Jekyll getting the tortured soul comfortably settled in a padded cell leads to the aforementioned gathering at which he discusses his theory regarding the ability to separate the good and the evil sides in everyone. This event also introduces the audience to Jekyll fiancee Beatrix Emery (Turner) and her very proper father Sir Charles Emery (Donald Crisp). Other guests include Jekyll BFF Dr. John Lanyon (Ian Hunter).
Jekyll and Lanyon heading home sets the stage for the remainder of the film. Working-class barmaid Ivy Peterson having a date turn sour prompts Jekyll to rescue that damsel in distress. He then takes her home primarily to provide medical treatment.
It is believed that this version suggests things to come in a manner that the 1932 film does not. The subsequent scene in the remake has Jekyll confide to Lanyon that the presence of the latter is the only reason that the former turns down an offer by Ivy for payment-in-kind regarding the hovel call.
The encounters with the lunatic and with Ivy prompt Jekyll to take things to the next level by using himself as a lab rat to test his formula that is designed to separate the two extremes of our make up. This, of course, gives birth to Hyde.
Hyde soon reconnects with Ivy in a less violent and graphic nature than in the March version, This coincides with increasing alienation from Beatrix.
All of this leads to the dark passenger of Jekyll coming out to play even uninvited. Once again, the Tracy version of the resulting pursuit and taming of the beast is more sophisticated literature than pulp fiction.
The mixed news regarding which version of "Hyde" is better is that they both have their merits and room for improvement. March plays a member of the gentry and his rural cousin better than Tracy; the overall production values of the 1941 version understandably are better than the 1932 one, and Bergman seems born to play Ivy. At the same time, the faster pace of the earlier film provides stronger entertainment; The best solution is to purchase both DVDs and watch the March one when your inner Hyde is asserting himself (or herself).
Mentioning the differences in the DVD bonus features is mandatory. The release of the 1932 version includes a classic "Jekyll" themed Bugs Bunny cartoon and the trailer for the 1941 film. The Tracy film lacks any extras.