Movie Critique – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Considered a failure, and a comical mockery of the classic, I still found in revolting at places as it should be, and charmed at places as expected. Ironically it carries a dose of philosophy too.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a 1941 American horror film based on the 1886 gothic novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson; and aptly set in 1887.  Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner are the lead star cast of this 1941 version directed by Victor Fleming and produced by Victor Saville. Jack Dawn created the Mr. Hyde make-up in the film for Tracy.

Dr. Henry "Harry" Jekyll (portrayed by Spencer Tracy), who believes in good and evil residing in everyone, inadvertently releases his evil side, Mr. Edward Hyde, during one of his experiments. And quickly Dr. Jekyll starts losing control to Mr. Hyde who commits crimes without remorse, and continues to abuse being evil. 

I have to confess though. Having already read the novella once before, for some reason the roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde got interchanged in my mind. For so long Jekyll was the "evil" and Hyde was the "good" in my brain. I am not sure so why since the title of the novella or film should have corrected me. 

Among the many TV, theater, film and radio adaptations, this is a direct remake of the Oscar winning 1931 version which starred Fredric March in the titular role with Screenplay written by John Lee Mahin. Although the story is adapted from the novella, the director heavily depended on the 1887 stage adaptation of the same by Thomas Russell Sullivan. Hence there are parts in the story that are different from the novella. 

For instance, Ivy Peterson doesn’t exist in the original novella. And so doesn’t Beatrix Emery. Both the female characters were added to the stage adaptation in 1887 which continued into the 1931 film and later into this film. The novella also has a far more sinister side for Dr. Jekyll. It is not as much cut and dry for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as it is presented in the movies. 

This 1941 version is also a very watered down remake of the 1931 film due to Hays Code. Yet there is a certain amount of sadism still shown in the movie. For instance, when Jekyll changes to Hyde for the first time, he imagines both Bea and Ivy as horses to his chariot and him hitting them to run fast. 

Very interesting approach the film makers have here when they portray the good and bad. While it is presented in one single person when it comes to the lead male actor, it is split into two people for the female leads - Lana Turner, the "good" Beatrix "Bea" Emery; and Ingrid Bergman, the "bad" Ivy Peterson. Thus justifying both needs of one person with two partners.

Bergman gives a very convincing conniving barmaid role and Turner makes a perfect aristocratic woman very much in love with the man she sees in Dr. Jekyll. This film also proves giving the role of Paula Alquist to Bergman was a wise choice by film makers for the movie Gaslight which would release three years after this film. 

Nominated for three Academy Awards that year - Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture - but did not win any of them. And also had been considered a critical failure.

The filmmakers did their best to create intrigue and mystery so viewers could come back and watch it; such as the movie trailer disguised Tracy's Mr. Hyde appearance. So this would force the audience to come to the theater to see what he actually transformed into. Interestingly enough in the trailer, Bergman is still promoted as Star of "Intermezzo", a 1936 film that was a superhit made in both Swedish in 1936 and English in 1939. So is Lana Turner promoted as the "Ziegfeld Girl" which was her 1941 American musical film. 

Even though both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are portrayed by Spencer Tracy, I expected the features to look very different. However, both of them looked very similar, except for his voice. So it didn't really make sense when Ivy doesn’t recognize that Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll himself. I guess the filmmakers missed their mark here. However, by keeping both versions of Tracy similar, they did prove one point though - one's goodself and evilself both look alike, it is whom you tame and nurture is what you eventually present to outside world. 

Tracy gave a phenomenal performance to look evil, cunning and cruel as Mr. Hyde and as easy as good and loving as Dr. Jekyll. Yet when he is Mr. Hyde, there is a little comic flair to it even though he makes me cringe at the way he treats Ivy. 

Considered a failure, and a comical mockery of the classic, I still found in revolting at places as it should be, and charmed at places as expected. It is advanced to it's time when it comes to the erotic imagery in some scenes, and also captures the two characters Stevenson spun in his novel effectively. Ironically it carries a dose of philosophy too.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The various adaptations of the novella can be found here.

b. The 1946 Warner Brothers cartoon, Hare Remover, has Bugs Bunny commenting "I think Spencer Tracy did it much better" referencing to this film.

c. After Dr. Jekyll transforms to Mr. Hyde, he walks to a mirror in his laboratory and questions "Can this be evil?" However, the original theatrical version has one more line preceding this - "It's my face, yet it isn't". All the TV and DVD prints is missing that line. Unsure if it was cut purposefully or if the negative had been damaged.

d. Dr. Jekyll's butler, Poole (portrayed by Peter Godfrey), lures Jekyll to eat some crumpets. I was curious what those were and found this easy recipe to try. Will be trying soon and post.

e. Mr. Weller (portrayed by Billy Bevan), the gatekeeper, comments about not believing the comet and world coming to an end because of it. A little googling took me to The Great Southern Comet of 1887 that was seen in the Southern Hemisphere. More about the comet here.

f. Through out the movie we see and hear the song "You Should See Me Dance The Polka", either in a performance by Alice Mock in the "Palace of Frivolties" show or Bergman singing or Tracy humming. The original song's Music and Lyrics were composed by George Grossmith. By the end the song started giving me jitters and shivers.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Several scenes has Tracy's hat going on and off from his head when either it should have been either on his head or off his head. For instance, around 1 hour 35 minutes into the movie, after attacking Ivy, when he runs, he comes across a carriage where he loses his hat. But when he turns the corner immediately he has his hat on. 

b. When Jekyll and his friend Dr. John Lanyon (portrayed by Ian Hunter) drop Ivy at her home, you can see a wire visibly attached to her. You can see it when she falls out of the carriage and also when Jekyll carries her inside. 

c. Some of the scenes are done by Tracy's body double. And it is very obvious in those scenes, such as below. 


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