Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde-movie-poster-1941-1020452635During R.I.P. this year, I read a lot of classic horror, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  And it wasn’t very good!  But it still left me wanting to watch the movie–specifically, the 1941 one, starring Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman.  It was very much unlike the book, and so much better!

The novel puts the POV for most of the book from a friend of Dr. Jekyll’s, and keeps the mystery (that Hyde and Jekyll are one person) from being revealed for a very long time.  The movie dispenses with both these ideas.  We begin with the affable Dr. Jekyll (Spencer Tracy) who is engaged to be married to the lovely and genteel Beatrix (Lana Turner).  On a walk one night, he encounters Ivy (Ingrid Bergman), a saucy barmaid who quite likes the fine doctor–but he resists temptation and stays true to his fiancee.  Meanwhile in his work, he’s exploring the question of how good and evil are mixed in every individual, and whether there might be a scientific solution to separate them, in the interest of helping the criminally insane.  When he tests his elixir on himself, he morphs into the hideous Mr. Hyde–who has no moral qualms about seeking out Ivy.  Hyde begins a depraved affair with Ivy, while Jekyll grows increasingly conflicted…and increasingly loses control of his darker half.

The Invisible Man movie added in a love story that wasn’t in the book, and Jekyll and Hyde has gone a step further, by making the love story the central conflict.  I think it works so well because it’s not a superfluous element–it’s the perfect device for showing the personality split.  Jekyll is in one relationship while Hyde is in another, and we see the differences between both the two girls and the way Jekyll/Hyde treats them.  I also find so intriguing the idea that Hyde is free to give into temptations (i.e., his attraction to Ivy) that Jekyll can’t–and that’s part of the appeal for Jekyll in making the transformation.

Spencer Tracy is the driving force of the movie and does excellently in both roles.  Hyde becomes progressively more grotesque as the movie goes on, so in his early transformations there’s very little make-up.  Tracy mostly does the transformation in body language and facial expression, and does it very well.  He doesn’t come across as two different people, but as two very different sides of one person, which I think is exactly how it should be.  (You do have to suspend disbelief that Ivy, who meets both men, can’t immediately recognize them as the same person…but I’m willing to run with that!)

I’ve heard that Ingrid Bergman was originally cast to play Beatrix, Jekyll’s fiancee, and requested to play Ivy instead.  I can see why, as an actress, she would feel there was much more to do as Ivy, and she does it beautifully. Ivy is lively and friendly and flirtatious at the beginning–but then she falls into Hyde’s hands.  I thought the most powerful scene in the movie was when Hyde came to visit Ivy in the apartment he set her up in, and the twisted nature of their relationship is so apparent.

This would have been a very different movie twenty years later.  It was made in 1941, so we don’t actually see Hyde hurt Ivy in this scene–he verbally mocks her and I think he shoves her against a wall.  I’m sure if the movie had been made later, there would have been much more violence and possibly a rape scene–and I’m so glad this was made in 1941, because we don’t need to see any of that.  It’s all abundantly obvious in Ivy’s terror.  Since the movie isn’t graphic, it’s all conveyed in the tones and body language of the two actors, and it’s beautifully done in all its horribleness.

This is exactly why I love old movies.  They can be so brilliant in their subtleties, in a way that you rarely see in modern movies.

Much like The Invisible Man, I can’t recommend the book Jekyll and Hyde, but the movie was excellent!

Other reviews:
This Is My Creation
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1941)

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  1. dianem57

    Tracy was an excellent actor andBergman could match him with her technique. I haven’t seen this particular film, though I’ve seen many others of both of theirs. Will have to check it out!

  2. I read the RLS novel long ago but what remains with me is the sense of a fog-shrouded Victorian London, very similar to the depraved, horror-filled streets that his near contemporary Arthur Machen wrote about, with its flaneurs and shadowy figures. I can’t say I enjoyed Machen when I revisited him a couple of years ago, and the same may be true when I tackle Jekyll/Hyde again some time soon.

    By the way, I think there was Lon (‘man of a thousand faces) Chaney silent or early talkies version–wonder how that compares with Tracey’s interpretation.

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