Saturday, October 3, 2020

Stubs - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, Percy Heath. Based on the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (London, 1886). Producer: Adolph Zukor (Presents) Run time: 98 minutes. United States Black and White Pre-code Horror

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish-born writer who lived between 1850 and 1894. He is best remembered for such books as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The latter of the two is one of the most adapted stories in film history, with nearly 123 different versions made since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908), produced by William N. Selig. By the time Paramount made their version in 1931, 14 other films had been produced in the U.S., the UK, Denmark, and Germany.

First published in 1886, Stevenson’s novella is told from the point of view of Gabriel John Utterson, a London legal practitioner, who investigates the strange going-ons between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll and an evil man named Edward Hyde. The book was initially sold as a paperback for one shilling in the UK and for one penny in the U.S. These books were called "shilling shockers" or penny dreadfuls. However, the novella's impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" entering the vernacular to refer to people with an unpredictably dual nature.

You might think making a horror film in 1931 would be rather uncontroversial, but even though these were pre-code enforcement days, that’s not to say the Hays Office didn’t lodge its objections. Everything, from the suggestive dialogue to the undressing of a character on screen to Hyde’s make up, was brought under scrutiny. But since the code and the Hays Office lacked any teeth at this time, the objections could be overlooked.

Film director Rouben Mamoulian took on a lengthy and difficult shooting schedule and had thirty-five historically-correct sets built for the film's 216 scenes, including eight adjoining scenic sets. He directed eighty-one actors and five hundred extras, including Robert Louis Stevenson, the nephew of the author, who appeared in the film as an extra, reportedly because he could speak with a cockney accent.

Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) gets ready at home before presenting his theory.

In the late eighteenth century, London physician Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) presents a theory to a group of scientists that within each man lurks impulses for both good and evil. He is convinced that man lives with an eternal struggle between his noble and impulsive sides.

Jekyll and his fiancée Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) want to marry right away
but her father, Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), tells them to wait.

Jekyll may be interested in science, but is also desperately in love with his fiancée Muriel Carew (Rose Hobart) and wants to marry her immediately. But her father, Brigadier General Sir Danvers Carew (Halliwell Hobbes), is not as impressed with Jekyll as is daughter is. At a party at the Carew’s, Jekyll asks if the wedding can be moved up, but Sir Danvers orders them to wait eight more months to be wed on the date he has already announced.

That night, while walking home with his colleague, Dr. John Lanyon (Holmes Herbert), Jekyll spots a woman, Ivy Pierson (Miriam Hopkins), being attacked by a man outside her boarding house. Jekyll intervenes and drives the man away and carries Ivy up to her room to attend to her, but Ivy is more interested in seducing the gentleman doctor.

Ivy Pearson (Miriam Hopkins) tries to seduce Jekyll.

Ivy Pearson: Look where he kicked me.
[hikes up her dress to expose her thighs]
Dr. Jekyll: It's only a bruise. It will be quite well in a few days. By the way, you mustn't wear too tight a garter. It's bad for you.
[Ivy presses Dr. Jekyll's hand on her thigh]
Dr. Jekyll: It impedes the circulation.
Ivy Pearson: You're kindly to look after me. Anyone can see now, you're a real gent, you are. Now, you're the kind a woman would do something for.

She continues to complain, which forces Jekyll to examine her even closer.

Ivy Pearson: He's hit me here too, the blighter! He's broken me ribs, that's what he's done. I'm going to faint.
Dr. Jekyll: [feels her ribs] You're not seriously hurt. A little rest would do you no harm though.
Ivy Pearson: You think I ought to go to bed?
Dr. Jekyll: I know of no better place for a rest.

Lanyon catches Jekyll in a compromising position with Ivy.

Ivy delights in undressing in front of him. Lying under the covers nude, she grabs and kisses Jekyll when he tries to check on her. Even though he is tempted, he leaves with Lanyon, who is shocked to see Jekyll with another woman. Jekyll tries to laugh it off:

Dr. Jekyll: [laughs] I'm a doctor, you know, and I'll call that kiss my fee.

But Ivy is not in a hurry to let him go.

Ivy Pearson: Come back soon. Won't you?
Dr. Jekyll: Sorry, I'm afraid I can't.
Ivy Pearson: Oh, yes, you can! [breathly] Sooooon.
Dr. Jekyll: Good night.
Ivy Pearson: [breathly] Come baaaaaack.

The image of Ivy's dangling leg plays over and over in Jekyll's mind.

It is the image of her bare leg dangling from under the covers and her breathless pleas for him to return that Jekyll is thinking of, even as his friend berates him for his behavior.

Dr. Lanyon: Perhaps you're forgetting, you're engaged to Muriel.
Dr. Jekyll: Forgotten it? Can a man dying of thirst forget water? And do you know what would happen to that thirst if it were to be denied water?
Dr. Lanyon: If I understand you correctly, you sound almost indecent.
Dr. Jekyll: What names you give things!

Jekyll consumes a potion he's created to unleash his evil side.

Jekyll begins to experiment with drugs that he believes will unleash his evil side. After imbibing a concoction of these drugs, he transforms into Edward Hyde—an impulsive, violent, amoral man who indulges his every desire.

Mr. Hyde: Free at last!

His first transformation is interrupted by Poole (Edgar Norton), his attentive man-servant, who hears Hyde’s screams and comes to investigate.

Poole (Edgar Norton), Dr. Jekyll's attentive man-servant.

Sir Danvers takes Muriel to Bath for an extended stay, hoping to put some distance between the two young lovers. Poole worries about his master being alone and encourages him to get out on the town.

Poole: You should go out, sir. London offers many amusements for a gentleman like you, sir.
Dr. Jekyll: Yes, but gentlemen like me daren't take advantage of them, Poole. Gentlemen like me have to be very careful of what we do and say.

But while Jekyll can’t, Mr. Hyde can and Jekyll takes the potion that turns him back into Hyde.

Mr. Hyde offers to financially support Ivy in return for her company.

Acting on Jekyll’s attraction to Ivy, Hyde goes looking for her. At the boarding house, he’s told that she’s a singer at the music hall. He calls her over to share some wine and becomes violent when anyone tries to interrupt them. He offers to financially support her in return for her company.

Mr. Hyde: I'm no gentleman. No. But, I am money! Perhaps, my looks don't please?
Ivy Pearson: Well, you ain't no beauty.

Hyde sexually and psychologically abuses Ivy.

They stay at her boarding house, where Hyde sexually abuses and psychologically manipulates her. She hates him, but is afraid that she’s trapped by him.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jekyll’s absence is noticed by Poole and his friends.

Returning one night to the boarding house, Hyde reads in the paper that Sir Danvers and Muriel are planning to return to London. Hyde leaves Ivy, but threatens her that he'll return when she least expects it.

Overcome with guilt, Jekyll sends Poole with £50 to Ivy. On the advice of her landlady, Mrs. Hawkins (Tempe Pigott), Ivy goes to see Dr. Jekyll to thank him in person. When she sees him, she immediately recognizes him as the man who saved her from abuse that night.

Tearfully, she tells him about her situation with Hyde and asks for his help. She tells him that she’ll do anything for him if he helps her.

Ivy Pearson: You don't know him, sir. He ain't a man, he's a devil. He knows what you're thinkin' about, he does. I'm afraid of him! I'm afraid of him! Now, if he knows that that I've been here today, I don't know what he'll do! It won't be anything human, sir! Oh, save me! Save me! Keep him off me! I'll do anything you ask. I'll be your slave! Oh, help me!

Having made up his mind to go after Muriel, Jekyll reassures Ivy that she will never see Hyde again.

Ivy's joy at not having to see Hyde again is short-lived.

But while walking to a party at Muriel's where the wedding date is to be announced, Jekyll spontaneously changes into Hyde. Rather than attend the party, Hyde goes to Ivy's room. She had been happy to think she would never see him again, a celebration cut short when he enters the room. He tells her that he knows she’s been to see Jekyll and even repeats back to her things that she said to him. She tries to fight him off but he murders her. Realizing what he’s done, Hyde escapes the curious neighbors who try to stop him.

He returns to Jekyll's house but is refused admission by Poole. Desperate, Hyde writes a letter to Lanyon instructing him to take certain chemicals from Jekyll's laboratory, take them home and give them to a man who will call for them at midnight.

But when Hyde arrives, Lanyon pulls a gun on him and demands that Hyde take him to Jekyll. With no other choice, Hyde drinks the formula and changes back into Jekyll before a shocked Lanyon. He begs for Lanyon’s help with the murder, promising to change his ways forever. Lanyon will consider helping him, but demands Jekyll free Muriel.

Jekyll goes to the Carew house to break off his engagement with Muriel.

The next night, Jekyll goes to the Carew home and breaks off the engagement.

Dr. Jekyll: Oh, my love, my darling, my beautiful, if I could take you in my arms. If I could only touch you! Oh, forgive me. I dare never touch you, ever again, in this world or the next.
Muriel Carew: What are you saying to me? Oh, trust me, believe in me. I'll help you.
Dr. Jekyll: No. I'm beyond help, you hear! I'm in Hell. I-I-I'm in Hell.

Hyde returns to the Carew house and beats Sir Danvers to death.

Even though Muriel wants to help him, Jekyll leaves. But he’s stopped by Muriel’s crying. This triggers another transformation and, as Hyde, he enters the house and assaults Muriel. Sir Danvers tries to stop him, but Hyde beats him to death with Jekyll's walking stick then flees back to Jekyll's laboratory where he takes the formula again and reverts to Jekyll.

Lanyon, who has been called to the scene, recognizes the broken cane left at the crime scene and takes the police to Jekyll's home. Jekyll tells them that Hyde has already left, Lanyon insists that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same.

The stress causes yet another transformation into Hyde and, after a fierce struggle, Hyde is shot by the police. Dying, he transforms back into Jekyll.

The movie and the book it is based on have only passing relationships. Utterson, who is the narrator of the book and a major character, is barely in the movie. Arnold Lucy plays Utterson but he is uncredited as the role is more of an afterthought with Lanyon’s character brought to the fore.

And while Hyde is a murderer in both stories, Ivy is an invention of the movie, allowing the exploration of pent-up sexuality in Victorian London. While this presents Jekyll’s dark side, it is strictly more sensual than in the book.

Hyde, who in the book is described as being smaller than Jekyll, is here the same size, if not perhaps larger. The transformation that March underwent before the camera was a result of the work of Karl Struss. The cameraman created the 'transformation' scenes by using red filters that when removed, "revealed" the actor's makeup when seen in the black and white film stock, a technique he had devised for Ben-Hur (1926). His cinematography would result in one of the three Oscar nominations the film received.

Finally, while in the book the fact that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person is a major plot twist for the reader, here it is known from the get-go that these are the same person. It is only a twist for the other characters in the story.

Fredric March won an Academy Award for his performance.

There is some really very fine acting, including Fredric March, who would be awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role. He would actually tie Wallace Beery for the Award, one of the few ties in that Award’s history. He manages to play the subtle gentlemen Jekyll and turn into the hyper erratic Hyde without skipping a beat. Without his acting, this film would not work as well.

March’s career in film began in 1921 as an extra in The Great Adventure. In 1926, he would appear on Broadway for the first time and by the end of the 1920s he had a film contract with Paramount, where he would become a star. He would receive his first of five Best Actor Academy Nominations for his role as Tony Cavendish in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930). He would go on to star in such films as The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) with Cary Grant and Carole Lombard, Design for Living (1933) with Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) with Norma Shearer and Charles Laughton, Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo, Mary of Scotland (1936) with Katharine Hepburn, and A Star Is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor, for which he received his third Academy Award Best Actor nomination.

While he would make fewer films in the 1940s and 50s, he would still receive accolades for his acting, including Best Actor for his role in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and a nomination for his role as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman (1951). Other notable films include Executive Suite (1954), The Desperate Hours (1955) with Humphrey Bogart, Inherit the Wind (1960) and his final role in The Iceman Cometh (1973) with Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan.

Miriam Hopkins is considered by some to be
one of the sexiest women in Pre-Code Hollywood.

Miriam Hopkins, who plays Ivy, is not only very beautiful but very talented. Ivy goes from being a rather carefree, sexually open woman to one that lives in constant fear with a man who manipulates and abuses her. Hopkins is believable as both. It was a role that Hopkins didn’t want to play. She was more interested in playing the role of Muriel Carew. Director Mamoulian had to personally convince 
Hopkins to take the part. Her performance shared the rave reviews March received for the film.

Hopkins is considered by some to be one of the sexiest women in Pre-Code Hollywood. Hopkins' films were considered sexually risqué at the time, as she appeared in films that dealt with issues later prohibited by the Production Code, including The Story of Temple Drake (1933), which depicted a rape scene, and Design for Living that featured a ménage à trois with Fredric March and Gary Cooper. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Becky Sharp (1935).

She had a well-known and studio publicized feud with actress Bette Davis, whom she co-starred in two films, The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance (1943). She didn’t act in films after Old Acquaintance and The Heiress (1949). She would appear sparingly in films between then and her last film, Savage Intruder (1970).

Rose Hobart’s Muriel Carew pales by comparison. She seems to be more in line with our precepts of women during the Victorian age. Reserved, subtle, and speaking in an overly flowery way. Hobart isn’t given as much to do as Hopkins is as Ivy.

Director Rouben Mamoulian was known for his innovative use of the camera movement and sound that made his first film, Applause (1929), a landmark film. In the interview compilation book Directing the Film (Acrobat Books), Mamoulian declared a strong preference for a stylized look to his scenes, stating that he was more interested in creating a poetic look to his films than in showing ordinary realism.

There are some very interesting camera movements in the film, with the opening sequence attempting to tell the story from Jekyll’s point of view, something that it abandons when Jekyll starts to make his speech early on. The film also uses wipes for transitions, which is an interesting use, though it gets overused and the transitions seem to take longer than they should sometimes.

As this is a pre-code film, the dialogue is much less subtle when talking about sex than later films will have to be. There are still certain lines that the film doesn’t cross, but it doesn’t take a Rhode Scholar to figure out Ivy is asking Jekyll back to have sex. When the dialogue is not salacious, it is rather melodramatic, as when Jekyll talks of love with Muriel in the garden or when he breaks up with her near the end of the film. The writing would also receive an Academy Awards nomination for Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath.

As a film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is more gothic melodrama than horror film. Make no mistake, Mr. Hyde is an abomination and could have easily been considered nightmare fuel. But overall, the film is not really as scary as other films made at the time, like Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931). That said, the unbridled violence and sexual undertones of the story retain an impact even when watched today. It’s the sort of film that Hollywood wouldn’t be able to make again for nearly 40 years and even then, the unique combination of talent makes this adaptation a classic.

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