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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Paramount doing Universal better than Universal
did themselves. While this was a cash-in on the genre success of the smaller
studio, if all bandwagons were this well made then cinema would be a much
Oh, it's dated of course. A form of stiff melodrama where women still said
things like "Darling... I wish this moment would last forever" and men
replied "Oh, I love you... be near me always." And I love how the camera
coyly veers away during the kissing scene. An odd dialogue gem is Dr.Jekyll
(Frederic March) proclaiming: "We'll be so gloriously happy that even the
French will be jealous of us." Look out too for Edgar Norton as Poole,
offering advice to Jekyll when told his fiancée will be away for a month. "I
beg your pardon, sir," he says, "but may I suggest that you ought to amuse
yourself?" Yes, the dialogue is overblown, but in a wonderful, glorious way.
Like a great stream-of-consciousness from the pen of a man who sees screen
realism as just a petty distraction.
But what really works is the innovation of the film, almost dripping off the
celluloid. I don't know if those wipes from scene to scene, the fades and
the first-person perspective were originated here, but they're used superbly
nonetheless. Often the frame hesitates between wipes, carving the illusion
that so much is going on simultaneously that one screen cannot house it all.
And the single take transformation (As Hyde says, "What you are about to see
is a secret you are sworn not to reveal" it's tinted lens effects were
kept hidden for many years) is absolutely magnificent, even 70 years on.
Every single shot is worked out with a mind to an unusual angle, or a unique
way of framing things, but never so that it's showy. Often the main action
will be taken via longshot, the camera choosing to focus on a sole
candelabrum in the foreground while the scene plays out. It's subtexts of
bare backs; cleavages, thighs and garter belts are also quite racy for the
time. Look how even when Jekyll has left Ivy behind, her seductively rocking
leg is merged with the next scene for nearly half a minute to indicate
temptation is lingering in his mind. Outstanding.
The sets, too, are unparalleled, street settings often running to several
levels and making a mockery of the rival studio's sub-realist fare. The
outdoor segments set to rain are exquisite, and look out for an amusing
scene the first between Miriam Hopkins and Hyde where they engage in an
accidental spitting competition. As he says the phrase "pig sty" an
unintentional (?) spray of saliva coats his co-star, while a large globule
of phlegm hits him in return as she says "Buckingham Palace."
Weirdly, the Doctor's name is pronounced "Gee-kul", not the commonly held
"Jek-ull". I've always thought Jekyll seemed a creepier name than the
passive-sounding Hyde. Maybe that's the point, and the duality of such a
concept is passed forward by many shots of Hyde seeing his face via a
mirror. March is not without the wit to add humour to his other persona (who
resembles more Dick Emery's comedy Vicar than anything truly horrific), and
is in equal terms expert in both pathos and menace. His physicality in the
role also cannot be overlooked. Not only that, but you get the real feeling
that you're joining March on a discovery; with each new turn of plot as much
a surprise to him as it is to us. This is a real loving performance, a far
cry from the "take the money and run" sensibilities of The Wolf
Hyde has his violent moments, threatening to glass a man with a broken
bottle "His face was made for it" and intimating rape. It's a
showstopping performance and there's even one scene where Hyde appears to
break the fourth wall yet he's looking through the camera and into the
next room. Mere technicalities are beneath the thoroughly insane Hyde. "I
shall go only as far as the door, and the sight of your tears will bring me
back" he hisses to a terrified Hopkins with double-meaning
With it's literary script that encompasses both Bach and Shakespeare, it's a
lovably fluid, fast-paced piece. Sometimes it's not always subtle take the
scene where Hopkins tells Jekyll he's got "the kindest heart in the world"
and asks him for a bottle of poison "so I can kill myself, sir." But look at
the anguish on March's face as the guilt of his alter ego's actions bleed
through. If only all films could be made with such care and love in their
craft. Absolutely Tremendous. 9/10.
Tags for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Full Movie
, Fredric March
, Halliwell Hobbes
, Holmes Herbert
, Miriam Hopkins
, Rose Hobart
, Tempe Pigott
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